What should I look for in a babysitter?

Finding and hiring the right babysitter can be unnerving for parents. While we’d all like to leave our kids in the kind and capable hands of Mary Poppins, the reality is that you’re not going to find a sitter who “has it all.”

My advice to you is to take time to think about the skills, characteristics and “extras” that are most important to you, your spouse and your kids. Set up a formal interview with the sitter, or try a “working interview,” where you can get errands done at home while the sitter watches your kids for the first time.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself when meeting a babysitter:

1.    Do you feel comfortable and safe leaving your kids with them?
If there’s anything about the sitter that makes you nervous or uncomfortable then he or she is not a good fit. Safety is every parent’s #1 priority, so make sure you discuss this with your sitter. Do you want someone who is Red Cross certified? Does your sitter know CPR and first aid? Does he or she know how to administer an Epipen if your kids have severe allergies? Do you have a pool, or another feature in your home that requires special precautions? Here’s a good list of safety guidelines, that you may even choose to share with your sitter.

2.    Do they get good reviews from your kids?
If your kids are too young to communicate with you, then this one is hard to judge. But, if they’re able to tell you that it wasn’t fun, then it’s probably not a great sign. Kids have pretty good spidey sense, and at the end of the day, we all want to hear our kids sing the praises of their sitter.

3.    Do they speak another language fluently?
If you want your child to learn another language, having a sitter speak to them only in that language is a really effective way for them to learn!

4.    Do they speak English as their first language?
On the flip side, I’ve heard that if kids are struggling with language, some parents want to make sure that their sitter’s first language is English.

5.    Will they help clean up?
Who doesn’t want a sitter who keeps the house clean and tidy, right? But what you need to decide is whether this is really a top priority – and it might be. But, if your sitter meets all your other expectations—and the kids are safe and having fun–then is 10-15 minutes of tidying up when you get home worth it?

6.    Will they do laundry?
If coming home to clean laundry makes your day, then find a sitter who’s willing to squeeze it in. Also, some sitters are willing to do children’s laundry, but not yours, so make sure you discuss this up front.

7.    Will they run errands?
I know this can be a sticky issue for sitters, so again, just make sure you talk about it up front.  You might think “how hard is it for them to grab my dry cleaning on their way home from the park?” But, in their minds they’ve been hired to watch kids, not run errands – and might feel like they’re being taken advantage of it you casually ask them to do it as you’re leaving the house. Others may welcome the opportunity to get out and about!

8.    Will they take the kids outside?
Some sitters are really comfortable getting kids in strollers (or cars), packing up snacks, slathering on the sunscreen  and heading out for some fun in the sun. Others might feel safer staying inside.

9.    Do they love arts-and-crafts projects?
Do you love coming home to find artwork from your kids?  Some sitters pride themselves on this. You might need to pay them a little extra for supplies if they really like to get fancy.

10.   Will they spoil your kids?
Maybe you don’t leave your kids with a sitter very often and you want them to think it’s a treat. So, find a sitter who will make rice-crispy treats with them every time.

11.   Are they able to follow your discipline style?
If you have strict rules that you want your sitter to follow, make sure they are comfortable with them upfront.  Some sitters might not feel comfortable letting a child “cry-it-out” or  “do time” on the naughty step.

12.   Do they like helping kids with homework?
Homework is probably above and beyond the call of duty for most sitters. But some may have a particular passion for academics, or may even be studying to be a teacher. In this case, it’s reasonable to ask them to help guide your children with their school assignments.

13.   Are they a type-A, just like you?
If you like things just-so, then it’s probably good to find a sitter who sees eye-to-eye with you, or can follow instructions well. But, keep your expectations in check…some sitters are just not going to remember that the wooden knives don’t go in the dishwasher!

14.   Can they cook or bake?
Want to come home to a gourmet meal at the end of each work day? How about batch of brownies at the end of an evening? Some sitters love the opportunity to play chef for the families they work for and even find fun ways to include the kids in the process–like a grocery store scavenger hunt for recipes, creating hand-made menus or setting the table in a special way.

There are and endless number of considerations to think about. In my opinion though, only #1 and  #2 are non-negotiable. So, pick the top 3-5 things that are most important for your family and let the rest go!

Just remember that no matter what your “wish list” looks like, you must communicate your expectations clearly with the babysitter. Even when you think what you’re asking for is obvious, sitters appreciate clear instructions. If you don’t tell them what you expect, you’re just going to drive yourself crazy complaining about things like, “I just wish she’d pick up the toys at the end of the day” or “Why didn’t she take them out for some fresh air?”

Once you hire your sitter, keep the lines of communication open. Give—and accept—both positive and constructive feedback to ensure you, your kids, and your sitter maintain a happy and healthy relationship!