by Denise Yearian
Most parents look to family, friends and acquaintances when they need a babysitter. But during the summer months steady sitters may be unavailable, forcing moms and dads to find someone new to watch the kids if they need a night out. To alleviate new caregiver apprehensions and ensure a suitable match, experts suggest parents start with a character sketch and follow through with a dry run.
That’s what Hilary Deininger did. When her regular babysitter moved to the beach last summer, this mother of two preschoolers started looking for a replacement among the young people who attended her church.
“I wanted to find someone who was mature, outgoing, experienced with preschoolers and could handle a crisis—and a sometimes willful child,” says Deininger. “I found an adept young lady who had babysitting and safety certifications, so I thought I’d give her a try.”
Before hiring a sitter, consider what characteristics and personality traits are important to you, such as age, training and personality. Next conduct a telephone or face-to-face interview.
“Find out how long she has been babysitting, what ages she’s worked with, her experience with emergencies and how many children at one time were in her care,” says Kathleen Dorsey, YMCA family program manager. “If your child is working on a developmental achievement such as potty training, ask about her comfort level with that too.”
This is where Brenda Teti began. After posting a babysitting position on her company’s intranet notice board, she received a response from an intern looking to pick up additional work.
“I wanted to get a feel for her before having her watch my kids, so I called to get more information,” says the mother of two preschoolers. “She told me she had an abundance of experience with babysitting and watching younger siblings and had even coached sports teams, one being swimming. I considered that a bonus because we have a pool.”
Next ask for and check references.
“This ensures your child’s safety and will help you find a good match,” says Sue Powell, American Red Cross administrator and instructor trainer. “When talking with other parents, consider the ages of their children in relation to your own and ask what they think the sitter’s strengths and weaknesses are.”
Another way to find the right fit is to do a trial run.
“Invite the potential sitter to your home or a family outing so she and your child can get acquainted with one another and you can observe their interactions,” says Dorsey. “If you have a pet that will be under her care, include him in this time too.”
Teti was satisfied with her telephone interview and so invited the soon-to-be sitter over for a visit.
“I wanted to find out if she’d be prompt and see how she interacted with my kids—if she’d get on their level and engage them,” she says. “It went great. So a couple of weeks later we had her come back, this time to care for them on her own.”
Before the first sitting engagement, give the new caregiver a tour of your home and brief her on rules, routines and preferences. Point out safety hazards, emergency items, off-limits areas and essential care items and explain how to operate doors, windows and electronics.
“Don’t assume she will know and don’t leave it to your children to tell her. Write it down,” says Powell. “If your kids are old enough, discuss rules and routines with the sitter and children together to avoid misunderstandings.”
“I write down a basic schedule to follow: ‘This is what we do and what the kids usually eat,’ particularly since my daughter has a milk allergy and my son will probably ask for—but can’t have—iced tea,” says Deininger. “I also make sure she’s aware of our potty training procedures.”
Most important create an emergency plan. Include specific instructions, along with a written list of phone numbers and your address and subdivision. If you are visiting a large stadium or theater, jot down the seat and row numbers as well. Also be specific about your preferences with regard to cooking, cell phone and computer usage and inviting others over while caring for your child. When you return home follow up with information.
“Feedback from the sitter is crucial, but it’s important to get your child’s input too,” says Dorsey. “Talk with your child and find out if he enjoyed the sitter and would like her to come back. Kids are pretty honest and will tell you if something happened they didn’t feel right about.”
Most important, trust your instincts. If you see any red flags or just don’t feel comfortable with an individual, continue your search.
“I had two sitters I didn’t have a peace about so I never called them back,” says Deininger. “I figure I’m entrusting my most precious possessions with someone so I take every precaution—including following my intuition—to make sure it’s a safe and positive experience.”
-Denise Yearian is the former editor of two parenting magazines and the mother of three children.
On the hunt for a new sitter? Try these tips:
- Start your search. When hiring a new sitter, ask for recommendations from family and friends. Also check with Girl Scout troop leaders, church youth pastors, moms groups, civic associations and nearby daycare centers, particularly if your child is enrolled there. Colleges, universities and employer websites may also have an intranet with a classified section. Online babysitting services are an option too, but they usually come with a fee.
- Create a character sketch. Consider what characteristics are important for your sitter to possess, such as age, personality, experience and training. Some parents would prefer an older woman with years of experience. Others are fine with an energetic but mature teen.
- Initiate an interview. Before hiring a sitter, conduct a face-to-face or telephone interview. Find out about her experience. Does she have formal training? Organizations such as the American Red Cross and YMCA offer training and safety certification. Also ask about availability, transportation needs and how much she charges. The current rate for babysitters is between $5 and $10 per hour. The more training and experience she has the more parents can expect to pay.
- Rely on references. Obtain the names of several other parents who have employed the sitter. Call and ask what they think her strengths and weaknesses are and consider the ages of their children in relation to your own. Taking these measures will increase your child’s safety and help you find a good sitter-child match.
- Invite interactions. Before having the sitter watch your children alone, invite her to come to your home or enjoy a family outing so she and your child get acquainted with one another and you can observe their interactions. If you have a family pet she will need to care for, include him in this time.
- Tour talks. Before the first sitting engagement, give the new caregiver a tour of your home and brief her on rules, routines and preferences. Point out safety hazards, emergency items, off-limits areas and essential care items and explain how to operate doors, windows and electronics. Don’t assume she will know these things and don’t leave it to your children to tell her. Write it down. If your kids are old enough, go over rules and routines with the sitter and children together to avoid misunderstandings. Also be specific about your preferences with regard to cooking, cell phone and computer usage and inviting others over while caring for your child.
- Address emergencies. Create an emergency plan and include specific instructions, along with a written list of phone numbers and your address and subdivision. If you plan to visit a large stadium or theater, jot down the seat and row numbers.
- Follow up with feedback. When you return home, talk with the sitter to find out how the evening went. If your children are old enough get their input too. Did they like the sitter? Do they want her to return? Most children will be honest and tell you if something happened they didn’t feel right about.
- Trust your instinct. If you see any red flags or just don’t feel comfortable with an individual, continue your search. Remember, you are entrusting your most precious possession with someone and you want it to be a safe and positive experience.