How to Hire Super Babysitters
The Right Stuff
“When is Sarah coming back to play with me?” my daughter asks. “Why don’t you and Daddy go to the movies soon?” she suggests. “I’m coloring this very special picture for Sarah.” Sarah, the goddess in question, is one of our teenage babysitters, and the entire family agrees that she’s a terrific girl.
A good sitter, like a good hair stylist, is someone you want to have in your life. But how do you find a good sitter when you’ve just moved or had a baby and don’t know what to look for and where to begin?
The very best way to become acquainted with a great babysitter is through a referral. Your first phone calls should be to friends or neighbors with young children. Ask them who they use and if they’d be willing to share her name and number. If you don’t know your neighbors, get gutsy and stop mothers in your local grocery store, kids’ clothing store, or at the playground and say, “I’m sorry to bother you, but I’m new in town (or just had a baby) and I’m looking for a good babysitter. I was wondering if you could possibly help me out and recommend one?” Most moms have been in the same situation and will share their sitters.
If you’re not bold enough to accost strangers, try calling the youth director of a large church or synagogue in your area for a recommendation. Also, many high schools and YMCA facilities offer babysitter certification courses and can give you the names of recent graduates. Some larger neighborhoods even run babysitting co-ops, where you trade babysitting duties with other mothers with children of similar ages.
Consider an internet search site, such as sittercity.com, which allows you to search for babysitters in your area and prescreen candidates.
I’ve Got a Name! … Now What?
Just because a young lady or gentleman (I have several friends with sons who prefer male sitters because they’re more fun for the boys) is available to babysit doesn’t mean that person is the right sitter for you. For instance, if you have a very young baby, make sure to ask if your candidate has experience with infants. If you aren’t able to pick up your sitter, you’ll need to make sure she has transportation.
Punctuality is a good indicator of maturity and responsibility, so I like to schedule an informal interview a week before my outing. If the prospective sitter arrives late, seriously consider trying someone else. If she dresses like Britney Spears, calls you anything other than Mrs. Smith, or seems like one of the dimmer bulbs on the porch, politely cancel the job as soon as possible.
I require that my sitters complete the Red Cross babysitter certification course, which covers first aid, feeding, bathing, emergencies, and general child care. I’m also very blunt with new candidates and ask them for their GPA and what extracurricular activities they participate in. A kid with low grades and no sports or hobbies isn’t generally the kind I desire.
The other important quality to look for is honesty; that can be hard to gauge with a young person you don’t really know, but it can show up at odd times. I once had a sitter that told me up front that she’d turned her back, and my daughter had accidentally rolled down our steep driveway on her tricycle and careened into the street. There wasn’t a scratch on my little daredevil, so I’d never have known this if she hadn’t been so honest. My neighbors, who witnessed the event, were amazed and impressed when I told them that I was already aware of it, and said, “That’s a good sitter. Keep her!”
You want a sitter who will tell you when something’s been broken, rather than hide it in the trash, or one that will admit that she caved into a tantrum and let your son have three lollipops in a row. A babysitter that will tell you exactly what happened while you were gone gives you peace of mind.
Getting to Know Each Other
If you ever babysat as a teenager, you’ll remember how disconcerting it was the first time you worked for a new family. You walked into a strange house, met the parents, were paraded in front of a few kids, given a five-minute overview of the job, and left to figure it out for the next few hours.
A 15-minute visit a few days prior to the job can pave the way for a smooth exchange on Friday night when you’re rushing out to catch a movie. When I get the name of a new sitter, I first call her parents to introduce myself, let them know how I heard of their daughter, and ask if she is free to babysit. I inform the parents where I live, the age of my children, and how long we plan to be out. This five-minute call puts parents’ minds at ease and puts the decision of whether or not the job seems like a good fit in the hands of the folks who know your potential sitter best.
Next comes the meet-and-greet, where the kids get to meet the sitter and everyone can ask questions, get the layout of the house, and generally feel comfortable that it’s a good match. If she shows up early, she’s a keeper! If you’re not sure about a potential hire’s infant skills, have her feed the baby while you talk or have her describe her past experience with young babies.
