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How do I find a babysitter?
If you're just starting your babysitter search, never fear – there are lots of ways to find a qualified person to care for your child. Good strategies include putting the word out to your friends and family, calling professional babysitting agencies, and searching online services that connect babysitters and parents.
For more information, including tips on finding a great sitter when you're traveling, see our complete article on finding a babysitter.
How do I choose a babysitter?
It depends on your needs. If your child is going to be alone with the sitter, start with someone old enough – and mature enough – to do the job. The American Red Cross says parents shouldn't choose someone younger than 11 to look after their baby.
And some experts are more cautious, saying a child isn't qualified for babysitting until age 14. Preteens make great mother's helpers, though, if you need an extra pair of hands while you're home.
Ultimately, you're the best judge of an individual teenager's capabilities. Talk to her, watch her interact with your child, and then decide for yourself. (Most babysitters are girls or women, so we say "she" and "her" throughout this article, but there are plenty of great male babysitters, too!)
Of course, age isn't the only factor. If the sitter you're considering is an adult, your main concerns are her previous childcare experience and your comfort level with her personality. In any case, ask all potential sitters to provide references.
When you call the sitter's references, ask detailed questions about how long they've known the sitter, the ages of the children she cared for, and what her responsibilities were. If your sitter is a teenager, you may also want to call her parents to find out how well she handles responsibility.
If your child is an infant, be sure your babysitter has experience caring for very young children and has taken – or is willing to take – courses in infant CPR and first aid. And check that she knows never, ever to shake your baby.
Before you walk out the door, you want to feel sure your sitter is someone you can trust to handle any emergency, or who will at least know whom to call and what procedures to follow should trouble arise.
You'll also want to set some ground rules to make sure the sitter respects your house and possessions. Some of these are up to you: Is it okay to watch TV? How do you feel about her posting selfies with your children? Do you expect her to do the dishes after dinner? Obviously, she shouldn't smoke or drink or have people over – especially boyfriends – without your express permission.
What questions should I ask a potential sitter?
After you've covered the basics, such as asking for references and discussing schedules and availability, you'll want to assess a sitter's level of experience and training in safety procedures. In addition to CPR, ask if she knows the first steps to take in case of infant choking or toddler choking and what to do in a fire or other emergency.
Next, move on to how she relates to children. Does she love babies and kids? (Obviously she'll say yes, so try to make your questions open-ended to get a more complete answer. Try queries such as, "Why do you like working with children?" and, "What do you like best about babysitting?")
Ask her how she'd respond when your child disobeys or doesn't follow her directions.
If you have older kids, find out how interested she is in entertaining them with games and other activities. Is she up for kicking a soccer ball around in the backyard? You don't want someone plopping your child in front of a screen while she chats with friends or who ignores your child while keeping her eyes locked on her phone.
Last, talk about the rules of your house, such as no smoking or drinking alcohol. If language is important to you, let her know you don't want her to swear in front of your child. And make sure you mention any restrictions, such as limits on screen time or not watching particular shows or listening to certain types of music when your child is awake.
Remember, there's no such thing as an irrelevant question when it comes to your child's safety and well-being. Trust your instinct. Even if the sitter answers all your questions to your satisfaction, don't hire her if you feel uneasy about her.
How much should I pay?
Babysitting rates are usually hourly and depend on a lot of factors – from where you live to how many children you have to whether there's any cooking or driving involved. In different situations, rates can be anywhere from $5 to $20 an hour or more.
To get a good idea of the going rate, ask your neighbors and other parents how much they pay. Your babysitter may also set her own rates, or her references may help you determine what to offer.
How can I prepare my babysitter for the job?
The first time a sitter works for you, ask her to arrive half an hour before you plan to leave. This will give her time to learn more about you, your house, and, of course, your child.
You may even want to pay the sitter to come over and play with your kids a few times while you're home. Use the time to take care of household tasks, knowing that if trouble erupts, you're only a room away.
Give her all the information she'll need, from emergency phone numbers to what's off-limits in the fridge. Show her how the door locks work (you don't want anyone getting locked out!) and make sure she knows where everything is. In particular, walk her through diaper changes, and show her where you stash the baby care supplies.
Also point out where emergency exits, smoke detectors, and fire extinguishers are located. If you have an alarm system, demonstrate how it works. And make sure she knows where the first-aid kit is.
Let her know what schedule you want her to keep, and explain bedtime routines and bath and mealtime procedures. If she'll be cooking or heating food, show her around the kitchen. And if she'll be feeding your baby expressed breast milk or formula, make sure she knows how to do it properly.
Tell her ahead of time what your baby can and can't do, and what's off-limits for older kids.
Remember to leave her your cell phone number and the address and phone number of where you'll be (especially important if you're going anyplace where you may have to turn off your cell or might not hear it ring).
If you'll be some distance away, make sure the sitter knows how to contact neighbors or family members who live close by if she needs help. You may even want to call the neighbors and alert them that you're going out and have a new sitter, so they can assist if anything comes up – and can be on the lookout for any sign of trouble.
How do I establish a good relationship with my sitter?
Remember to treat your babysitter with respect – this may be her first real job, and she wants to be seen as a capable adult. Don't ask her to do things beyond the scope of what you originally discussed. It's not her job to do the laundry or scrub down the kitchen. Besides, that would take her attention away from her primary task, which is to keep your child safe and happy.
On the other hand, it's reasonable to expect her to tidy up any messes made in your absence.
Tell her specifically what you've noticed that she does well. This will increase her confidence and reinforce your instructions. She'll understand better how you want her to behave with your child.
The key is to make your sitter feel needed, appreciated, and welcome in your home. Trusting her with your baby or child lets her know that already, but it's important not to take the relationship for granted. Show that you respect her time by scheduling or canceling well in advance.
Make sure she knows how much you value her hard work – if she's your baby's favorite sitter, tell her! Any employer-employee relationship is a two-way street, and if your babysitter feels respected, she'll respond by treating you – and your child – the same way.