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Choosing a Babysitter

No one ever said that choosing a babysitter was easy. How can you find someone who can diaper like a pro, handle any emergency, and play games instead of parking your baby in front of the TV?

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Ask friends and neighbors for recommendations. Tell everyone you know that you're looking. Even the nurse in your pediatrician's office might have a name for you.
  • Check with local high schools, colleges, nursing schools, and senior citizen centers.
  • Read the bulletin boards (or place a posting yourself) at places where parents tend to congregate, such as churches, supermarkets, or the YMCA.
  • If your child is in day care, find out if any junior staffers are looking for additional work. The best part is that they are already familiar with your child, making the transition easier.

But how young is too young? Safe Kids, a child advocacy organization in Washington, D.C., says a babysitter should be at least 13 years old. The American Red Cross, however, offers a babysitter training course, available nationwide, to kids as young as 11. An 11- or 12-year-old can make a great babysitter, especially if they have younger siblings, notes Sherrita Rose, who trains instructors for the Red Cross course. Ultimately, the age of the sitter depends on your own comfort level and the age of your child. If you have a baby, you may want an older teen, simply because younger kids may not have the strength or coordination to hold, feed, and diaper a baby. If you have more than one child, it's probably best to have a sitter who's at least 13.

Once you've found a candidate, interview her as if she's being hired for a real job -- which she is.

Ideally the candidate you're considering should come to your house for the interview, so you can see firsthand how she interacts with your child. Find out whether she's ever cared for a child the same age as yours (if you have an infant younger than 1, you want a sitter who has experience with babies), the types of games she plays with children, and what she does when they cry or refuse to go to bed.

It's not enough that the babysitter seems responsible and likes kids, notes Heather Paul, PhD, executive director of the Safe Kids Campaign. It's also important for her to know how to keep kids from getting hurt and what to do in an emergency.

Ask a potential sitter whether she knows first aid, CPR, and the Heimlich maneuver. You can get a sense of how well she thinks on her feet by posing "What if?" scenarios, such as "What would you do if my baby were running a fever?" Finally, ask for a reference (two if she wasn't a friend's recommendation) and check it.

At some point early on, you should ask what she charges. Fees vary across the country, but a teen babysitter makes about $5 to $10 an hour. If you have more than one child, some sitters charge extra. And if you want the sitter to do any extra chores, such as folding laundry, be prepared to pay more.

If the references check out and you hire her, go over house rules. Be really clear, especially with a teen. Rose suggests telling your sitter to limit phone use, even after your child goes to bed, and not allowing her to have friends over. And if you're employing a teen, you might want to meet her parents for peace of mind.

Before you leave, make sure you go over your child's routines together: when he goes to bed, whether he's allowed to watch TV, what to feed him. Most important, review safety and emergency information. Point out your baby's gates and your smoke detectors, suggests Paul. Tell her where the first-aid kit, flashlight, and fire extinguisher are located. If you have an infant, remind the sitter that babies should be put to sleep on their backs.

Don't forget to give your babysitter the phone number of the place you're going and your cell phone number, if you have one. At home, post these numbers by the phone:

  • Your child's doctor
  • The police
  • The fire department
  • A neighbor who can be contacted for help
  • The Poison Control Center's local emergency number

The final step is to walk out the door. But be forewarned: Now that you're free to have an uninterrupted adult conversation, you'll inevitably find yourself talking about -- what else -- the kids!

The information on this Web site is designed for educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any health problems or illnesses without consulting your pediatrician or family doctor. Please consult a doctor with any questions or concerns you might have regarding your or your child's condition.