What is emotional babysitting?

Emotional babysitting is a form of emotional labour where you are constantly worried about what someone else is feeling. I’m not talking about the times when a loved one is going through a crisis and needs a lot of support. I’m talking about the daily, constant worrying about everyone else’s mood and comfort. 

The thought of someone else being upset, inconvenienced, or otherwise harmed emotionally causes deep discomfort and anxiety. You might think you can prevent someone else from getting upset and this mistaken belief can make you feel like it is somehow your fault when they inevitably get upset anyway due to something out of your control.

Emotional babysitting can also be referred to as being “over-responsible” and is based on a deeply ingrained sense of responsibility for taking care of others emotionally. You might find you do this not just with friends and family, but also co-workers, acquaintances, and even strangers on the bus. It can be an overwhelming and exhausting way to live, leading to burnout at work and in your personal life.

The problem with being an emotional babysitter

Your worries are based mostly on assumptions. Most of the time, no one has asked you to emotionally babysit them and may not even be aware you are doing it. Your assumptions about what they feel or need could be wrong, leading to unnecessary or ineffective worrying.

You end up putting your own needs last. When your primary focus is helping other people get what (you think) they need, you have little time and energy left for yourself and don’t end up getting what you really want and need. Not taking care of your own needs is a quick way to get burned out.

Your emotional well-being and peace of mind depend on other people’s moods. The motto of an emotional babysitter is: I won’t be okay until I know you are okay (and not upset with me). This can make it very hard to relax and live in the present moment.

How to break the habit

First, try reflecting on where this habit might come from. It could be that you grew up in a home where taking care of everyone else’s emotions was helpful or at least felt helpful to you. It might have given you a sense of control in a scary or unsettling environment. 

Then, try to find a balance between being considerate of other people and looking after your own needs. 

  • Check the facts: Challenge your assumptions about what someone else is thinking or feeling when they haven’t actually told you.
  • Remind yourself that your needs and comfort are important too. Self-sacrifice does not have to be your default setting.
  • Remember that lots of things in life are out of your control and that you can’t always protect other people from feeling negative emotions.
  • Notice any discomfort that comes up around not being in control. What are you afraid will happen? Is that fear realistic?
  • When you notice the urge to engage in emotional babysitting, remind yourself that this is an outdated habit from earlier in your life and that you don’t need to do it anymore. 

Get help with emotional babysitting

If you’re an emotional babysitter and are ready for a change, please book a free consultation.

Rachel Ginsberg

Rachel Ginsberg


Contact Me

Recent Posts