Small Sitters, Big Skills

By Yvonne Brown


The first year or two of middle school can be tricky for the average 11 or 12-year-old to navigate. Following five or six safe and familiar years in elementary school, they are suddenly thrust into an unfamiliar building and environment they are not quite prepared for, with intimidating older kids and a bucketful of hormones. Throw into the mix some new and different subjects and much more homework to deal with, and it sometimes can be described as an anxious yet exciting experience as they place their foot on the path to teenage years. 

However, it’s also considered a stage where tweens (kids ages 9-12) are enthusiastic about taking on more responsibility, and for many, that first opportunity comes knocking in the form of being a mother’s helper and/or babysitter. 

Enter Nicole Cress, a Frisco resident and an advocate and fan of middle schoolers. She is passionate about training tweens and young teens on what one could call their first business venture.

Nicole attended her first Safe Sitter class when she was a tween. She recalls, “I remember taking this class when I was just 12 years old, loving it, and coming away feeling like it prepared me well to take a step helping with children and other home tasks.” 

She put herself out there and became a mom’s helper to a neighbor. Duties like packing boxes, light housework, and playing simple games with the children while mom was occupied or working in the home gave her the confidence to seek out more work and become helpful to parents in need in her neighborhood. Word of mouth was her most significant marketing tool. 

“Starting as a mother’s helper, some of the moms would slowly entrust me to care for their toddlers and young infants in the home, and I built my experience,” Ms. Cress explains. “It became an honor to support various families, and I felt pride knowing they trusted me. I took it seriously, understanding it was a big responsibility.” 

Safe Sitter was founded in 1980 by Dr. Patricia A. Keener, MD, a board-certified pediatrician and neonatologist. While working at the Community Hospital of Indianapolis, an 18-month-old girl was brought to the emergency room, having choked while eating breakfast. The babysitter caring for her didn’t know how to rescue a choking child, and by the time the ambulance brought the girl to the hospital, it was too late.

Compelled by this tragedy, Dr. Keener pursued a solution to prevent such incidents from happening and eventually drafted a curriculum to teach life skills, safety skills, and first aid and rescue skills to middle-school-aged children. She taught the first class at her own children’s school; then, she began teaching at the Community Hospital where she worked. Eventually, Dr. Keener trained others to teach the classes, and the program soon spread across the Midwest. It went national by 1988, across 28 states, eventually reaching all 50 states by 1995. Presently, the program is taught by a network of over 3,000 Instructors across the United States and Canada.

The programs are turn-key, easy to implement, and follow guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Heart Association. 

Having taken her first Safe Sitter course as a tween, Nicole started her mother’s helper experience in Fairfax, Virginia, and moved to Frisco when she was 14. She immediately set about marketing herself in a new neighborhood as a sitter and mother’s helper. Word of mouth meant she was referred in high school by friends and families, and she continued to take one job after another. Though she wasn’t involved much in extracurricular activities, she was consistent in her work and said “yes” as much as possible to those seeking her help. 

Nicole describes her role as an extension of each family she worked for, and as she got older, the work quickly led to overnight babysitting support. She felt a great sense of pride knowing families trusted her with their children, their most prized possessions, for a few days at a time. 

Working for different job agencies, she eventually became a nanny and supported over 125 families over ten years. This included 13 sets of twins and two sets of triplets. Her family still resides in the same neighborhood in Frisco, and she often visits the same families and still takes babysitting jobs when available.  

Entering adulthood, she became quite the entrepreneur. She is now working full-time as an administrative assistant for a renovation company in Dallas and owns and manages her own Air B&B, but she still feels her passion is in childcare. The next natural step was to become a Safe Sitter instructor and teach other young kids the skills that remain valuable and rewarding to her. 

Nicole officially became a Safe Sitter Licensed Instructor in May 2023 and now hosts her classes in the iSaveLives CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) Training Center in central Frisco. 


The Safe Sitter Course hasfour components:

Safety Skills cover indoor, outdoor, online, and personal safety. Such skills address potential emergencies like fire, power outages, and weather issues while supervising young children outside, as well as knowing when to raise the 9-1-1 alarm or contact the parent, employer, or a trusted grown-up.

Childcare Skills cover an understanding of the various stages of child development and associated risks. Participants are taught the routines and demands of children in different stages of childhood, from infancy through toddler years, preschool age to school age up to ten years old, and gain an understanding of the duties and level of responsibility for each stage plus ideas for entertainment while being entrusted with their care. 

First Aid and Rescue Skills are key components of the course and include a guide to common dangers, and possible prevention, as well as injury management, and more specifically, how to handle a child choking situation and CPR. This section of the course includes students working to understand when to make decisions to call for help and/or notify the parent/adult when necessary.

Life and Business Skills introduce students to understanding job screening, meeting employers, setting a wage, and how to cancel or decline a job appropriately when necessary. Additionally, this section covers setting expectations by consistently demonstrating responsibility, being considerate, and remembering etiquette and manners. 

I took the opportunity to sit in on a portion of Nicole’s Safe Sitter class recently. In a comfortable, calm classroom, she uses her experience extensively providing solid information, and encouraging practice, engagement, roleplay, discussion, and various activities and games to enforce the learning – all of which helped the students prepare for this new role in their lives. 

For choking and CPR skills, each participant has a baby and mannequin, whom they decide to name and adopt as their own, to practice with. Each student was very much engaged several hours into the class and invested in contributing and understanding. 

If the students are not quite ready to babysit alone, the skills acquired can also be utilized when being entrusted to stay home alone, being responsible for younger siblings in their home, or starting as a mother’s helper. Overall, they adopt early leadership, life, and decision-making skills. 

Nicole offers her classes mainly on weekends from 8:30 a.m. – 3 p.m. but can split the class into two evenings if that works better for the participant’s calendar. She is also open to suggestions and flexibility to cater to specific groups’ needs and schedules, and can also work with various group sizes at any one time. 

At the end of each class, parents are invited to a graduation ceremony where the students receive a certificate of completion and a keepsake goody bag with basic tools for their future babysitting work. 

Discussing the motivation behind spreading her knowledge, Nicole admits, “I love working with middle schoolers. I completely understand their stage of life and how they deal with challenging issues as they grow up. I feel passionate about sharing some valuable skills with them, as a way of introducing a sense of responsibility in their world. How to create structure and boundaries with their skills and hopefully inspire some passion about taking care of young children.”

Nicole hopes each student she instructs, takes away from her course a sense of newfound responsibility, providing excellence in every aspect of safety skills and a passion for childcare at every stage of life.

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Yvonne Brown is a Frisco-based freelance writer who enjoys lattes, authentic Italian food, preferably on a patio, and exploring all aspects of North Texas life with her family and friends.

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