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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

O Babysitter, Thou Art Divine: 5 Steps to Finding a Good Babysitter

O’ babysitter, thou art divine. You drive your own car. You don’t drink our wine.                               

But then there were other babysitters who left much to be desired. Of course, my gaggle of children wasn't always the easiest on the fragile ones. (One girl nervously dropped her cell phone in the toilet and accidentally flushed it while hiding in the bathroom.) And my husband and I left a few standing startled in the doorway as we hit the gas in our get-away car, leaving tire streaks on the drive. 

It always seemed that when we needed a babysitter the most, they were scarcer than jackelopes. I had to harden myself to rejection as the years went by and my family's reputation grew. My pockets got deeper. I actually had a teenage girl, who sat for us occasionally - probably only when she was desperate for money - tell me she couldn't babysit because she had to clean her room. I called her on a Tuesday. We didn't need her to come over until Friday. I tried to tell myself that her room was really, really messy, but the real truth hid right behind that thin consolation.

Nonetheless, I learned a lot during those years about how to select a sitter. The best ones weren't just warm bodies. They wanted to play with my children, talk to my children, and make memories with them. My oldest child is 17 now and I haven't retained a sitter's services in years. We still see many of our blasts from the past, however. And I love the way their faces and my children's faces light up in each other's presence. Then I know I took good care of my children even when I wasn't physically there.

Five Simple Steps to Finding a Good Babysitter:

STEP 1: Identify potential candidates for the job. Lots of parents who have found the perfect match for their family are reluctant to give out their best sitter’s name. Still, it’s never a bad idea to start by asking friends with children who they recommend. Another good source is church. Get the word out to the youth group and to the seniors group. Teachers, too, often supplement their incomes with babysitting. Don’t forget to check with neighbors. Also try an on-line service, such as, that connects parents with a list of local sitters who fit the family’s identified needs.

STEP 2: Screen the potential candidates. Which ones have the experience you’re looking for? Which ones are available at the times you most often need a sitter? Who on the list is trained in CPR and first aid? Who has his own transportation?  Parents who are clear about the requirements they have can very quickly cull their top 2-3 choices over the phone. Of course, ask for references and call those, as well. If using an on-line service, like, read the posted reviews.

STEP 3: Conduct a face-to-face interview. Prepare a list of questions ahead of time. Present problematic situations, both emergency and non-emergency, and ask potential sitters how they would handle them. Possible scenarios might include discipline, a stranger at the door, phone calls, and so forth. provides a comprehensive set of interview questions that parents can modify to their family and their situation. Aside from simply asking questions, the interview should also include opportunities for the candidate to interact with the child or children. A person’s body language and verbal exchanges, combined with a child’s response to the individual, add valuable information to the overall picture.

STEP 4: Plan a trial run. After selecting one or two candidates, run a background check on each. This may not be necessary for sitters under the age of 18, but it does apply to adult caregivers. Furthermore, Also, insist on a couple of short, trial sessions, about an hour at a time, to put everyone at ease.

STEP 5: Trust your gut. By this, I mean your parental 6th sense. If you get a bad feeling or your child displays opposition to a sitter, don’t brush it off. Investigate or move on to another candidate.

Do you have a funny or compelling babysitter story?

Useful Links:
The rate calculator:
The sitter cheat sheet (all the information you should leave for your sitter):
The Four Step Screening Process:


Anonymous said...

I never once hired a babysitter...not once... and I had no parents or inlaws handy to fill in. We just never went anywhere.

William Kendall said...

I'm not a parent myself, so babysitting issues aren't really in my future.

Growing up, there was a staggered difference in ages among us as siblings, and generally if my parents had to be out in the evening, when I was a child my grandparents lived in the downstairs apartment at our house.