Choosing a babysitter outside your immediate family can be a daunting process. You will naturally want someone reliable and responsible but also someone
who can have fun with your child and is genuinely interested in their wellbeing. Taking time to choose the right babysitter and give them clear instructions will help them feel more in control and give you greater peace of mind.
Finding a babysitter
Ask for names of babysitters in your community
Often the first - and most reliable - referrals for a babysitter are relatives, friends, and neighbours. Cast your net wider by asking in your workplace,
your church, or any activity or leisure groups you belong to.
Some people also like to identify potential babysitters who have a younger sibling. Not only do they have experience with younger children but
their sibling may be ready to take over when your sitter moves on.
Interview potential sitters
Use this opportunity both to ask the standard questions about a babysitter's experience and to check candidates' initiative and problem-solving skills.
Consider the following questions.
- How many years have you been babysitting?
- What is your availability during the week?
- How old are the children you have babysat?
- How many children have you babysat at once?
- Have you done a babysitting course? What were the main things you learned?
- Do you know infant first aid or CPR? Can you provide evidence (such as a certificate)?
- Can you give an example of a difficult situation you had to deal with while babysitting? What did you do?
- What would you do if my child locked themselves in the bathroom (or some other example)?
Don't forget to ask any questions that relate to your family's unique needs, for example if children need help with homework or if a child has a medical
condition or an allergy.
You can also use the interview to check how eager a candidate is to bond with your child. For instance, are they interested to know about your child's
likes or dislikes, their favourite toys, or any special books or ways to prepare food?
Ask for references
Checking your candidate's background is a crucial step in the process. References can come from neighbours, teachers, or other babysitting clients. You can
use general, or open-ended, questions with neighbours or teachers, but try using more specific questions with other clients. For example, check if the
families are similar to yours in terms of number of kids and their ages and if the babysitter had similar duties with them as they will with your kids.
Observe the babysitter with your kids
Invite the potential babysitter to your home to meet your children and spend time with them. A good babysitter will welcome this opportunity. Look at how
the sitter interacts with your children and how the kids connect with them. This will help you assess if the sitter genuinely likes children and wants to do
fun things. It can also tell you if the sitter is open to your style of parenting and discipline.
Trust your instinct
A candidate may seem great on paper and even give ideal answers in an interview. But if something seems off, especially when they are with your children,
don't ignore it. Trusting your gut before you hire a babysitter could save you many headaches later.
When you have a babysitter
Now that you have a babysitter, it's wise to prepare them for their time with your kids so that they feel confident and in control should any surprises, or
Ask the sitter to arrive 15 to 30 minutes early
When you first use a babysitter, you will usually need to go over some essential information about your kids and your rules. Allow up to half an hour for
this so that it is not rushed as you go out the door.
It is a good idea to cover the following points, depending on the time of day that you need the sitter.
- Explain meal times, what food to serve, and any food allergies.
- Recap bed times and bedtime routines, for example tooth brushing or bathing and any favourite toys.
- Explain house rules, such as whether your sitter can watch TV, have a snack, use the computer or phone, or have a friend over when the children are
- If a child has a medical condition or even a minor ailment, tell the babysitter what you expect them to do. For example, can the sitter give
medicine and, if so, when and how much? Be realistic in light of the condition and your babysitter's maturity.
- Tell your sitter where you store your first-aid kit and if they can treat your child for a minor injury.
- Agree with your sitter what time you will be home.
Even seasoned babysitters will benefit from a brief run-down of your children's day and moods so they are more prepared should any issues arise.
Leave contact information
Many parents create a sheet of contact details for their sitter. Consider including the following information.
- Your full home address
- Where you are going (name of place and full address)
- The number where you can be reached (if it is a cell phone, set it to vibrate and have it in a pocket or on a table instead of in a purse)
- The name and number of a back-up contact (such as a neighbour or family friend)
- The name and number of your family doctor
Check in with the babysitter
While you are out, call home to check on the babysitter, especially if it is hard for them to reach you. It can be useful to time the call so that you can
deal with a potential problem, for example a child refusing to eat their dinner or go to sleep. First-time babysitters or those minding children who were
upset as you left will appreciate this gesture. It will also help you check if you need to return early.
Talk to your babysitter and your kids when you get home
When you get home, ask the babysitter how things went. In particular, ask specific questions about areas where you think the sitter might have had
difficulty. Asking open questions without rushing to judgment will help a sitter be honest and overcome any fears that a child's behaviour is a reflection on them.
Have your kids give you their version of events as well, either once the sitter leaves or, if they are in bed, the next day. Finding out what TV shows they
watched, what games they played, and what books they read will give you a true picture of their interaction with the sitter. You can also ask if the sitter
ever raised their voice or did anything that made them feel uncomfortable or afraid.
Children are good judges of character and will be quick to signal if you made the right babysitting choice or if you need to change tack next time around.
- Ask for names of potential babysitters in your community or workplace.
- Ask the babysitter specific questions about their skills and experience, for example if they know first aid or infant CPR and how they would handle different situations.
- Check references and consider if the babysitter has worked for similar families or had similar duties before.
- Watch a babysitter interact with your child to see if they are a good fit.
- Before you go out, leave enough time to explain your children's routines, allergies, or medical conditions and your own house rules.
- Leave a sheet of contact details for your sitter, including your full home address and the numbers to reach you, a back-up contact, and your family doctor.
- When you return, ask the babysitter and your children how things went.