Babysitter Basics

In-home care, in which your child's caretaker comes to your home, is in many ways the most convenient for parents. In-home sitters range from trained nannies to au pairs.

Finding and Interviewing a Sitter

In-home care, in which your child's caretaker comes to your home, is in many ways the most convenient for parents. In-home sitters range from trained nannies, who may have training in child development and first aid, to women who, although not trained formally, have had many years' experience caring for children, including their own. Or you might opt for an au pair, a young person, usually a woman in her early twenties, often from abroad, who lives with your family.

Finding a Sitter

You can advertise for a nanny or sitter in your local paper or on community bulletin boards, or you can register with an agency. Word-of-mouth, however, is often the best source. Ask everyone you meet who has had a sitter; someone whose child no longer needs full-time care may be delighted to have a sitter she values highly go directly to another family. Good sources for finding sitters who are no longer needed by a family include local nursery schools. Many parents post the names and numbers of their sitters who are soon to need new jobs.

The Interview

When you interview a prospective sitter, be prepared with your questions; have them written down, since it's easy to forget what you wanted to ask. Request proof of identity, current address, and names and phone numbers of references. Check the references, making sure to ask why the sitter is no longer working for that family and whether the former employers would hire the sitter again. Following are questions to ask the sitter that will help you evaluate her as a potential caregiver:

  • What kind of childcare experience has she had? Ask her to explain the best and worst experiences. The details can be telling.
  • What is her attitude about working mothers? Does she approve of mothers leaving their infants with others?
  • How does she handle issues of discipline? Be specific. Ask her what she would do if your baby cried for an hour or more. What if your toddler was defiant or inattentive to her? What if your child broke her watch or another prized possession?
  • How does she feel about TV? Would she watch TV herself while your child was playing or napping? Would she offer television as a regular activity?
  • How does she feel about the rules you've set for the children? If her philosophy differs from yours, can she comfortably follow your standards?
  • How much does she like to mingle with other sitters, parents, and kids? Does she enjoy taking the kids outdoors to play?
  • What does she know about good nutrition? Does she limit snacks to good-for-you foods?
  • Find out what she would do in an emergency such as your child suddenly becoming ill or a fire in the building.

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