How do I choose a babysitter?
Start with someone old enough to do the job. According to the American Red Cross, parents should not choose someone younger than 11. The authors of What to Expect the First Year are more cautious, suggesting a child isn't ready for babysitting until age 14. Ultimately, you're the best judge of someone's capabilities and maturity. Talk to the sitter, watch him or her interact with your child, and decide for yourself.
Of course, age isn't the only factor to consider. Ask potential sitters to provide you with references, if possible, and call them. You may want to call the sitter's parents, too, to make sure they think their son or daughter is ready for the responsibility of looking after your child.
If your child is an infant, your babysitter should be well versed in the care of very young children and should have taken -- or be willing to take -- courses in infant CPR and first aid. Also give some thought to the sitter's physical size and apparent strength: Could he or she carry your child and do whatever else might be necessary in an emergency?
Your sitter should be respectful of you and your house. He or she should be someone you trust to handle any emergency, or who will at least know whom to call and what procedures to follow. Obviously, your sitter shouldn't smoke or drink or have anyone come over without getting your express permission.
What questions should I ask a potential sitter?
First of all, unless the sitter comes highly recommended by a trusted friend, relative, or colleague, always ask for references.
You'll also want to know about a potential sitter's experience and training: Has the sitter often cared for children the same age as yours? Has he or she learned to perform CPR, the Heimlich maneuver (if you have a toddler or older child), and other emergency procedures? Does the sitter have any troublesome personal habits, such as smoking, drinking, or swearing? Is he or she fond of children? (Obviously the sitter will say yes, so ask open-ended questions to get a more complete answer. Try queries such as, "Why do you like being with children?" and "What do you like best about babysitting?")
How interested is the sitter in entertaining an older child with games? You don't want someone plopping your child in front of the TV and then chatting on the phone all night.
Remember, there's no such thing as an irrelevant question when it comes to your child's safety and well-being.
How much should I pay?
Babysitting rates, usually hourly, depend on a lot of factors, from where you live to how many children need to be watched; the range is $8 to $20 an hour. To get an idea of the going rate, ask your neighbors and other parents how much they pay. Babysitters sometimes set their own rates, or a sitter's references could give you a picture of what you should offer.
How can I prepare my babysitter?
The first time a sitter works for you, ask him or her to arrive an hour before your scheduled departure. This will give the sitter time to get to know you, your house, and, of course, your child. You may even want to pay the sitter to come over and play with your child once or twice while you're at home. Use the time to take care of household tasks, knowing that if trouble erupts, you're only a room away. This is a particularly good approach for sitters who don't have much experience.
Give the sitter all the information you can, from emergency phone numbers to what's off-limits in the fridge. Keep your home address and phone number written down by the telephone, and show this to the sitter, so he or she can give the location when calling for emergency assistance. Talk about the steps you want the sitter to take in an emergency, as well as which types of less critical situations would warrant phoning you. Leave the address and phone number of where you'll be, as well as the number of a neighbor or good friend who's likely to be available.
Go over the schedule that should be followed, including any mealtimes, snack times, TV time, and bedtime rituals. Explain what you do and don't allow your child to do. And show the sitter where you stash the childcare supplies.
How do I establish a good relationship with my sitter?
Treat your babysitter with respect. This is often a teen's first real job, and he or she wants to be seen as a capable adult. Don't ask a sitter to do your laundry and serious housecleaning. Besides creating ill will, this work would take attention away from the sitter's primary task, which is to keep your child safe and happy. On the other hand, a sitter should tidy up whatever gets messy in your absence.
Any time you notice your sitter talking or playing with your child in a way that especially pleases you, make a mental note to tell the sitter how much you appreciate that behavior. This will foster self-confidence and reinforce the sitter's understanding of how you want him or her to act with your child.
The key is to make your babysitter feel needed and welcome in your home.
National Institute of Child Health & Human Development
Pantell, Robert H. M.D., James F. Fries M.D., and Donald M. Vickery M.D. Taking Care of Your Child: A Parent's Illustrated Guide to Complete Medical Care, Eighth Edition. 2009. Da Capo Lifelong Books.
Murkoff, Heidi, Sandra Hathaway, and Arlene Eisnberg. What to Expect the First Year, Second Edition. 2008. Workman Publishing Company.
American Red Cross. Get Trained: Babysitting.