how to choose a babysitter

What is a babysitter? A babysitter takes care of your children’s needs and keeps them safe in your absence – everyone knows that. Coming up with the job description is simple enough, but how do you find just the right person for the job and how can you help them rise to the task?
The restaurant is booked. Your partner has promised he is going to be home on time and you have bought a slinky new dress just for the occasion. Now, for the most important part of the preparations – have you organised a babysitter?

Where Do You Find One?

Of course, there are at least a dozen reputable agencies in Australia which provide a casual babysitting service.

But many parents rely on a more casual arrangement. If you are lucky, your family day carer or nanny is happy to extend her hours to accommodate your social engagements (in which case you probably don’t need to read on). Usually, it’s teenagers keen to earn some pocket money who take on the task, more often than not the older siblings of your child’s little mates. Sometimes, it’s a retiree or another mum who has some spare time.

Choosing A Babysitter

Every parent will agree that asking someone to care for their children, even for just a few hours, is a very onerous request. Especially if this person is someone they don’t know very well or a stranger.

However, babysitting is more often than not seen as an ‘odd’ job which requires no special training and offers little remuneration.

Especially if you are not using a babysitter from an agency, which does the vetting for you, it is worthwhile to adopt a formal approach to the important exercise of choosing a babysitter for your children.

Interview Your Prospective Babysitter

Think of yourself as an employer hiring someone for a highly responsible position within your company, one that requires multiple skills and aptitude.

Even if your prospective babysitter has been highly recommended by someone you trust, or you have met her a few times socially, make a point of ‘interviewing’ her for the job yourself, in person. Preferably do it at your house, and let her know that you are planning to do this before you offer her work.

There is no need to interrogate your babysitter in an intimidating manner. But do ask questions about her experience with children.

Show her around the house and introduce your children to her. Make your own observations about her personality, abilities and how she relates to the children. Remember, an interest in children is an essential qualification. Patience, a sense of humour and resourcefulness are highly desirable.

Discuss what you expect her to do and what you will pay. Ask her what she sees as her key duties. If you are not comfortable with the person, don’t take them on just because your friend does. Trust your instincts.

Arrange the meeting well ahead of the time when you actually need a babysitter, so that you can find a replacement if somehow you don’t think she is the right person for this very important job.

Rules And Routines

Once you have found a babysitter that meets your needs and those of your children, help her please her boss by explaining to her exactly how you want the job done.

  • Keeping Them Busy. Discuss with her how she plans to entertain the children. Make sure she has ideas for activities and whatever craft materials, games, or toys she may need. Alternatively, leave her some things to do. Remember that she won’t know your children as well as you do, so share with her your children’s likes and dislikes.
  • House Rules. Tell her what the ‘house’ rules are; for example, what the children are allowed to watch on television, whether they are allowed to play in the front yard. Also, discuss your approach to discipline with her; how to deal with temper tantrums, fights with siblings, etc. Even the most angelic children are known to play up with people they don’t know well.
  • Food. Tell the babysitter what snacks and meals the children can have and leave plentiful supplies.
  • Bed-time Routine. Go through the ‘going to bed’ routine with your babysitter& time, bottles of milk, favourite toys, lights/no lights.
  • Emergencies. Talk through a simple action plan in case of an accident or emergency. Don’t assume your babysitter will know what to do if things should go wrong.
  • Special Instructions. Don’t forget to leave any special instructions, for example any medication your child may have to take, and alert them to medical conditions such as asthma.

Making the babysitting experience happy and smooth for your babysitter and your children means that you can really enjoy your night out. There is also a long-term reward. A happy babysitter who is made to feel competent in her role will keep babysitting for you and your children will look forward to spending time with a person they are familiar with.

Instructions For Your Babysitter

  • Tell your baby sitter what time they need to arrive at your place. To encourage punctuality, be precise. For example, say ‘I’d like you to be here by 7.30pm,’ rather than ‘Our restaurant booking is for 8pm.’ Allow some time for last minute instructions and to say good bye to the children.
  • If the babysitter hasn’t been to your house before, take her for a tour of the house and yard, and show her how to lock doors, gates and windows.
  • Tell the babysitter what time will you return home and stick to it.
  • Does the babysitter need a ride home? If so, make sure there is a designated (and sober) driver.
  • Are visitors allowed?
  • Does she have to answer the phone?
  • What if someone comes to the door?
  • Is she (or he) allowed to take the children out of the house (to play in the backyard or in the park)?
  • Ask her to check sleeping children regularly, especially babies.
  • Does she have a house key for her to use and where is it?
  • Give her a run-down of your itinerary plus contact details.
  • It’s a good idea to give a back-up contact person as well, a friend or relative they can call on, who preferably lives close by, if for some reason they can’t get hold of you. Let the back-up contact person know that you have given their name to your babysitter.
  • When you return home, find out how things went and if there have been any problems. Ask both the children and the babysitter.

Does Your Babysitter Know…?

  • The location of all telephones in the house?
  • How to operate any appliances she may need to use such as television video, computer, microwave?
  • The location of the smoke alarm and fire extinguishers?
  • The location of the fuse box and power points?
  • Where the first aid kit is kept?
  • Where the emergency exits are if it’s a unit?
  • How to lock up the house and how to operate the alarm system?
  • Where the outside lights are?
  • Out of bounds areas in the house, such as mummy’s office?

A List To Leave Your Babysitter

  • Your street address, nearest cross streets
  • Telephone number of your house
  • Your contact numbers: mobile, landline
  • Your partner’s contact details: mobile, landline
  • Back-up contact person: name, mobile, landline
  • Poisons Information: 13 1126
  • Police ambulance & fire: 000
  • Electricity (Energy Australia): 13 1388
  • Your choice of hospital with a casualty department: name, street address, tel. no
  • Your children’s GP: name, tel. no, after hours number
  • Medications
  • Other special instructions

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