We know you love your kids more than anything … but you can’t be with them all the time (nor would you want to).
From a much-needed night out on the town to that business dinner you just can’t miss, it’s important to have a dependable babysitter (and a few solid back-ups) on call when life demands it.
But we know that finding someone you can trust with the most precious people in your life can be beyond tricky.
What should you look for in a sitter for your infant—versus a toddler? How much do you pay for multiple kids—and should you tip? (If so, how much?) What kind of tasks can you realistically expect a babysitter to handle? And how can you tell when an older child is ready to stay at home … alone?
To answer all of these questions, and many more, we’ve put together the ultimate guide to babysitting. Read on:
Determine Your and Your Child’s Needs
The type of babysitter you need will depend on your child’s age and personality, as well as what you’re looking for in terms of availability and experience. Identifying your priorities will help you target the ideal babysitter—and will save you time when it comes down to the search.
1. How old is your child/children?
Your child’s age is one of the most important factors when looking for a sitter. Here’s your guide to choosing one right for every age group (then we’ll give you great leads on how to find them below.)
If your child is an infant or baby: We know, the first time you get the courage to leave him alone (with someone other than your mom) can be heart-wrenching—which is why the person you trust with your bundle of joy should be very experienced with infants and babies. They should be able to feed, burp and change your baby and should enjoy working with newborns. Ideally, this sitter should be trained in infant and baby CPR and first aid.
In terms of personality, the sitter should be warm, competent and calm so that she can easily soothe your baby. An older sitter—think driving age or older—is probably best (say, as opposed to your fourteen-year-old neighbor).
If your child is a toddler or a young child: Young children and toddlers can be rambunctious, so it’s important to find a sitter who can handle moods. The sitter should be fun and entertaining, but also able to set boundaries. CPR and first aid training is a plus, as is a sitter with lots of energy herself.
If your child is in elementary or middle school: As your child gets older, finding a sitter who’s a good match for your child in terms of personality becomes increasingly important. You want to find someone your child likes spending time with—and looks forward to seeing—so leaving the house doesn’t become a tortured process for you.
2. What are your needs?
Will you want the same sitter every Friday night from 7-11 p.m., or are you looking for someone on the first Tuesday of every month? How far in advance do you typically know your schedule and can you give a sitter notice ahead of time? Being upfront about your needs will help ensure you’re never scrambling to find a babysitter hours before you need to leave the house.
How to Find a Sitter
The best way to find a paid sitter (as opposed to your sister-in-law) is word of mouth. Ask your family, friends, co-workers and other moms at your child’s school if they have a great sitter they can recommend. You might even try your pediatrician.
Can’t find a sitter through a personal recommendation? Try your local nursery school. Often, sitters will advertise on nursery school bulletin boards, or at other community centers frequented by parents and young children, like the local library.
The last option is to look online. Sites like SitterCity help connect parents with babysitters in their neighborhood. On SitterCity, you can search for sitters based on location, experience, certifications, education and hourly rate. There are also reviews so you can see what kind of experience other mothers have had.
The Interview Process
There are a couple of key things to take care of before entrusting your child to someone new.
First, speak with the sitter on the phone to get a sense of her experience and personality, and whether her availability meets your needs. If she sounds promising, ask her what she generally charges per hour for however many kids you have (sitters may charge more or less depending on how many children there are and their ages)—there’s no sense in going through the rest of the interview if she charges more than you’re willing to pay.
Pay, by the way, can start from around the minimum wage in your area for a teenage babysitter to $13 or more for an experienced babysitter with CPR certification. Average rates may vary depending on your location. Often, babysitters who take care of newborns or young babies will charge more, as they generally have more experience and certifications.
If her hourly rate seems reasonable, ask for references. Peace of mind is really importance when leaving your child with a new sitter, and it helps to talk to other parents who have previously employed this person.
Set Up a Meet-and-Greet
If you like what you hear after speaking to references, set up a time for her to come over and meet your child. If your kid is a baby or an infant, this is a good time to observe how the sitter handles him. If your child is older, you may want to give the two of them some unstructured playtime, so you can see how they interact.
Now is also the time to talk about your expectations. Is it okay if your child watches TV? Is it important that your child be asleep by 8 p.m. sharp? Are you looking for a sitter to go over your child’s homework? Do you have a dog that you’ll need walked and fed?
Talk through these scenarios to make sure that the potential sitter is a good fit. Whether you think you’ll use her or not, you should pay her for her time during this initial meet-up and interview, based on the hourly rate you discussed with her earlier.
Found a Sitter? What to Do Before Leaving the House
If you’ve found a sitter you like and trust, great! You’re almost ready to enjoy a night off.
Leave all of your emergency information and phone numbers in a central location, like on the fridge or on your kitchen counter. Include your cell phone number, a spouse’s cell phone number if applicable, your work number (if you’ll be at the office), an emergency contact’s information, your pediatrician’s number and a trusted neighbor’s number, if possible.
When the sitter arrives, walk her through the house one more time so that she feels comfortable. Try not to linger too long after her arrival, or a young child will be more likely to get confused or upset.
To Tip or Not to Tip?
If your sitter does an above-and-beyond job, it’s always nice to tip a little extra. Additionally, if you are delayed or stay out for longer than you’d expected, it’s nice to tip a little extra (consider it like paying extra for overtime).
The exact amount is up to your discretion, but an extra $5 up to an extra hour’s wage would be appropriate. As a general rule, though, it’s not necessary to tip each time your sitter comes over. Additionally, if your sitter has to drive a far distance or take public transportation to get to you, it’s considerate to offer to reimburse her for the cost of travel.
How to Tell if Your Child Is Ready to Stay Home Alone
As your child matures, you may wonder if she or he is ready to be home without a sitter (which will save you a ton in babysitter money). There’s no hard or fast rule on what age is appropriate to leave a child at home, since each child is different. Legally, only Illinois and Maryland have laws about what age children can be left alone (12 and 8, respectively). For guidelines on what to consider before leaving your child home alone, read this.
If you think your kid is ready, start by running short errands away from home. Make sure your child knows how to dial your cell phone number in case he gets scared or there’s a problem. If all goes well, try staying out for longer periods of time. Use this same process of leaving for increasingly longer periods when training your child to babysit his younger siblings.
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