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Five Things to Know About Finding the Perfect Babysitter

Many couples look forward to getting out for an overdue date night or get-together with friends. Some parents, however, dread leaving their children home with a new babysitter. How do you find a reliable, trustworthy sitter to avoid having a parental panic attack? Explore the following five questions to help identify the perfect babysitter for your family.

Know Where To Look

Other parents can be great sources to find potential sitters ─ if they’re willing to share! Start your hunt for a sitter by asking your friends, neighbors, school teacher, or fellow parents at your child’s school for both positive and negative feedback surrounding their experiences with local babysitters. Some churches, synagogues, and neighborhood associations offer lists of members who are available for babysitting. And high school and college campuses often have newsletters or bulletin boards where you can post (babysitting) jobs.

In our high-tech age, sitters can also be found through online referral agencies, such as Sittercity.com, UrbanSitter.com, SafeSitter.org, and Care.com. These sites match parents with local sitters, provide feedback and other resources. A new method for finding sitters is to attend mixers created to connect moms with babysitters and nannies. It’s kind of like speed dating ─ moms get a few minutes with each potential sitter to see if it’s a match. MommyMixer, Sitter Mixer, and Lullaby League are a few of the organizations that hold events throughout the country; or you can organize your own!

Know What to Look For

After you find suitable candidates, ask for their resumes or for links to profiles provided on sites such as MommyMixer.com. “Parents used to ask for just a phone number,” says Mary Sullivan Cooper, founder of MommyMixer. “Today, they can see a sitter’s experience, background, and references before they set up an interview.” Genevieve Thiers, founder of Sittercity.com, says parents should set up an in-home interview with at least three sitters. “Have each applicant spend an hour or two with the children while the parent is still at home,” she says. “It’s a great opportunity for the children to be a part of the selection process. After all, they will be spending the most time with the chosen candidate.”

“You want someone who is mature, responsible, and has similar personality traits as you,” says Katie Bugbee of Care.com. “If you’re a very tidy person, make sure that your babysitter is clean and organized. If you’re silly or sporty, you’ll want to look for someone who shares those qualities. Remember, this person acts as the primary caretaker, nurturer, fun-creator, and rule-officiator while you’re away, so you want to feel comfortable hiring a candidate who shares your values.” Sullivan Cooper adds, “Your children will role model anyone around them, so you want to choose someone who will speak to the kids as you would.”

Expect a qualified babysitter to have safety training, such as the Babysitter’s Training Course offered through the Red Cross. Thiers values previous experience and urges parents to call each of the applicant’s references, but also notes to look for energy. “An enthusiastic sitter won’t resort to sticking the kids in front of the TV or talking on the phone for hours while the kids get into who-knows-what. She’ll be alert and creative on the job, which will keep your kids safe and entertained — what more could you ask for?”

Know What to Ask

Interviewing a potential babysitter can feel intimidating, but remember, you are hiring her. Treat the interview as you would any job interview. Sittercity.com suggests including the following questions:

  • What do you like about babysitting?
  • What do you look for in an employer/family?
  • What is your hourly rate?
  • Have you ever been arrested or convicted of a felony?
  • Are you okay if a job runs later than planned?
  • Do you know First Aid and CPR?

Know What To Pay

Teenage sitters typically have less childcare experience and charge a lower hourly rate than college students, but hourly rates can vary greatly, from $5 to $25 per hour. The national average is $12.75.

“We strongly recommend that you pay at least minimum wage,” says Bugbee. “To figure out what people are paying in your neighborhood, use the Babysitter Calculator [on our site] which can tell you what the going rate in your area is based on how many children you have.”

Know What Happens When You’re Gone

How can you evaluate your sitter? You can always install a Nanny Cam, but you can also ask or look for signs from you children. Sittercity.com offers clients a three-step monitoring system: assess, communicate, and observe.

Assess: As soon as your sitter enters your home, pay attention to her relationship with your children. With a child too young to talk, look for nonverbal cues. If he is excited and all smiles, she’s doing a great job. If your child becomes excessively clingy or aggressive, it could be a warning sign of mistreatment.

Communicate: Touch base with the sitter for a quick five minutes after each job. Ask her job-specific questions such as, “How was my child today?” and “Were there any problems today?” Also, talk to your child, asking open-ended questions such as, “What was your favorite part of the day?” and “Did anything make you sad or worry you today?”

Observe: Drop by your home unannounced to see the sitter in action. You can also ask your neighbor to keep an eye and an ear open while you’re gone.

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