When I was about 12 years old, I started occasionally babysitting a couple of kids who lived down the street from me. A friend of mine was their regular babysitter, but when she couldn’t be there on a certain day, they’d call me as a backup. Those are literally the only reasons they hired me — because Lyndsey (another 12-year-old) vouched for me, and I lived a few houses up the block.
Had they asked me if I’d ever babysat before, the answer would have been no. Had they asked me if I had any experience caring for or even hanging out with young children, it would have again been no. I didn’t even particularly like little kids, I was just in it for the spending money. I did manage to keep those children alive (and I got to watch The Princess Bride a bunch of times), but it occurs to me now that their parents really should have vetted me a bit more.
Whether you’re using a childcare service like Care.com or you’re going off the recommendation of a friend, it’s important to treat the hiring of a new babysitter with the thoroughness it deserves — you want to make sure you trust the person who will be responsible for your child’s well-being. But if you’ve never hired a babysitter before, it can be daunting to know where to start. Here are a few key general topics you should make sure to hit on.
Start with some personal questions
It may seem a bit invasive, but it doesn’t have to be — after all, you’re hopefully going to be building a relationship with this person, so it’s important to get to know them. If they’re in school, as what they’re studying or about their favourite class. Ask them if they’re involved in any sports or extracurricular activities. Ask what they like to do in their free time. Ask about their family, and if they have any siblings.
This needn’t to be a grill session. It should be more of a back-and-forth conversation — you should be sharing about yourself and your family, too. You may find you have some things in common, and their answers may give you ideas about whether they’ll be a good fit or what they could do with your kids while they’re together. For example, if they’re into cycling, maybe they can bring their bike over and take the kids for bike rides around the neighbourhood. Or if they love to read, maybe they wouldn’t mind taking the kids to the library.
Dig into their experience
This is really the meat of the interview: What experience do they have? Have they babysat before, or do they have other experience, such as caring for younger siblings, or maybe some education in childcare? Do they have experience specifically with children the same age as yours? Ask about any first aid or CPR training they have taken — and if they haven’t, would they be willing to? Do they have experience putting children to bed, and what methods have worked for them?
Make sure to touch on their philosophy about discipline and how they’ve handled behavioural issues with other kids in the past. Ask if they’ve every had a childcare emergency, and if so, ask how they handled it. You want to get a feel for their style of care and whether they’ll be able to respond quickly if something goes wrong. You could also try giving them some scenarios and asking how they’d handle them. (For example, you leave and the child won’t stop crying out for you. Or the baby has a diaper blowout. What do you do?) If they’re old enough to drive and they’ll need to transport the kids anywhere, ask if they have a licence and a clean driving record.
If they have prior experience, ask for references from other families they’ve worked with that you can call. If they don’t have experience, ask for other references, such as a previous boss or a teacher, so you ask those people questions about their work ethic or dependability. And be sure to ask their pay rate, so you can confirm that you’re on the same page about that.
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Determine what they’re comfortable taking on
Before you hire a babysitter to come into your home and care for your kids, it’s important to have a good understanding of what tasks they’re comfortable taking on. Maybe they don’t want to be in charge of preparing meals, or maybe you’ve got pets they’ll also be somewhat responsible for. If any of the kids aren’t potty trained, they’ll need to be comfortable with changing diapers. For older kids, you might be hoping they’ll help with homework, as needed. You might also ask if they’re willing to oversee playdates (for an extra fee) or take on light housework while the kids are napping or playing. Whatever the situation, it’s important to make sure you both have an understanding up front of the duties the job will entail.
While we’re still in the pandemic, you’ll also want to ask some of these questions about their potential exposure and about how distanced their lifestyle is. And you’ll want to get a feel for how flexible their schedule is and the days and times they’re most likely to be available, as well as how much notice they’d like to have when you want to hire them (if it’s not going to be on a regular schedule).
A good way to wrap up the interview is by asking them what the most challenging part about being a babysitter is; this will give you insight into where you may need to offer a little extra information or support. And finally, after the interview is over, take some time to reflect on their answers and consider whether there are any red flags or things you need to clarify before you officially hire them.
If you’re still unsure but think you may want to hire them, you can also ask if they’re willing to do a “trial run,” in which they watch the kids while you’re home so you can get a better feel for whether they are a good fit for your family.