Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Choosing a Babysitter: What to look for and questions to ask

What should you look for in a sitter? Well, my husband and I recently began searching for a sitter, though we have no immediate need for one yet. I’m not ready to be away from my 12-week-old boy; I am going to be a stay-at-home mom for a while too. But we will want to have a date night eventually, and I want to have a babysitter selected and available for when we are ready.

When interviewing and hiring a babysitter, you need to start by thinking of what you want in a sitter. Do you want someone that is a parent themselves, or a young college student? Do you want a sitter that will speak only English, or do you want someone that is fluent in another language? Do they need to be CPR and First Aid certified? Does your sitter need to have training in child development or education, or just plenty of experience? Would you like a sitter that will do light housework while the kids nap? Is a clean driving record important?

For us, the most important things in a sitter are experience with young infants, being comfortable with large dogs, and an outgoing nature. Even though our boy is still very young, we want a sitter that will take him out on walks and short outings – he seems to get bored and antsy when he’s inside all day. Behind those three things, we want someone who will continue to do baby sign language with him so it’s consistent, read him lots of books and sing songs. We don’t expect any cleaning or chores to get done – babysitters aren’t magicians, we don’t expect them to be able to accomplish things that two of us can’t do!

Also, think about what an acceptable rate is to you. It really depends on the area you live in – in Southern California where we reside (more specifically, Orange County) – the going rate is about $15 an hour. (The sitters we spoke to charge $17, $15, and $13). A high school or college student will accept a lower rate than someone who has been in the childcare business for many years. Some sitters and nannies may also charge higher rates for additional children, or if you run late coming home, or higher rates for additional services like cooking or cleaning.

There are a lot of good questions to ask sitters when interviewing, but speaking as both an interviewer and past interviewee, some of them are annoying, and some are more insightful than others. Here are (I think) the best questions:

What do you like most about being a babysitter? Obviously, you’re looking for an answer along the lines of  “I love kids,” not “It pays well.”
Do you often touch base with parents? This is important if you want a sitter that will text you updates and photos while you’re gone. (Something I want for at least the first few times away from my boy).
Do you have an example of a time you handled a crisis? Not everyone will have experience with an emergency (I never did have a crisis in my 3 years as a nanny/babysitter) but if they did have an emergency situation, you want to know that they will handle it calmly and take the appropriate steps (call 911, call mom, go to emergency room – whatever the situation dictates) – not a sitter that panics.
How would you describe your personality? Not the most important, but their answer can be very revealing. I like to hear things like, “friendly,” “outgoing,” “honest,” “easygoing,” “energetic,” and so on.
What are some of your hobbies? If you want a sitter that will spend time with your kids outside, you obviously don’t want to hear “reading magazines,” “playing video games,” and “watching tv.”
What do you look for in a family? They’re only just getting to know you, so you hope to hear some things that describe your family!
What are the top 3 characteristics you think are essential in caring for children? You’re going to be looking for things like, “patience,” “caring,” “kindness,” “sympathy,” “compassion,” “creativity,” and the like.

And finally... to search for sitters try Care.com or Sittercity.com (bonus: Sittercity is FREE for military!)

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