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‘This recession is taking a toll on my love life,” sighed my friend Tara. “My husband and I used to go out every Friday night. Now it’s just too expensive — especially when you factor in babysitting.”

“Isn’t your oldest 11 and a half?” I asked. “She’s a responsible sort. Maybe if she had a little training, she could take over.”

“Is that old enough?” asked Tara. “I thought you had to be 13.”

I started calling around, first to Don Ross, who runs the babysitter-training company OptiWell with his business partner Sue Lockhart (619-204-3838; babysitter-training.com). “The class is best suited to kids from 11 to 15,” said Ross. “There is no legal minimum age for babysitting in California, but the best guidelines I’ve seen come from the military. They say that an 11-year-old can babysit children from toddler on up, and a 12-year-old can babysit for an infant on up. Of course, those are guidelines — it varies depending on the maturity of the child. In San Diego, there is a real consciousness about the importance of babysitter training because the Red Cross has been offering classes to the community for such a long time. We cover everything the Red Cross does, and we also offer pediatric CPR certification.”

The class lasts five hours. “We can do it either in one whole day or over two days. The first half covers topics such as starting and advertising your business,” but mostly focuses on “child care and babysitting safety, including water safety. Things such as basic care, feeding, diapering, hand washing, and holding a baby. We have baby dolls for them to practice on...and baby bottles and food dishes. They go through the physical motions of feeding or holding the baby while protecting the baby’s head. We also cover age-appropriate games and discipline. The program is very interactive, with lots of skits and role-play. For discipline, we’ll give the kids various scenarios.” First-aid training is administered via video “to cover a broad range of topics. Things like how to prevent burns — keeping hot cups away from places where kids could pull them onto themselves. And we give them some supplies so they can start to assemble their own first-aid kits. They get Band-Aids, stickers, a first-aid manual, and the Babysitting Lessons & Safety Training book.”

The second half of OptiWell’s babysitter training focuses on CPR for kids. “After they complete the training, we can give them a two-year certificate for infant and child CPR. They don’t get a certificate for adult CPR because we don’t teach them about heart disease, but the technique is exactly the same — they’ll still be able to save their parents’ lives.”

Costs for the class vary with venue and class size, ranging from $55 for the class held at the Scripps Mende Well Being Center (call 619-204-3838 to register) to $85 for the Pacific Athletic Club (call 858-509-0700 to register). Also, OptiWell is willing to go anywhere in San Diego County. “It’s a nice option,” says Ross. “We’ll come to your home or facility. The minimum is $200, which would be $50 for each of four students. If it’s a big enough group, we’ll take it down to $45 per person. In that case, we’d shorten the skits, bring the class down to about four hours — but you’d still get all the content.”

Next I spoke with Debbie at the American Red Cross (877-454-7229). “The course here is designed for 11- to 14-year-olds, and it offers training in safety, safe play, and basic care. The price includes a babysitter’s handbook, a first-aid kit, and a babysitter pen. It’s six and a half hours long and costs $70.”

Finally, I called Babysittingclass.com (800-710-7437), a San Diego–based online company. Representative Kate Evans said that the course was “written for a sixth-grade reading level and is designed for ages 11 to 17. But we’ve had grandmothers take it.”

The course consists of chapters with quizzes interspersed “to see if the child is absorbing the material” and a test at the end of each chapter. “The first chapter is about the importance of planning in order to prevent problems. The second is about safety and security. In the third chapter, you learn about age-appropriate activities to help keep kids busy and out of trouble. Fourth chapter is discipline and problem children. The time-out is the biggest weapon, also the denial of privileges. The fifth is a basic business lesson on how to set up and run a babysitting business, and the sixth is about applying things you’ve learned in babysitting class to other areas of life.”

At the end, there is a final exam, which can be taken more than once if necessary. “The average student takes about one hour per chapter. We offer support — you can call or email with questions. When you pass the final test, we mail you a certificate and a business kit. From the time a student registers, they have a yearlong pass to access the site and take the test. It costs $17.50.”

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