Story timeThe time to find a babysitter is long before you need one. There comes a time in every parent’s life, no matter how devoted they are to their children, when they will need to find a babysitter or several babysitters. Whether it’s a night out on the town or regular child care while you’re at work, your confidence in a babysitter goes a long way toward keeping everyone happy and comfortable.

Start Early
All parents should have a stand-by babysitter regardless of the family support they have. Ideally, you’ll want to have more than one, as good babysitters are often in high demand, especially on weekend nights.

The best time to find a babysitter is before you actually need one. This will give you time to interview at a relaxed pace and check out references. Even if relatives are usually available to help, there may be a time that an outside sitter will be needed. Make sure you let the babysitters that you are interviewing know what that you are looking ahead and that their services are not immediately needed.

A family member is often a good choice, because you know their personality, they have a relationship with the child and lines of communication are clear. But don’t assume that grandma or auntie will be available and willing to babysit until you have discussed this with them. Most relatives won’t mind covering an occasional Friday night, but work and personal responsibilities could make regular babysitting a challenge.

Where to Look
If a relative that you like and trust isn’t available to babysit, ask neighbors and friends with children if they can recommend someone. You can find babysitters through message boards at churches and schools or by placing an ad in the local paper. Sometimes organizations like the Red Cross, YMCA and Girl Scouts hold training classes for teenaged babysitters and have a list of sitters who want to work.

If you live near a college or university, consider pooling your resources with other parents who need sitters to hold a babysitter job fair. Advertise the event in the school’s newspaper and around campus. Choose a Friday night to hold group interviews or one-on-one sessions in one of the homes. This is a great way to meet responsible college students who are new to your area and looking to earn extra money.

If you need to find a babysitter for a regular schedule, such as when you are working, you may want to contact an agency that selects and screens potential sitters. Some agencies will also represent people who want occasional jobs.

The Interview
Whether you are leaving your children on a regular schedule or for an occasional shopping trip, you want to be sure they are safe. Having confidence in your sitter will keep you from worrying about your children and provide a positive experience for both the kids and the sitter.

Ask the sitter to bring references to the interview. If this is a young person looking for a first job, ask them to get a letter of recommendation from a training class, teacher, minister or other responsible person who knows them.

Before you meet with the sitter, prepare a list of your expectations and the rules of the house. Also decide on what you can afford to pay. The prices a babysitter will charge vary from region to region, but expect to pay at least the minimum wage. If you expect a sitter to do house work or chauffer children to school or events, you can expect to pay more than you would for a sitter who will just watch and play with your kids.

When the prospective babysitter arrives, sit down somewhere comfortable and have a good chat. Choose a time when your children are awake and active and see how the sitter interacts with them. Tell the sitter your house rules and expectations, and listen to what he or she expects from the position.

Answer any questions the sitter may ask you honestly. If your child is not potty trained, then say so. If your children are sometimes difficult, let the sitter know ahead of time. If both parties have an honest understanding at the start, the match is more likely to succeed.

Teen or Adult?
There are mature 14-year-olds and immature 22-year-olds. As a rule of thumb, the younger your child is, the older and more mature the sitter should be. In some states if you use a sitter younger than a certain age (it varies by state), you are responsible for their welfare as well as your children’s.

If your child has special needs or requires medication, you will need to choose a well-trained adult sitter. You may want to insist that the sitter is certified in child CPR and first aid. If you have several children, a mature adult may be better able to handle the chaos. There are laws in each state that determine how late a teen can work on school nights and how many hours a week they can work. These may be factors when finding a babysitter.

Don’t leave out the option of a male sitter, especially if you have older boys. Older boys will often respect a responsible male teen or college student and behave better for them.

After the Interview
After the interview, actually call those references. If the potential sitter is a teen who lives at home, you may want to talk to his or her parents. If you are not using an agency that does background checks, you may want to do one yourself, especially if you are choosing a babysitter who is an adult and will be in your home on a regular basis. And don’t forget to ask older children what they thought of the applicant.

You can get a criminal background check for a fee from the state police in most states. You will need the person’s full name, date of birth, sex and possibly other identifiers. You can also do a records check at your county courthouse. Ask the records clerk how to do this. This will show you such things as traffic tickets, which may be important if the sitter will be driving with your kids.

By the time you’re done, you’ll hopefully have a list with a few names on it. For daily care, you’ll want a primary babysitter and a regular backup. For the occasional weekend duty, choose a primary sitter but have a list of two or three backups. Remember, teenage schedules are busy and good sitters are in high demand. To make sure you’re covered, try to schedule your sitter a few weeks before you need him or her.

By: Kim Willis

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