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Reporting a Bad Babysitter

Q. I saw a toddler from my daughter's preschool class in the park the other day with a babysitter, and I didn't like what I saw. The sitter was talking to her friends and ignoring the child, who was wreaking havoc in the sandbox. Then I didn't like the way the sitter told the girl it was time to go home. She was very gruff and became more brusque as the child resisted. I don't know the mom too well. Should I say something?

A. A casual poll of moms I know resulted in one resounding answer: Yes! They'd want to know, if -- and that if is the key -- their sitter was doing something wrong. What mother wouldn't? We do our best to screen caregivers and then cross our fingers and hope that what we see is what we get. (Although many moms, myself included, have gone as far as hiding behind a tree at the park just to check.)

So if you're confident you saw behavior that would bother you, were it your child, speak up! But perhaps you should ask yourself these questions first to ensure you're not falling victim to a false perception. Have you seen the sitter acting like this before? If not, maybe the sitter was just having a bad day (don't we all?) and, for the most part, is loving and attentive. Did the child act upset by the sitter's words -- or take them in stride and seem unconcerned? Maybe this is a tough kid who needs firmness to get moving. Is it possible the sitter wasn't acting the way you'd act but wasn't out of line, just exhibiting a different style?

If, after considering all this, you still feel concerned, go ahead and approach the mother. But tread carefully, keeping in mind that many moms are sitter-sensitive and often are predisposed to feeling guilty for leaving their children in the first place. Try not to sound judgmental, instead, opening with a self-deprecating sentence like, "This has been nagging at me and may be nothing, since I tend to be overly cautious, but...." She may thank you, or she may tell you to mind your own business, but at least you've said something.

Julie Mazer is a mother of three in Short Hills, New Jersey.

Originally published in American Baby magazine, October 2004.