Trusting someone else to take care of your kids is hard enough, and finding a worthy candidate just makes it harder. Here's what you should do to finally find a reliable babysitter.
Write Out Your Babysitter Needs
You'd think your needs are simple, right? You need someone to make sure your kids don't die and/or write on the walls while you're gone. But there's a lot more to it than that — do they need a car? How often will you need them? Writing out what you want from a babysitter will help you figure out what you need in a sitter and narrow down your applicants later. As you make your list, rank which qualities are crucial and which ones you can do without.
Here are a few things you should consider for your list:
- Cost. Child care is expensive, so if the candidate will put too much strain on your budget, move on to someone else. It doesn't feel good to do this — you want to spare no expense when it comes to your kids — but with enough effort you should be able to find a quality sitter in your price range.
- Availability. Think about how often you'll need them (daily? weekly?) and how many hours you'll need them (just for the afternoon? overnight?). You should also know what their schedule is like in case you ever need them on short notice.
- Potential duties. Will they be transporting your kids and thus need to have a driver's licence and/or car? Are they cooking dinner for your kids? Tutoring them? Do they need to be OK with also handling your pets? What skills would it be nice for them to have and which ones do you absolutely need?
- Specialties. Know if you need someone with expertise in a certain area such as caring for a toddler or a child with disabilities.
- Past work. You should ask them about their work experience and past clients. Ask them to provide references and actually call them. You can also run a background check through a private company.
- Safety. You probably want someone with certifications in CPR and First Aid, particularly if they're going to be very active with your kids.
- Their ideas for engaging your kids. Ask them how they would spend their time with your children. Will they just plop them in front of the TV? Or do they have plans for fun or educational activities?
You can develop a list of interview questions from these qualities too. Cafe Mom has some suggestions you can use to find out more about your potential sitter's work style and personality:
- "Tell me about a time when a personal circumstance or situation impacted, or had the potential to impact, your work. What happened and how did you handle it?" Use this question to judge whether they're someone who takes responsibility for their situation or places the blame on others. Learning about the character of your potential sitter helps you decide what kind of person will be around your kids.
- "What does a family owe its child care provider?" A direct way for you to find out what they expect from you and to decide if you're comfortable with meeting those expectations.
- "Tell me some of the things you have accomplished that you are proud of." You get to know more about what drives this person. Your kids may end up learning some important life lessons by interacting with their sitter — make sure they have a great example to mimic.
- "What would you do if you got locked out of my house without your keys, your phone — and my kids were inside?" This questions gives you the chance to test their instinctual reactions and ability to keep your kids safe, even in a hypothetical scenario.
You don't have to use the above questions exactly, of course. Use everything above as a jumping off point for setting your own babysitter criteria and questions.
Search for a Sitter Using Reliable Sources
Next, it's time to start your search. Obviously, you should tap your own circle for recommendations from your friends or family and other social groups, such as your church or neighbours. You might also consider starting a parenting co-op with your friends.
You can also ask people who have cared for your kids before — camp counsellors or after-school program assistants — if they're available for private gigs. If you can find someone this way, you're at an advantage. You know they're someone you can trust, and they know your kids and what your kids like. But remember that just because you know someone doesn't mean you shouldn't go through your checklist of qualities.
Once you have your list of potential sitters, you can start the screening process. Don't wait for one person to get back to you before moving on to screening the next one, try to get through as many people as possible so you have a thorough list of acceptable back up sitters.
Screen Your Candidates Thoroughly
Trusting someone with your children isn't a decision you can make lightly, so expect to devote quite a few hours to the search. Before you start interviewing candidates, come up with an estimate of how much time your interview process will take. By standardising the process, you'll know how many steps you have for each person and how much of your time to budget for screening.
DudeMom has great suggestions for various steps in the process:
- Interview each candidate. If you don't have time to have a bunch of in-person interviews, try doing phone screens first. You can do these during lunch breaks at work, on your commute, or during nap time for your kids.
- Actually call the references they provide you. It's worth the extra time.
- Hire a backup. Your thorough screening process means you'll have a great second pick.
- Do a test run before committing. You'll be able to see how they interact with your children before you commit to a longer term position.
After the test run, you should also talk to your kids about how they liked the sitter (assuming your kids are old enough to talk). You may need to take their feedback with a grain of salt, but they could also have valuable insights into how good of a fit the sitter will be.
Develop a Strong Relationship with Your Sitter
When your sitter starts, be sure to write out any rules or expectations you have for them. The clearer you can be, the better it is for everyone — you get the level of care you're looking for, and the sitter knows exactly what they should do for a stellar job.
You may be tempted to pay your sitter for their time and get them out the door each night, but you should make an effort to get to know them. Chat with them for a few minutes when they arrive, and do a quick check-in with them before they leave. You'll learn what your kids are like with other people, and it will strengthen your relationship with your sitter (and, hey, maybe next time you're in a pinch they will switch their plans around to help out their favourite client).
Finding a sitter isn't a fun process, and you probably aren't itching to do it again soon. But, once a year, re-visit whether your sitter is still a good fit for your family. If your or their circumstances have changed — like your kids get older and need someone to help them with homework or your sitter moves too far away to be easily available — they may no longer be the right person for the job.