1. When do you want your baby sitter to be available? If you need a reliable sitter for Friday and Saturday nights, be explicit about that. If you need the occasional weeknight sitter, you don’t want to hire one that has nighttime classes during the week. Same thing with weekends; if you need a sitter during the day on a Saturday or Sunday, you need to know if the person you are hiring is going to regularly have a conflict.
[Of course, you can hire more than one sitter. We have two reliable sitters, one of whom has also been our summer time nanny the past two years.]
2. How old is the sitter? A high-school age sitter can’t be beat for enthusiasm (or one would hope) and availability. However, a college-age sitter may be more experienced and more responsible — and will probably want more money.
3. How much are you willing to pay? As with anything involving childcare, nannies and sitters can be expensive. We pay from $10 to $15 an hour, depending on experience. Let’s face it, we have three kids, and someone not blood related to them should be well compensated for containing the chaos.
4. What do you want the sitter to do? Aside from make sure the children don’t kill each other or set the house on fire? This ranges from basics (change diapers, feed, give baths, put to bed) to more detailed responsibilities. I ask my baby sitters to help the children clean up the house; if they feed the children, I ask that the kitchen be cleaned. Our nanny helps the children do all the chores I request of them: change sheets, vacuum, put laundry away. I honestly think they listen to her better than they do to me.
So, when I interview a sitter, I always ask about what I call light housekeeping, and give them an idea of what I mean. This is another area that a college age person is better than a teen, generally speaking.
5. Does the sitter have a car, and if so, is she comfortable driving the children? This, again, can be an invaluable asset. If you have date night scheduled, and a classmate’s birthday party invite comes in, can the sitter take the child? During the summer, our nanny took the children to swim lessons, drove them to the park, did all kinds of things. I prefer a sitter that has her own transportation.
6. Ask them what they will do with the children. One of my sitters loves doing arts and crafts with the children. My nanny loves taking them outside, or to places like Fun Fore All. Sure, sometimes they are going to sit and watch a movie. But if you have strict rules about screen time, you want to know what a sitter has up her sleeve to keep the kids occupied.
7. Make your discipline guidelines clear. Make sure the sitter has the backbone to back up her requests for compliance. What will she do when the 3-year-old throws a tantrum? How about when the 9-year-old says she wants to stay up and wait for you to get home? Sitters should be able to be firm. We believe in timeouts and a system of rewards/loss of privileges, and we make sure our sitters have the tools they need to keep the children in line if needed.
8. One of the things I asked my potential nannies was, “Think of a time you had an emergency. What did you do?” That was instructive for me. It’s good to know if a caregiver is going to have a cool head.
9. This seems obvious, but ask about experience. Some sitters only have experience with infants. Some only sit for older children. What are they in school for? Our nanny has a degree in education, and a Masters degree in mathematics. Our other sitter is in college for early education with an emphasis in arts. It’s good to know that they are so interested in children that they want to participate in teaching.
10. This also seems obvious, but ask for references, and then call them. I find calling people I barely know to talk about a person I also barely know (yet) to be nerve-racking, but you have to do it. What ages were the kids when she (or he, rare but possible) babysat? What kinds of things did she do with them? What was she good at? Did she have any weak points? People I talked to about our nanny could not say nice enough things about her, all of which I have found to be true, too. She really likes children, and for some reason, she really likes my children too!
The easiest ways to find sitters are through word of mouth and the Internet. We’ve gotten good baby sitters both ways, and our current regular sitters I found at SitterCity.com (I am not being compensated by SitterCity in any way for this post). They have guidelines there, too, about what to ask, and the people who post there to be employed provide a lot of appropriate information.
I find having sitters to be important for a variety of reasons. And I’ll get into that in my next post!
How about it, parents? Or baby sitters? Did I leave anything out?