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How to Choose a Babysitter

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on June 28, 2021

Whether you need full-time childcare while you work or you're just looking for an occasional night out without the kids, finding a reliable babysitter can be a difficult job. You will probably always feel anxious the first time you leave your child with someone new, but a few simple guidelines can make it much less stressful.

Consider Your Needs

Your criteria will depend on if you want a babysitter for 1 or 2 weekends a month, or for every weekday after school until you're home from work. Once you know what you need, you'll have an easier time knowing where to look. 

Ask Around

The best way to find a babysitter is to ask friends whose judgment you trust. If you have a friend who loves their nanny and you only need an occasional sitter, they may be a perfect fit. You can also ask at your child's preschool or enrichment classes. The caregivers there may be looking for some extra work. The staff at your pediatrician's office may have some suggestions, as well. Your local Red Cross or YMCA are other good places to ask for referrals. 

If you need someone to work more hours, you may need to use a website like Care.com. You can also post an ad on the job board at a local college or use a caregiver staffing agency. 

Conduct an Interview

Once you have some leads, set up an interview. You'll want to ask about their experience babysitting and any training they may have, like first aid and CPR. If you find someone you like who hasn't taken the training, you can offer to cover the cost of the class. 

You should think about if you want more experience or energy. You may want a grandmotherly type with lots of experience to care for your newborn. Or your energetic kids may need someone who can run around with them at the park. 

If possible, have the sitter come to your house for the interview. You'll be able to see how they interact with your kids. Are they warm and at ease with children, or do they seem distant and distracted? 

Some other questions to ask include:

  • What training do you have in case of an emergency?
  • What will you do if the baby cries when I'm gone?
  • What will you do if someone rings the doorbell?

Check References

No matter how wonderful they seem during the interview, make sure you call and check their references. Ideally, you should ask for 3 to 5. When you call, ask about how reliable they were, how they handled communication, and how they dealt with stress. Ask if they displayed good judgment and followed instructions. 

Even if all of their references are glowing, make sure you get a background check, which you can do through your local police department. 

Give Clear Instructions

Before you leave, discuss the house rules and routines. Tell the babysitter your expectations for things like homework, electronics, and playing outside. Make sure the sitter knows:

  • Where you'll be and how to reach you
  • When to call 911 before calling you
  • Where you have put up emergency numbers, including neighbors, your child's doctor, a close friend or relative, and Poison Control (1-800-222-1222)
  • The location of emergency exits and fire extinguishers
  • Where the first-aid kit is, as well as any medicines your child takes or allergies they have
  • Where any keys are that they should know about 

Go over basic home safety tips, such as how to prevent falls and poisoning. Talk about water and fire safety as well.

Other Safety Considerations

While it may be tempting to use an older sibling, cousin, or neighbor as a babysitter, you may want to reconsider. A survey that asked young babysitters aged 11 to 13 about their experience babysitting found that 40% had left younger children unattended and 20% had opened the door to strangers. If you do have a preteen babysit, make sure they have safety training and education on how to handle emergencies. 

Show Sources

SOURCES:

American Academy of Pediatrics: "Babysitter Safety Training: Are Children Aged 11-13 Years Prepared to Deal with Emergencies While Caring for Younger Children?"

Care.com: "How do I get my babysitter background check?"

KidsHealth: "Choosing and Instructing a Babysitter."

Safe Kids Worldwide: "Home Safety Tips."Safe Kids Worldwide: "Home Safety Tips."

Safe Sitter: "Interviewing a Babysitter: Questions You Need to Ask."

The New York Times: "How to Find a Reliable Babysitter."

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