When I was in college, I made all of my spending money by babysitting. I started out with one job babysitting a two-year-old boy, and by the time I graduated I had six families for whom I regularly babysat. Now, I am on the opposite side as a mother in search of someone reliable to take care of my children.
If you are going to leave your children with a babysitter, you want to make sure he or she is reliable and responsible. You will trust this person to take care of and protect your children. The decision cannot be taken lightly.
There are a number of ways you can find a great babysitter for your family, as well as keep your sitter around to help take care of your children for years.
Where to Find a Babysitter
1. Ask Your Friends for Referrals
Word-of-mouth referrals are often best. Do your friends have a babysitter they love and would recommend? This is the easiest method to find a babysitter because your friends can vouch for the sitter.
However, don’t be surprised if this sitter sometimes can’t work for you; word-of-mouth referrals can result in a busy sitter. In college, it wasn’t unusual for me to have two or three families call me to see if I could watch their kids on Saturday night.
2. Advertise in a College Paper
Many students are looking for flexible, part-time jobs, so a college paper that will get your ad in front of the eyes of thousands of college students is a good place to start. Another option is to advertise your job at the college employment office for students.
3. Search at a Local Nonprofit Agency
Larger cities and suburbs may have local, nonprofit agencies that will help you find a sitter. They often can give you information both about individual sitters and people who offer daycare out of their home. When I was looking for daycare for my son, I found that our local library had a brochure from an area nonprofit agency.
4. Try an Online Service
Much like the many online dating sites that are available, there are sites that look to match up sitters with families. One site I have found to be particularly useful is Sittercity.com. This site offers a free 10-day trial membership – simply put up your ad and wait for candidates to apply. Additionally, there is the option to run a background check on your sitter. Another site you can try out is Care.com.
Even if you don’t find the sitter through an online service, running a background check on your candidate may be something you will want to pursue, especially if you did not find her through a friend’s recommendation.
Steps to Take Once You Find a Prospective Sitter
1. Have a Brief Phone Interview
Talk briefly with the sitter over the phone to decide if she sounds like a good fit for your family. In particular, ask her the ages of the children she normally watches. If she has spent most of her time caring for children after school, she may not be the best fit for your infant. Also, find out if she is trained in CPR.
2. Meet With Her in Person
If the phone interview goes well, take the time to interview her at home. In addition to asking her to share her babysitting experience and what she typically does when babysitting, ask her hypothetical questions about what she would do in certain high pressure situations such as, “What would you do if the baby was crying in her crib, but the two-year-old had just spilled her milk all over the floor and was also crying? Who would you attend to first and why?”
Another important issue to address is discipline. Hopefully the sitter will not need to discipline your children, but if she does, it’s important that she discipline in the manner you prefer.
3. Let Her Spend Time With the Kids in Your Presence
If you are satisfied with the interview, have her spend about 30 to 60 minutes interacting with your children. At first, you can join them to help the transition, but after about 20 minutes, go somewhere nearby so she can interact with the kids independently, while you continue to check in on their interactions. Many mothers who interviewed me did this; they might go to the kitchen to wash dishes, but they would still watch our interaction to make sure the kids and I were hitting it off.
If she interacts with your kids for 20 or 30 minutes, you may not need to pay her as she is interviewing; however, if she interacts with your kids for more than 30 minutes, you might want to pay her for her time.
4. Ask for and Call References
If possible, get at least two references who have used the candidate before as a babysitter. Ask them about their experience and whether they would recommend her. Inquire about her best attributes, as well as her downfalls. Try to ask as many questions as possible to get a good feel for the sitter’s characteristics and personality.
5. Ask for CPR Paperwork
If CPR training is important to you, ask her to bring the certification with her when she comes for her first babysitting session. That way, you can make sure her training is up-to-date.
The First Babysitting Session
When she comes for the first babysitting session, you may want to be available in a limited capacity. For instance, maybe you can do some work in your nearby office until everyone is acclimated to the new situation.
When you are ready to leave her alone with your kids, make sure she has phone numbers where she can reach you should she need to.
After the first babysitting session, ask your children how they enjoyed the babysitter and what types of activities they did with her. If your children are too young to explain to you in person, watch how they react when you come home. Are they engrossed with what they are doing with the babysitter, or are they anxious to see you?
When she comes for the next session, see if the kids are happy to see her. If they do not want to stay with the sitter and don’t seem to enjoy her company, you may want to consider a different sitter.
Tips to Keep a Good Babysitter
1. Ask Your Friends How Much They Pay for a Babysitter
Babysitting is a lucrative business, with sitters earning between $10 and $16 an hour in the area I live (near a large city), depending on experience and the number of children they must watch at a time. While you don’t want to feel that you are overpaying, you do want to feel that you are compensating her well for caring for your children.
Skimping on what you pay your babysitter is not good business, as she may feel resentful over time. From my own experience, those who paid the best and had kids I most liked to babysit would always get preference.
2. Compensate Extra During the Holidays
If the babysitter comes to be someone you rely on heavily, make sure to give her a holiday bonus. How much to give her will depend on her capacity within your family. If she is working with you every week, you may want to give her as much as a week’s salary as a bonus. If she babysits for you a couple of times a month, a $20 gift card would be nice.
3. Try Not to Add Extra Jobs
While it is tempting to ask her to also sweep up the kitchen and do dishes while she is watching your children, doing so is generally not a good idea. You want her to give your kids her full attention – don’t add on distractions, such as household chores.
4. Set Boundaries From the Beginning
While most sitters are professional, there are always a few who aren’t. Set the ground rules early. If you don’t want her to have friends over when she is watching your kids, specifically state that. If you don’t want her texting or talking on the phone until the kids are in bed, let her know.
In addition, give the babysitter clear rules that you would like her to enforce with your kids. If you have a limited, set amount of time you allow the kids watch TV and don’t allow them to watch certain shows, be sure she enforces this in your absence. Also share with her what foods are off-limits and which healthy snacks you prefer they eat.
For the best experience for you, the children, and the babysitter, make sure everyone involved is clear on the guidelines to avoid setting an atmosphere where the kids try to get away with as much as possible because the babysitter doesn’t know “house rules.” This will create a positive experience for all involved.
5. Offer Little Perks
If you are comfortable with it, consider offering the sitter additional perks. The first family I babysat for in college would often stay out until midnight, but their son went to sleep by 7pm. They generously told me on nights when I stayed late that I could bring my laundry and do it. For a broke college student who otherwise needed to use coin-operated machines to do laundry, this was a great perk.
6. Consider Finding a Backup Sitter
A good sitter is often an in-demand sitter. If you don’t want to have to cancel dinner plans on Saturday night because your sitter is already booked, consider having a backup sitter or two who you can turn to when your primary sitter is unavailable.
Choosing someone who will care for and protect your children, as well as get along well with them, is no easy task. However, there are plenty of resources available to help you find the right sitter. Take the time to interview her and watch her play with your children. If you follow all the correct strategies, you will have a sitter or two who can watch your kids and give you a break throughout the week.
What tips do you have for finding a great babysitter?