How To Set Expectations With A New Babysitter

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Starting a relationship with a new babysitter can be a little nerve-wracking. You hope you’ll like them and your kids will like them and that the feeling will be mutual. You want this to be the beginning of a beautiful friendship, so the last thing you might feel like doing is laying down the law before they’ve even begun. But you must.

OK, “laying down the law” isn’t exactly necessary, but it is important to be upfront about your expectations—even if said babysitter is your co-worker’s child or your sister’s friend and it feels a little awkward to do so. Because it’s much more awkward to have to do it later after they’ve repeatedly broken the screen-time rule they didn’t even know you had or invited their boyfriend over without asking because they figured it was fine.

Put it all in writing

Are you going to look like a Type A parent when you lead them into the kitchen for the first time and hand over two pages of instructions? Yeah, probably. That’s actually a good thing, though, because you can use your thoroughness as an excuse to laugh at yourself and ease the awkwardness. “I know, it’s a lot of words considering I’m only going to be gone for two hours,” you might say with a laugh. “It’s more helpful for me to write it out because I can never remember to tell our babysitters everything when I’m trying to get out the door!”

And then, verbally hit the highlights. You don’t need to walk them word-by-word through the instructions, but you should point out your priorities, whether it’s that the kids are in bed by a certain time or that junk food is limited. If this is someone you expect to hire fairly regularly, you may want to take a little more time here and make sure they understand your house rules, your “guest” policy, your child’s bedtime routine, and so on. If this is likely just a one-and-done situation or someone you don’t think you’ll be relying on very often, you might decide to be a little more lax.

Topics to address

When you’re writing up your Rules and Expectations Manifesto, there is a lot to touch on. Suzie Zeldin, co-owner and director of operations at Smartsitting, tells Care.com that you’ll want to start by thinking about what, primarily, you expect from the sitter:

Zeldin says communication is the key to ensuring your sitter understands what’s expected and feels capable of being able to perform in their role.

“The most important thing is not to blindside your sitter with a list of responsibilities that they didn’t know about, and then they come into your home and they feel like the setup is different than what was originally communicated,” she explains.

As an example, you might ask that they get the kids’ dinner prepped and clear the dishes from the table, but you don’t expect them to load and run the dishwasher. Once those sorts of expectations are clear, you can hit on some ground rules. Here are some questions for you to consider:

  • What screen-time limits do you want to set?

  • Does your child have any food allergies, or do you have limits on what/when the kids can eat?

  • Are you ok with the sitter having (approved) guests over while they babysit? What about taking personal phone calls?

  • Do you prefer they don’t post pictures of your child on social media?

  • How—and for what reasons—should they discipline your child?

  • How much would you like them to interact/play with your child? (You can suggest some activities for them to do together if they’re not sure where to start.)

If you didn’t do this to begin with

Maybe you thought it was going to be a one-and-done situation and the person turned into a regular sitter. Or you assumed they knew you wouldn’t want the kids parked in front of the TV the entire time you were gone, but you’re pretty sure that’s what went down. The sooner you address it, the better.

A simple text within a day or two should work: “Hey, the kids had so much fun with you! I wanted to mention I noticed they were watching a show when we got back and we typically don’t let them on screens after 6 p.m. It’s my fault for forgetting to tell you! Just an FYI for next time!” Or you can address it the next time they come over: “Oh, by the way, we’re really trying to cut back on the screen time. We’ve been too lax about it in the past! Can you make sure all the electronics are turned off by 6 p.m.?”

If you really need to start fresh, you can print out those two pages of notes you should have given them initially and say, “I know, I should have done this ages ago but life has been crazy! I’m so sorry to leave you hanging without clear direction until now. You did great on the fly, but hopefully this will help with any questions you have about how we like to address (insert pain point here).”

Chances are, if you’ve got a sitter worth keeping around, that’s all you’ll need to do to course-correct. Plus, things change, kids grow and rules evolve over time. These conversations will be ongoing even with long-term babysitters, so it’s good to get comfortable with it.


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