How to Hire the Best Babysitter for Your Child
Give yourself peace of mind when putting your little treasure in someone else’s care
If you’re the parent of an infant or young child, chances are good you’ll need to hire a babysitter at some point. Yet leaving your child in another person’s care can be nerve-wracking, especially if you’re not sure how to find a qualified sitter.
Lining up the right care takes some research, says Donna Willis-Brown, a registered nurse and program support specialist for SafeSitter.org, a national nonprofit program that prepares teens to be safe babysitters.
“Parents need to allow adequate lead time to find a babysitter who is a good match for their family,” Willis-Brown says. “If you’re planning a date night for the weekend, it can be difficult to secure an experienced sitter in just a few days.” She offers these tips to help you find just the right person.
First and foremost, ask about first aid training. Brown strongly recommends hiring babysitters who are trained in first aid, CPR and childcare skills. “A qualified babysitter should be knowledgeable about how to cope with emergency situations,” Willis-Brown says. Safe Sitter and the Red Cross both offer comprehensive training for babysitters in first aid, indoor and outdoor safety and responding to household emergencies.
Safe Sitter was founded in 1980 by an Indiana pediatrician, Patricia Kenner, MD, after a colleague’s daughter choked to death while in the care of an untrained adult babysitter. And according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, choking continues to be one of the leading causes of death in children ages 3 and younger.
“There is no safe amount of time to leave a child with a caregiver who hasn’t been trained in airway rescue and handling life threatening emergencies,” Willis-Brown says.
Ask for referrals. Ask friends and co-workers for recommendations. You also may be able to connect with potential sitters through churches, Girl Scout troops and your local YMCA.
“If you have a teen family member or friend that you think would be a competent babysitter, offer to pay for them to go through training offered by Safe Sitter or the Red Cross,” Willis-Brown says. “We also do trainings for young teens who are responsible for caring for their younger siblings when a parent isn’t present.”
If your area has a local mother’s group, they can be a good source for babysitting referrals. Many parenting groups offer babysitting co-ops where parents trade babysitting services. Visit babysitterexchange.com for a list of babysitting co-ops in your area.
Question her training. Ask about her experience and training and whether she has cared for children the same age as your child.
“This is also a good time to discuss your expectations, stressing that keeping your child safe and entertained is your first priority,” Willis-Brown says. “When speaking with a potential sitter, present a few “what if” scenarios to determine how the sitter might handle the situation, such as a child who refuses to go to bed or a baby who won’t stop crying.”
Schedule a meeting. Before leaving your child in the care of a babysitter for the first time, Willis-Brown recommends meeting with her at your home.
“In addition to introducing your child and observing how the sitter interacts with your little one, this is a good time to go over house rules including indoor/outdoor play, snacking, and sitter privileges such as computer/phone usage and having friends over,” Willis-Brown says.
Check references. Ask that parent how old the kids were when he or she used the sitter and whether there were any unpleasant incidents.
“Inquire about how the sitter interacted with the children and if they liked the sitter,” Willis-Brown says. “Ask specific questions about how the sitter would handle an unplanned or hypothetical situation, such as ‘What steps do you think Susie would take if a child became ill while she was watching them?”
Consider a sitter’s age and experience. According to the Red Cross, parents should choose a babysitter who is at least 11 years old. But take maturity into account rather than just age. Willis-Brown notes that many “tweens” who are between 11 and 14 have undergone training and take their babysitting jobs very seriously.
“Tweens are often very excited about babysitting and eager to do a good job,” Willis-Brown says. “Older teens may be dating or have school activities or diversions that prevent them from putting their total focus on watching your child.”
“For infants, we don’t recommend hiring a babysitter unless she has at least two years of experience caring for infants and has been trained both in CPR and childcare essentials, such as diapering and feeding,” Willis-Brown says.
Take a trial run. If you’re nervous about using a new sitter, consider having her care for your child first as a “mother’s helper” and watching your child while you are still in the house preparing dinner or doing chores.
Related: How to Choose a Pediatrician