It can be a leap of faith, trusting that you’ve hired the right sitter.
When Lori Coulter of Mid-City first left her nine-month-old twins with a sitter, she was calm, albeit a bit anxious. “I either had my phone out on the table or in my hand the entire evening—just in case Alex needed us,” says Lori, mom to Riley and Sean, now two-and-a-half.
Nerves didn’t deter Lori from hiring a sitter. By planning ahead, as Lori did, you can increase your chances of finding a great sitter and feeling confident about your decision.
beginning the search
Preparation is vital. Before you begin asking around or thumbing through ads, think about the type of care you require—full-day, half-day, evenings, or occasional care? Or a mommy’s helper, someone to watch your child while you’re doing work or a project at home?—and how that might affect your choice of candidates. If you have more than one child, will the sitter be watching all of the children, or just one? Planning out the duties and expectations of the sitter is also helpful at this stage.
Once you’ve settled the type of care, ask friends and family for recommendations. “I now have a general pool of six sitters that I call on. They are all personal referrals from people I know and trust,” Lori says. (She was lucky; some moms will not share the sacred number of their sitter.)
Recommendations will vary in age and while there isn’t a definitive age for a sitter, most parents feel secure hiring sitters who are at least 13 years old. Regardless of age, it is important to make sure the sitter is mature enough to handle the responsibilities you require.
“I realized that the right teenager can make a great sitter,” says Lori. “Hannah was awesome for a summer babysitter and is now my go-to sitter whenever we need one.”
If you’re seeking a more professional childcare attendant, try a nanny/sitter agency. These agencies hire prescreened professionals with years of experience and training. Being comfortable in your decision is key.
“If you’re not confident and comfortable with what’s going on at home, how can you possibly concentrate and be productive on the job?” asks Barbara LeBlanc, Director of The Parenting Center at Children’s Hospital. For over 20 years, the center has partnered with the Junior League of New Orleans and Safe Sitter to teach hundreds of pre-teens the basics of childcare safety, including airway rescue (for choking). Each summer, in conjunction with The Parenting Center, the JLNO hosts a series of day-long workshops specifically designed for youth ages 11 – 13.
“The intent is to teach them viable skills before they’re actually babysitting,” Barbara says. Safe Sitter also covers topics relative to the sitter’s safety, interview skills and the business side of babysitting.
Knowing that your sitter has training and hands-on experience can add to the comfort of leaving your child in their care. Sarah Gamble completed The Parenting Center’s Safe Sitter course when she was in the 6th grade, and grew up babysitting. “I felt confident leaving my child with babysitters because that’s what I did for over 18 years,” says Sarah, now mom to CeCe, two-and-a-half years old, and Vivian, 13 weeks.
If you’re unsure whether or not your potential sitter has training, Sarah says you should “ask. And recommend that they take a course.”
At the conclusion of your research, you should have a few potential candidates. Before meeting in person, schedule a phone interview. Ask questions that cover the following topics: availability, emergency training, experience and references. Gauging the outcome of the phone interview, follow up with an interview at your home. If your candidate is a younger teen, you should consider inviting her parents to the interview, as a way to ease both parties’ concerns.
It is essential to have the sitter meet and interact with your children during your interview so you can observe their interaction. Discuss what activities the sitter has planned to ensure they are age appropriate and proactive. You want to make sure the sitter won’t plop your child in front of the television. Use this time to also discuss pay, which is typically based on the experience, certifications, training and duties of the sitter. Remember, every situation is different, so choose a rate that works for both parties.
If you feel you have someone who is right for the position, you must check their references. When calling, ask a range of questions: their overall opinion of the sitter; how well did the sitter adhere to rules; how did the sitter get the child to sleep? “Above all else, trust your instincts,” says Barbara. “If you don’t feel comfortable, don’t leave your child alone with that person.”
Now that you’ve found “the one”, it’s time to evaluate her performance. Create a dialogue with the sitter about the day’s events; get their feedback. If your child is verbal, talk to them about their day. If your child is preverbal or you want more security for your family and the sitter, a nanny cam may be an option. Doing this is a personal decision, but can be another option to ensure that your children and the sitter are both safe.
Whether choosing a full-time sitter or one for date-night, it’s important that you do your homework. “It’s worth the effort to find someone you really trust,” Sarah says.
Find a PRIME sitter and relax!
Plan – Decide on the type of care you need: half-day, full-day, occasional or long-term.
Research – Talk with family and friends about recommendations or search online for a nanny agency.
Interview – Conduct a phone interview, in-house interview/playdate, and check all references.
Money – Agree on the pay, which is dependent upon the sitter’s experience, certifications, training and duties.
Evaluate – Find out how the experience went by talking to the sitter and your child, if possible.
Jessica Chin lives in Metairie with her husband, Kevin, and their 18 month old daughter, Megan. She works in the Division of Student Affairs at Tulane University and as a freelance writer.