Child Care You Can Trust

One-On-One

A Full-Time Sitter

A babysitter who comes to your home can be an excellent choice for parents who have more than one child (the rates won't double with two kids); who have unpredictable work schedules or a child with special needs; or who'd like a care provider to also do light child-related housekeeping, such as laundry and cooking. Make sure she has:

A good history If you go through an agency, they'll do educational and background screenings of the candidates. If you find a sitter through word of mouth, ask how much education and child-care training she has (including infant CPR) and if she can share a recent background check. If not, run one; Nanny.org has a list of companies that do checks. Ask for references from former employers as well.

A few hobbies Asking about a potential sitter's interests isn't idle chitchat; you'll get clues as to what leisure activities she may plan for your baby, says Susan Tokayer, copresident of the International Nanny Association. If she enjoys cycling, for instance, she'll probably want to take your child outside.

A happy home life As Tokayer points out, "You don't want someone who's going to have daily drama."

Crisis-management skills Ask for an example of how she responded in an emergency. "You need a person who has demonstrated she can act quickly, stay calm, and make the right decision," says Tokayer. If she doesn't know to call 911 first and you second, keep looking!

Using Granny as Your Nanny?

Set some general guidelines. There's no need to treat Grandma like an employee (spare her the staff handbook), but be up-front about things such as expected hours and the daily routine.

Put her on the payroll. She might refuse pay, but you owe it to her to ask. If she says no, regularly acknowledge her work and compensate her in other ways--say, with a trip or restaurant gift certificates.

Discuss safety concerns. Brief Grandma on current safety measures like putting Baby to sleep on his back and always buckling the changing table and stroller safety belts. If she's on her own turf, childproof it.

Make sure she's up to the task. Holding, feeding, and changing a baby is doable, but soon your tot will be more active--a lot more active! Agree to regroup in six months or so to see how things are going.

Hired a Great Sitter? How to keep her

Arrive home at your expected time, and be sure to call on the rare occasion when you're running late. Yep, your sitter has a life beyond your baby.

Forget about Mary Poppins! Think about it: It's challenging for you to care for your child, do load upon load of laundry, and keep his room clean; same goes for your sitter. She may be a professional, but she's human.

Pay her the going rate. You want her to feel like a million, not a bargain.

Make her comfy in your home. Invite her to nosh from the fridge and make necessary phone calls. After all, she's your new part-time family member -- and a valuable one, at that.

Trust her, and make it clear that you do. It's fine to request daily notes, but asking her to keep an overly detailed log is a sure way to send her screaming from the house.

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