Once you've found someone you like, it's time to make sure she clicks with your kids too. "One of the biggest mistakes parents make is introducing a new sitter minutes before they leave," says Jean Erdtmann, RN, an American Red Cross health and safety expert who teaches sitter-training courses. "The kids feel like they're being left with a stranger." If possible, ask her to come spend an hour or two with your family before her first sitting job (pay her for her time, of course). "This is a great opportunity to see how she interacts with your children, and for you to familiarize her with your home and rules, as well as answer her questions," Erdtmann says.
If you don't have time for a trial run, have the sitter arrive at least an hour before you need to leave so you can show her around the house. Go over your house rules including how much -- if any -- TV and computer time the kids are allowed to have, which snacks are off-limits, and how she should handle discipline problems. And give her the rundown on your kids' bedtime routines. "Tell her if your child sleeps with a special blanket, is allowed to take a cup of water to bed, or prefers to have the hallway light stay on at night," Wilson says. Leave her with a list that includes the following information.
- Your children's names, birthdays, and weights
- Your cell-phone number and the address where you'll be
- Your home address and phone number
- Your pediatrician's number
- The number for Poison Control (800-222-1222)
- The number of a neighbor or relative she can call in case of an emergency
- Your kids' medical info, including allergies
- Important house rules (for example, don't smoke)
Once your kids and babysitter have settled in together, don't hang around. While younger children may burst into tears when you leave, most will stop crying a few minutes after you're out of sight. Check in once to make sure everything is okay, but don't waste your evening out worrying. Enjoy those child-free hours -- you'll be heading home before you know it.
Copyright © 2007. Reprinted with permission from the August 2007 issue of Parents magazine.