How to Find the Right Babysitter for Your Family

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All parents need a break from time to time. This doesn’t make you a bad parent – just human. Time alone with your partner means finding someone else to watch your children, though, which can sometimes pose a problem. Ideally, you could choose a family member or trusted friend, but that isn’t always an option, particularly if you want a routine night out, such as a Friday date night.

Choosing the right babysitter is crucial, and a responsibility that you should not take lightly. Even at just a couple of hours a week, a babysitter has a tremendous effect and influence on a child. Therefore, it’s paramount to choose someone who acts in accordance with your beliefs and values.

Common Mistakes Parents Make

One of the biggest mistakes parents make is to neglect references, reviews, interviews and other resources. It’s very easy to fall into the trap of being overly casual, but you should approach the hunt for a babysitter as you would any other important business decision, such as investing or purchasing a home. Another mistake many parents make is limiting their options by entering the process with preconceptions about what type of person they need. By embracing open-mindedness, you’ll put yourself in a good position to make the best possible choice.

Know Your Childcare Priorities

Before you begin the process, consider your childcare priorities. These will vary from one family to the next, but there are good fundamentals that apply to all. First and foremost, the care should be comfortable to the child, and you should make all choices with his personality in mind. Parents should also strive for the highest-quality childcare available, delivered in the most productive way possible, but it’s also imperative that a balance be achieved between that and the family’s financial situation. Are you looking for someone to help your child do homework, or just keep him safe for a few hours while you’re out on the town? Think about your goals before you hire a sitter.

Evaluate a Child’s Strengths and Challenges

A parent should itemize what a child does well and what she struggles with. A thorough assessment will help you choose childcare based on your child’s real needs. For instance, if your child has a learning disability, choosing a babysitter with skills in that area can make the babysitting a more productive endeavor for the family.

Finding the Babysitter

Once you’ve performed an objective assessment of the situation, you can begin the process in earnest. Potential sources for babysitters include your personal network, your neighborhood, a church or similar institution, a babysitting agency or an ad in the local newspaper. Here are some steps to follow:

  • Check References: A babysitter must be patient and responsible. Check her references to make sure that’s the case. Don’t allow the source to interfere with your thoroughness, either. A babysitter from your neighborhood or church/synagogue should go through the same vetting process as someone who answered an ad.
  • Perform a Comprehensive Interview: A brief initial interview by phone is OK, but you’ll want to perform a thorough in-person interview before making a decision. Standard interview questions are a good idea, but they shouldn’t be the focus of this step. Instead, present challenging babysitting scenarios and listen closely to how the potential babysitter would handle those challenges.
  • Do a Test Run: If everything feels right after the in-person interview, then schedule a kid test. This is a common request these days, and most babysitters will have no problem with it; those who do balk at the suggestion are better to avoid. During the test, note the babysitter’s style, teaching skills and playfulness. Pay particular attention to how the child reacts. Choosing someone the child takes to is just as important as anything else.
  • Trust Your Parental Instincts: When it comes time to make a decision, don’t be afraid to trust your instincts, particularly regarding bad vibes. It doesn’t matter whether or not the vibes are accurate. What’s important is that you’re confident in your decision and comfortable with the person you’re hiring to watch your child. If you’re not, then you should go in a different direction.

Instructions for Babysitters

Parents need to take a proactive role in assuring that their babysitter choice is the right one. Do this by formulating your childcare priorities into a series of instructions that the caregiver can follow. Include emergency contacts, mapped emergency escape routes, medical information, approved food and drink lists, a possible activity schedule and so on.

Warning Signs

Finding the right babysitter for your children is an ongoing process. Keep in mind that your children’s needs will change over time, and the right babysitter today may not be the right fit tomorrow. You should also be realistic about the possibility that sometimes you might get a bad babysitter anyway. If so, be on the lookout for warning signs:

• Your child demonstrates fear or dislike of the babysitter

• Your child seems tired or hungry when you return home

• The babysitter doesn’t follow instructions and requests to the letter

• The babysitter is tardy, inattentive, secretive or potentially untruthful (e.g., sneaking a portion of your alcohol)

Remember: It’s all about being safe and comfortable, both for you and your child. The more work you put into finding a babysitter that fits your style, the happier you’ll all be in the long run.

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