Putting Sitters to the Test
How do you know if a sitter is good? There's no surefire way, but for starters, get some recommendations from friends. They can give you the names of their favorites.
Then, give the sitter a dry run. Try him or her out for a few hours while you remain in the house. Keep tabs on what she's doing with the kids. Does she play with them or simply watch them? How does she behave if the kids misbehave? Does she seem to enjoy being with children or is she simply enduring them?
By the way, with sitters, older doesn't necessarily mean better. We've had eighth and ninth graders who were great. What they lack in experience is often made up for in interest and enthusiasm. And older sitters often have more social, school, or work conflicts, so they may not be available as often.
You may also want to do what I do: train your kids to be squealers. After the sitter leaves, I quiz my kids at length about what went on in my absence. Even allowing for some exaggeration, my children have become pretty reliable and accurate spies.
The bottom line is that most parents are going to have to use a sitter at one time or another. With a little research, you can find someone your kids like and who you can trust. And isn't that worth a little extra effort?