Selecting the Ideal Babysitter

Scared to leave your baby with anyone else, even a trusted friend or relative? Sounds like you’ve got a case of babysitter jitters. Here’s the cure.

Longing for a night out of adults-only fun?  Don’t feel guilty; it’s only natural to fancy a change of pace and scenery.  Even a couple of hours away from the house—whether it’s dinner at a charming restaurant or a trip to the salon—can relax and rejuvenate frazzled parents.  So why not call the sitter, slip on something nice to wear and trip the light fantastic?

What’s that, you have sitter jitters?  That’s understandable.  Saying good-bye to your baby for the first time is an anxiety-inducing event dreaded by most parents, especially those with an overactive imagination and a novice sitter.  But parting doesn’t have to be such sweet sorrow.  Here’s how to find the perfect baby-sitter.

  • Remember that Experience Counts.  Don’t discriminate against teenagers.  For instance, a 16-year-old who’s cared for baby siblings has more experience than an older person who has never sat for an infant. Gauge a candidate’s child-care experience by asking simple questions, such as, “Do you know how to hold, feed, burp and change a baby?” and “Do you know infant CPR?”
  • Go to the Head of the Class.  Contact your local Red Cross chapter for referrals on recent graduates of its baby-sitting course. These people will be well-versed in basic child-care and life-saving techniques.
  • Check References.  Ask the sitter for a list of references.  When contacting these people, be candid and ask for details, such as “Is she a responsible person?” and “How many times has she baby-sat for you?”  You’ll be surprised by your fellow parents’ honesty—after all, they were in the same position once, too.
  • Set Up a Supervised Visit.  Hold your baby on your lap while you and the sitter converse.  Ask the sitter not to talk to or make eye contact with your baby until you feel he is comfortable with the situation.  Gradually bring your baby and the sitter closer together—you may want to put him on the floor with his favorite toy and ask the sitter to slowly come closer and play with the toy.  If your baby and the sitter seem to be hitting it off, retreat a couple of steps and see how your baby reacts to your “absence”.

You’ve found the perfect baby-sitter, now what?

  • Show the Sitter Around.  Ask the sitter to come by early so you can give her a complete tour of the house, pointing out the diaper-changing station, phones and first-aid kit along the way.  Make sure the sitter understands your family’s fire-escape plan.
  • Post Emergency Numbers in a Visible Place.  Make lists of local emergency numbers—hospital, police department, fire station, neighbors—and place them next to each phone.  Be sure to include your own cell-phone number, too.
  • Give the Sitter a Raise.  If you like your sitter, be sure to pay her well.  As you know, good baby-sitters are a scarce commodity, and neighbors may try to lure them away with bigger pay days and other fringe benefits (such as a stocked refrigerator).  As a rule of thumb, pay your sitter slightly more than the going rate.  This will keep your family at the top of her list—and your social life intact.
  •  Ask for a Report.  Once you’re home, sit down with the sitter and find out how things went.  The feedback will help you fine-tune future preparations.