Once upon a time, I fell victim to the world’s worst babysitter. Our go-to babysitter, a teenager who lived across the cul-da-sac, canceled last minute. Instead, her friend subbed in to watch myself and my two younger siblings for the evening.
Not even 15 minutes after my parents parted with us, our doorbell rings — it was the sitter’s pizza-face boyfriend. Left to our own devices, my sister and I brought our dinner — box of cherry Popsicles — into the living room. We ate nearly the whole box, and left the remainder to melt onto our new plush white carpet. In order to clean up the mess, she grabbed the closest and most convenient cleaner she could find—bleach. My parents returned to hyped-up children. The sitter, awkwardly stationed in the corner of our living room — atop the stain. When asked what was going on, she stood up quickly and ran for the door.
Long story short? No matter how reliable your new go-to babysitter is, Murphy’s Law will ensure that she’ll have to bail at the last minute. Luckily, we’re here to make sure you don’t end up with a story such as the one above. Without further ado, here are some methods to make your babysitter experience go smoothly as possible.
Seek and Find
Maybe they’re vexed by a backfiring car, or make giant pancakes for breakfast. But when it comes to your kiddos, a sloppy and crass Uncle Buck is often the preferred choice to a complete stranger.
Entrusting someone to care for your kids can be challenging. Finding a qualified babysitter requires time and effort, but your reward is assurance that your child is in capable hands.
The first and best option is going to be with your family. They are trusted resources for a reason, and more than likely will know your kiddos more than most. However, if you’re unable to recruit a family member, it’s always best to ask for recommendations from people you trust.
Ask your preschool, friends, family, church or anyone else who has spent time with your child for recommendations. Heck, ask colleagues if they can recommend any babysitters that they regularly use —especially those you see as trustworthy and good with children. The recommendations from these types of people are best for finding a reliable and capable babysitter.
Try using an agency or online resource, such as care.com. Just make sure you check how they vet their employees. If you are still having a difficult time nailing down a list of potential candidates, advertise in a local college that teaches childcare courses.
No Kidding Around
Remember: there are no specific regulations about babysitters, so it is the parents’ responsibility to choose someone suitable.
Do keep in mind experts recommend not leaving children with babysitters who are younger than the age of 16. Either way, it’s important to check your state’s legal age restrictions for leaving children at home alone.
Make sure you get two character references and always follow them up. This is an especially crucial step if you do not know the babysitter. You may feel more comfortable doing this before the in-person interview, or before letting them alone with your child. Either way, ask general questions regarding how things went. These could include:
- Have they worked with children the same age as yours?
- How do they get a baby to sleep?
- Did they have duties and responsibilities similar (baths, cooking dinner, homework help) to your own needs?
If you can, contact other parents who have used them as a babysitter. Find out whether they were reliable, trustworthy, responsible and competent. As with any job, background is key. So, if your prospective babysitter has experienced responsibilities similar to your own family’s needs, it’s likely to be a great fit overall.
Once you’ve settled on the best candidate, it’s time for the initial interview. If the sitter is under the age of 18, consider having their parents join them in the interview.
It’s important to ask general questions pertaining to their qualifications. Prepare a list of questions to ask ahead of time. Some examples of questions include:
- How long they’ve been babysitting.
- What age groups they’ve worked with.
- Whether they certified in infant and child CPR or have taken a babysitter course.
- What hours they are happy to work.
- How they cope with an emergency, illness or a child behaving badly.
When it comes to personality traits and ideal attributes, different families require different things. Some kids need a high-energy 17-year-old who can keep up with their insatiable quest for adventure; others demand a child-care provider with a mellow, mature presence.
Is it imperative your kids have a ride to and from after-school activities? Ask candidates questions pertaining to their driving history, punctuality and familiarity with car safety belts. Do you need someone to cook meals in your absence? Ask questions about being comfortable in the kitchen.
Ask them how they would cope with an emergency, illness or a child behaving badly. Look for answers that show calm, clear thinking. You need to know that a babysitter will not panic or lose their temper in this kind of situation.
The interview is also the proper time to discuss hourly or evening rates. This is also the time to settle the matter of transportation.
Kid Tested, Kid Approved
A great babysitter isn’t necessarily one-size-fits-all. Sure, some characteristics are universal—he or she ought to like kids, and should be respectful, responsible, warm, and open to communication.
That is, one person’s Nanny McPhee could make your children flee.
Consider what might be the best fit for your kids and their interests. Always allow your children to meet the babysitter before left alone together.
Observe how the babysitter interacts with your children. They should give them plenty of attention, use a gentle tone of voice, show concern for their safety and well-being and keep calm and patient with them.
After the interview, if everyone agrees, leave for 20 minutes and have them watch your child. Or, consider inviting a sitter over for a dry run while you’re at home to familiarize him or her with your household and observe the interactions with your child.
Watch the interaction with your children. Pay attention to their style, teaching skills, playfulness and comfort level when it comes to discipline.
Most importantly, how do the kids connect with the candidate? After all, they’re the ones who will be spending the most time together. Therefore, seeing the child-sitter interaction firsthand is a big advantage to finding the correct candidate.
Or, go with your gut.
There might be a candidate who has a remarkable babysitter resume, fantastic references and perfect answers for all your interview questions — but something just seems off. You might not be able to put a finger on it, but you don’t need to explain it. Trust your instincts.
Take Prior Care
Ask the babysitter to arrive 15 minutes before you’re due to leave. This allows for a bit of extra time to go through any vital information. Not to mention, a bit of wiggle room in case they are late. Unless they’re Mary Poppins and arrive on time via glorious descent from the clouds.
Give the sitter general information and specific instructions about your child and your home. Be very clear about what you want her to do in your absence. This includes certain routines, such as bed, dinner and play times. If you have general guidelines pertaining to discipline, make sure you provide an overview. However, always leave plenty of space for fun, initiative and creativity.
Show the babysitter the location of emergency exits, smoke detectors, and fire extinguishers. Demonstrate how to enable and disable security systems and alarms if you have them.
If you are going out during the day and meals will be involved, appropriate and simple instructions should be given. It’s difficult to find one’s way in a strange kitchen, so necessary implements should be set out.
Prepare a sheet of vital information for your sitter. Leave it in a convenient place such as directly over the telephone. The list should include:
- Your name, home address, and phone number.
- Any special allergies or medication.
- The phone numbers of your doctor, the police department, and the fire department.
- Name, address, and phone number of where they can reach you.
- Name and phone number of nearby neighbors to contact in an emergency.
- As a back-up, the phone number and name of a relative or close friend.
- The time you expect to return.
Also, let the sitter know if you are going to be late. There might be people who they need to update in the interim.
The Home Truth
When you return home, make sure to take time to gather feedback from the babysitter. Get a gauge on the overall experience by asking important questions. Ask if they encountered problems and/or how they got along with your children.
Talk to your children about the new babysitter. Ask what they did or did not like and how they would feel about this person returning. If you found a reliable sitter they like, you’ll enjoy a more relaxing time away from home. Parents tend to feel security having the knowledge that their children are in good hands. Or, you could always call Grandma.