Whether you’ve just landed your dream job and need a full-time babysitter or you simply would like to enjoy dinner out, picking the right sitter for your family can be stressful — but it doesn’t have to be if you know which qualities to seek and how to screen the candidates.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), sitters should be:
* Good with children.
* Someone whom your kids like.
Interview each candidate to determine competence and reliability. According to the AAP, you should ask potential sitters about: their previous experience with children and other sitting jobs they’ve held; the ages of the kids they have cared for and how they handled discipline within each age-group; and whether they have completed a babysitting class, first aid class and CPR training. Have the candidates describe play activities they enjoy with kids who are the same ages as your children.
If there is a specific activity you find important — such as reading — make sure the potential sitter is comfortable with it.
Prepare for the New Sitter
Prior to the sitter’s arrival, make your home as safe as possible. Store medications where they are inaccessible to your children and the sitter. Guns should be stored unloaded, and separate from the ammunition in a locked container inaccessible to children. Move any personal documents or personal information to a locked, secure place.
Have the sitter arrive early. According to the AAP, you should sit in a room with your children and the sitter. Allow your children to sit and play with you. Have the sitter watch the interactions and make eye contact with and smile at your children.
Once you feel that your children are developing a level of comfort with the sitter — by smiling back or starting to include the sitter in the play activities — have the sitter join you and your children in the activity. All of you should play together for a little while. Then move back and allow the sitter to interact with your children while you watch.
Children will react differently based on age. Younger children may take longer than older kids to warm up to someone new. Those younger than a year may take the longest time to warm up.
Before leaving your children, teach them what to do if they feel uncomfortable with the sitter. They should call you or contact a relative if you are not reachable. If your children feel uncomfortable talking while the sitter is listening, establish a code word that conveys that there is a problem. The code word should be easy enough for you and your kids to remember, and should only be used if necessary.
Additionally, talk to your children about “safe touch” and how they should not be afraid to tell you if they are uncomfortable with any touches that occur while you are out.
When you must leave, always say goodbye to and reassure your children that you will be home when your activity or work is over.
Set Ground Rules
According to HealthyChildren.org, you should have emergency supplies such as a flashlight and a first aid kit available. Discuss emergency exit and fire escape plans and display them prominently. Tell the sitter where you will be and how to get a hold of you in an emergency. In addition, list the following phone numbers:
* Grandparents, if close and available.
* Pediatric healthcare provider’s office.
* Poison control.
* Police/fire, if other than 911.
* Home phone and address to provide to an emergency response team.
Be specific about your expectations. Each household is different, and your sitter needs to understand the guidelines you have established for your family. Discuss:
* How much screen time (television, handheld electronics) is allowed. For example, you could say you allow your children to watch no more than a half-hour of television at one time and no more than two hours per day of total screentime, including television and the computer.
* Use of the telephone by your children and the sitter. You can state that you expect the sitter not to be on her cell phone or your home phone for any reason except an emergency.
* Visitors for your children or the sitter.
* No smoking or drinking rules. You can say you do not allow smoking or drinking in your house.
* Whether taking your children outside of your home is allowed.
* Pool rules.
* Feeding, bathing and sleeping arrangements. You want the sitter to know your children’s routine.
* Any allergies or specific needs any of your children may have.
Most importantly, you and your children should be comfortable with and confident in the sitter’s ability to provide excellent childcare and handle an emergency situation.
Evaluate the Family-Sitter Relationship
Once the sitter is in place, evaluate how well she is working within your family. There are several ways to tell if a sitter is not a good fit. According to babycenter.com and TopConsumerReviews.com-Babysitters 2016, the following scenarios could indicate cause for concern. If you notice any of these behaviors, you should seriously consider finding a new sitter.
* The sitter is secretive about the time spent with your children.
* Your child/children have had too many accidents that should have been avoided easily, or your infant or toddler has bruises that do not coincide with his abilities.
* Your children are afraid of or do not seem to want to be left with the sitter.
* The sitter’s stories do not add up.
* You notice that the sitter is not following your guidelines.
* You simply have a bad feeling about the sitter.
Some parents opt to install a nanny cam. This allows you to observe the sitter interacting with your children from a remote location via a camera and computer or mobile phone. Laws in all 50 states allow a person to observe someone via camera in his or her home without notification. State laws vary when it comes to having sound or recording another party such as a sitter. Check your state’s laws to determine how a nanny cam can be used in your home for monitoring your children or sitter and preventing theft. It’s important to remember that webcams can be hacked into and you should take security precautions to protect your webcam.
Nicole Boucher, PhD, RN, CPNP-PC, has been a primary care PNP for nearly 20 years. A clinical assistant professor at the University of Michigan, she teaches in the PNP program.