Sitter Quest: Finding the Right Babysitter for You and Your Children

By Vida Foubister


Before you hire the sitter...

  • Babysitter Background Checks in N.Y.
  • Baby-Sitting Workshops in Westchester

    When the sitter arrives...

  • Essential Information for the Sitter
  • Printable emergency information sheet
  • The generation that grew up watching Mary Poppins delight her charges has discovered that she’s a pretty tough act to follow. “It’s extremely difficult to find a babysitter,” says Jacqui Gopstein, who recently moved to Edgemont. “You have to go with your gut instinct and be prepared for anything.”


    That said, Gopstein still can’t get over her experience with a local college student she hired to watch her 3 1/2-year-old daughter one afternoon. “She stood there the whole time with her arms crossed over her chest,” exclaims Gopstein. “You have to come down to a child’s level – think like they do and use your imagination – otherwise, they’ll never bring you into their world.”


    FONT-SIZE: 10pt">“People always say, ‘Go get help,’” adds Elissa Paykin, a Scarsdale mother of three children under age 4, “but it's not that easy to find.”

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    FONT-SIZE: 10pt">Persistence, however, can pay off. Benna Dinhofer, the mother of three girls, which includes a set of twins, recently found a “wonderful” babysitter after five months and at least as many failed attempts. “It was a long, hard road but it worked out in the end,” she says.

    FONT-SIZE: 10pt">And, according to Bridget Delaney-Messana, nursery school and parent/child director at the YWCA of White Plains and Central Westchester, establishing a babysitter relationship can be mutually beneficial. “Parents need the break and children need the exposure to other people,” she says. “It’s a very good thing to do.”

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    Word of Mouth

    FONT-SIZE: 10pt">Community, it turns out, remains important in the search for good childcare. Almost universally, Westchester parents recommend turning first to friends, mothers’ groups, newcomers clubs and churches. “You usually want somebody who people know,” says Jeannie Summo, a Larchmont mother of three girls, whose babysitter came from her housekeeper’s recommendation.

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    FONT-SIZE: 10pt">Sometimes, the connection can be made in unexpected places. Samantha Quinn, who works in New York City, found her babysitter through the owner of Peter’s Stationery in Larchmont. “He’s such a go-to person,” she explains. “ I used to go in all the time for coffee and he happened to know a babysitter who was looking for more hours and I was going to have a baby and looking for a sitter. It all worked out.”


    That sitter, Paula Rambert, has earned a good reputation among Quinn's friends and now helps them connect with other babysitters looking for work. They refer to this word-of-mouth system as “the network.” Says Rambert, “It goes around by asking around.”

    Neighborhood stores, especially those that cater to children, are often a good place to post notices for a babysitter or to see those posted by babysitters looking for work. “The first babysitter I got was from an ad I saw on a board in a little coffee shop in Mamaroneck,” says Maryellen Saenger, a Scarsdale mother of two, who has been through many sitters, including three in the past two years.


    Though it seems to be more common to place these ads in local newspapers and magazines, success with this approach appears to be mixed. Tracy Nichols, a South Salem mother of 14-month-old twins, who recently advertised in the local newspapers for a nanny, stresses the importance of being specific about needs. “We got 50 calls and 45 of them were not appropriate,” she says.


    Finally, there are agencies. “I would recommend them,” says Nichols, who is currently working with three to increase the pool of applicants. However, she warns, “agencies are very aggressive.”


    Alternative Arrangements

    If these approaches aren’t working, some mothers suggest looking into other childcare options. Paykin, who is a member of Total Fitness Center in Scarsdale, says the nursery there has been a lifesaver. It’s helped her to connect with other mothers and, when personal time is at an all-time low with a newborn, take that elusive morning shower. “The gym is nice because there’s only a door between where you exercise and the [baby-sitting] room,” she adds.


    Many mothers groups and newcomers clubs arrange babysitter co-ops. The concept is that each member earns baby-sitting hours by watching other people’s children that they can then redeem with other members of the group. However, it can be a challenge to keep these groups active. “People were always willing to baby-sit but they hesitated to ask others to baby-sit their kids,” says Lisa Hamm-Greenawalt, who headed up the Larchmont Newcomers’ Club baby-sitting co-op until recently.


    Once children are a little older (ages 4 or 5), drop-off playdates also become an option. Usually these are informal arrangements between friends that enable one mother to run some errands while the kids play together at another mother’s house. “I’m happier with more kids. The more, the merrier,” says Dawn Meglino, founder of the MOMS Club of Rye Brook.


    N style="FONT-FAMILY: Verdana; FONT-SIZE: 10pt">And then there’s always family childcare and daycare centers, options that the Child Care Council of Westchester (CCCW) can help guide parents through. “This can be a very anxiety-promoting situation,” says CCCW Executive Director Kathy Halas. “We do a lot of hand holding.” The council can also assist with in-home care if you need help on a consistent basis. They also have free packets and a Web site full of helpful information on many aspects of finding reliable childcare.

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    Happy Sitter, Happy Baby

    N style="FONT-FAMILY: Verdana; FONT-SIZE: 10pt">Children, like us, are affected by their environment. “You really have to make sure you’re choosing somebody who likes what they do because you want your kids to be around someone who’s happy,” says Summo.

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    N style="FONT-FAMILY: Verdana; FONT-SIZE: 10pt">The Service in Larchmont, which arranges childcare on a day-to-day basis, uses this as one of its hiring criteria. “If you’re only in it for the money, I don’t want you,” says Lucille Warrington, who has worked there for 38 years, the last 10 as the owner. “You have to enjoy children and be happy with them.”

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    N style="FONT-FAMILY: Verdana; FONT-SIZE: 10pt">It also can be an important consideration when hiring a nanny from another country, as some might be struggling with their desire to return home. “What’s their circumstance?” asks Nichols. “Are they happy here? Are they planning to stay?”

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    N style="FONT-FAMILY: Verdana; FONT-SIZE: 10pt">Jay Weissbrot, M.D., director emeritus of pediatrics at White Plains Hospital Center, suggests that parents interview potential babysitters with their children around to see how they relate. “You want to see some sign of warmth and interaction, that the baby’s going to get some TLC while you’re at work and not just be left in the crib or the playpen with the TV on,” he says.

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    l style="MARGIN: 0in 0in 0pt">Adds Linda Stern, CSW, a discussion leader at the YWCA of White Plains and Central Westchester: “If you get along with the babysitter and the baby sees that, the chances are that they will connect to the sitter.”

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    l style="MARGIN: 0in 0in 0pt">Resources:

    l style="MARGIN: 0in 0in 0pt">Organizations

    l style="MARGIN: 0in 0in 0pt">• YWCA of White Plains and Central Westchester – 949-6227, ext.142,

    l style="MARGIN: 0in 0in 0pt"> Offers baby-sitting workshops for teens.

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    l style="MARGIN: 0in 0in 0pt">• American Red Cross – 946-6500, ext. 257 or 258, Baby-sitting courses for ages 11 through 15.

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    0in 0pt">• The Child Care Council of Westchester – 761-3456, A private, nonprofit referral organization promoting childcare services in Westchester.

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    0in 0pt">Books

    0in 0pt">• The Babysitter's Handbook, by Caroline Grenne, DK Publishing, July 2001, $13. A guide for parents and sitters.

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    0in 0pt">On the Web

    0in 0pt">New York State Office of Children and Family Services – 800-345-KIDS (5437), Information on childcare, safety and more.

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    Vida Foubister is a health and parenting writer in Mamaroneck, N.Y.