10 Tips for Hiring A Babysitter: Part 2
If you read my post from last week “Tips for Hiring a Babysitter: Part 1” you know what to expect with this post. After spending a few years with the best babysitters money could buy (my kid’s teachers), I needed to expand my network. But I’ve found that employing a babysitter isn’t quite as simple as it sounds. These young kids are just that, often young kids with little experience holding any kind of job. Many of them have never even worked at a mall or grocery store before let alone been responsible for a child’s well being. So remember that as you enter the world of hiring a babysitter and consider the following:
- Age Matters: The sitter’s age tells you a lot. A 12 to 14-year-old, may make a great a great mother’s helper but will likely need a ride from you to and from “work”. They will be less expensive and will hopefully love to actually play with your kids, the whole time. They also may turn into a long time sitter which could be a rare find. They are not however, the best choice for a late night out. A 16 or 17-year-old is usually old enough to drive and close to being reasonably priced but likely headed off to college soon. While they can drive, they may not be able to drive your kids around yet (if you’d even need or allow that). Someone who is older, say mid-twenties, will likely be more experienced and able to “pinch hit” if the need arises but are also more expensive and potentially getting ready for their own life’s next chapter. Older sitters, are often moms themselves and/or former daycare providers looking for extra cash. Expect them to be more expensive. Plus, they may need to bring along their own kids and/or be less inclined to run around the backyard with your child. However, they can be a worthwhile expense for their experience and ability to handle kids of all ages and temperaments.
- Experience: Speaking of ability to handle kids of all ages, find out what age children the potential sitter has worked with before and if she has experience with your children’s age and/or gender. Inexperienced sitters can turn out to be the best sitters but they may need more direction and hand holding – something you may or may not be up for.
- Certifications: Does the sitter have any certifications such as First Aid, CPR or Babysitter training? Let’s be honest, it’s unlikely an emergency should happen and even if it does, you probably want the experts to handle the situation but if a sitter has certification, it shows he/she takes the job seriously. That she wants to do everything she can to be prepared. Certifications can’t hurt!
- Transportation: Does your sitter drive and if so, does he/she have access to a car? If he/she doesn’t drive, do you need to pick-up the sitter and drop-off them off? Keep in mind, not only does transporting a sitter add one more thing to your busy to-do list, it also means that your sitter can’t watch your kids when your spouse is traveling.
- Availability: Knowing a potential sitters availability up front and your “normal” needs will help you determine if you want to invest in a particular sitter. If they are involved in a lot of sports or have additional jobs, their availability may be limited. You also want to be aware of any restrictions he/she has, either set by her parents or set by state driving laws. In our state, the curfew is 11:30 pm for new drivers which means you have to be home in order to give the sitter ample time to get home by then. Depending on where and what you plan to do, this could be limiting.
- Interests: You’re probably wondering why the sitters interests matter, I mean really, isn’t it really all about your child’s interests? Of course your child matters, but if your child loves to play outdoors and loves sports and your sitter is a book worm who loves to spend her time reading to children, it may not be a match. Rather than ask the sitter for yes/no answers, ask more opened ended questions such as “what do you like to do in your free time when you are not babysitting?” and “what do you like to do with the children when you do babysit?” If your sitter likes to play sports, find out what kinds of sports. If they like board games, find out which ones. Knowing this information will help you the first few times the sitter comes. I’ve been known to say to my child (in front of the sitter when she arrives) “Kaitlin (the sitter) loves to play board games so make sure you play Chutes and Ladders with her instead of watching TV the whole time – okay sweetie?”
- Scheduling the Sitter: Before the first time someone watches your children, it’s likely you’ll talk on the phone or if you’re lucky, meet in person, but after that you may prefer to email or text to set-up jobs. Find out if she’s comfortable with that. Also ask if it’s okay to text her to check in on the kids and confirm she has unlimited text time in case her parents pay the bill. It’s so much easier to text and see how your child is doing then to pick-up the phone and check-in. Also, keep in mind that depending on the age of the sitter, you may have to speak to the mother to secure her for a job as well. This is probably okay if you are looking for a mother’s helper but in my opinion, if I’m going to leave my children with someone, I want that person to be mature enough to manage their own schedule.
- Orientation: I’ve learned over time that it’s best to write down anything you’re particular about – such as bed time routine. I always walk the sitter through the house, review the routine, bedtimes, teeth brushing, etc… but it’s a lot for one person to learn in the 5-minutes you have before rushing out the door while your kids are bouncing off the wall dragging “Kaitlin” off to see their room, blanket, toy, favorite game, etc….The first time I did this was after 5 years of employing sitters. It was a new high school age sitter. As a result, at the end of the night everyone was happy. The sitter was happy for the tips about how to cope when my kids keep coming out of bed, my kids were happy because their routine was pretty consistent and “Kaitlin” knew what color to leave their nightlight on. I was happy because key things were picked up, shades were actually closed, dishes were even put in the dishwasher and leftovers in the fridge. Plus, I felt like what I was paying her, was worth it.
- Discuss the Rules for the Sitter Upfront: Just as important as going over the routine with your sitter, it’s also critical to review your rules while she is at work. For example, if you don’t want her texting when your kids are awake and present, make this request (kindly of course). Remember, if they were working at a mall store for minimum wage there would be rules too. Other rules you might want to address include computer use (we set-up a sitter user account so they can use the computer after the kids go to bed), appropriate dress, talking on the phone and having friends visit. These all may seem obvious to you, but, not texting while on the job (except with the parent), for example is not always obvious to a sitter. Addressing these things up front when it feels like just your normal sitter requests is easier than having to later tell a sitter that wearing “Daisy Dukes” is inappropriate.
- Establishing Pay: In the business world, if you’ve ever hired someone, you know that you establish pay before the 1stday of work. I strongly suggest doing this or you could end up in a few awkward situations as I have (I’m still recovering from the sitter who charged me $20.00 an hour 3 years ago. She’s now a mom…I wonder what she pays.) Babysitting is a service such as having someone mow your lawn or plow your driveway which means they are often used to setting their own rates (yikes!) but sitters, especially younger ones also often don’t yet fully understand how hard it is for parents to make a dollar (double yikes!). While I always think I’m going to set the rate with someone who sits for us, inevitably they make the call. Unfortunately, for a good sitter, you generally have to pay her going rate or she’s apt to choose other jobs the next time you need her.
At the end of the day, remember you are paying the sitter to do a job and you are their employer. The quality of sitters out there varies greatly and what matters to you will also vary from what matters to me. Hopefully a few of these tips will help you as you seek to find your next new sitter. And to my current sitters, I feel very blessed to have each of you, especially those teachers who after five years are still a part of our family. Thank you!