Once you feel comfortable that you’ve hired a winner, make sure to mention the house rules during the pre-job chat or when she arrives on the job. Here are a few to consider, but every family has their own priorities, so think about yours beforehand so you can sound friendly and firm when you review them:
- No friends over, unless you ask in advance.
- No phone calls—including personal cell phones—unless the children are asleep.
- If we’re out past 10 PM, it’s OK to fall asleep on the couch. Or not. If you have a little baby who wakes frequently, you may want to ask the sitter to remain awake even if it gets late.
- No television shows containing violence or sexual scenes. You may want to specify channels the kids can watch or appropriate videos.
- Decide whether you feel comfortable having the sitter leave the house with the children on a wagon walk or in the stroller to a nearby park.
Don’t Forget to Mention
Despite the basic rules, babysitting should be a fun experience, so make sure to mention where drinks and snacks can be found and that your sitter is welcome to eat the entire pantry if she feels like it. Teach her how to work the remote control, satellite box, or whatever electronic configuration you have. Make life easier on her by dialing your cell phone or the number where you can be reached right before you leave the house. Then she can just hit “redial” to contact you in a hurry.
On the topic of emergency info, make sure yours is posted clearly and that you’ve pointed it out to the babysitter. Always include your address and directions to your home with the names of your cross streets, since emergency personnel will ask for this information and your sitter won’t have it memorized.
Praise and Payment
There are two ways to keep a great babysitter coming back: compliments and cash. Upon your return, thank her for picking up the toys or praise her for getting the kids to eat a decent lunch. You’re her boss and she’s your employee, so treat her with respect when it’s earned. On that note, I’m always horrified when I hear of parents paying babysitters less than minimum wage. An individual who cares for children should be paid more than the person who bags burgers. Paying your sitter what she deserves also demonstrates that you value her work, respect her, and want her to come back again. Like a waitress who gets a lousy tip, an underpaid babysitter will feel like she did a poor job or that her employer is angry.
If you have more than one child, tack on an extra one to two dollars an hour per sibling. Infant care is generally more demanding, so are big duties like dinner, baths, and bedtime, and payment should reflect the difficulty of the job. If she drives herself to and from your house, throw in a couple of bucks for gas and the trip you were saved. Many moms complain that once a young lady gets an afterschool job, she’ll no longer accept babysitting gigs: that’s only because she’s making more money waiting tables or bagging groceries. If you really love your babysitter, match her pay appropriately to keep her coming back.
Grow Your Own
Although most neighborhood babysitters are in high school or college, don’t overlook the younger teen living nearby. Although our neighbor Lauren is only 12, she’s a terrific mother’s helper, playing with the kids in the house or pushing them on the swings while I’m working. She’s also a handy resource when I need to run errands for an hour. While she’s not old enough to trust with baths or longer outings, I’ll slowly add new responsibilities as her maturity allows, until she’s a super sitter who knows all our household routines and has essentially grown up with my children. The beautiful part of taking a younger sitter under your wing is you’ve got nearly six years of babysitting before she heads off on her own!
Unless you live in a rural area with few young people around, hiring a super sitter shouldn’t be too difficult if you’re willing to ask other moms for referrals or make a few phone calls. There are thousands of terrific young people ready to lovingly care for your little ones while you get some well deserved time off. Just ask, phone, and interview until you’ve found the one for you.
Signs that Told Me I Had a Super Sitter
- Erika told me that when she wasn’t paying attention my daughter had ridden into the street on her bike.
- Sarah showed up with a box of her old clothes and baby dolls to play dress-up with my daughter on a rainy day.
- When Heather arrived and saw both my girls running naked through the house, she laughed and said, “My little brothers do that. I feel right at home!”
- Emily called me while I was out to ask permission for her girlfriend to come over and study once the kids were asleep.
- Alyssa consistently arrived 10 minutes early, scooped the baby from my arms, and took my other daughter upstairs so I could finish getting dressed in peace.
- Elise made the children’s beds, picked up the playroom, and put all the dinner dishes away!
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