Babysitter Basics

Some parents feel comfortable taking a few hours for themselves and leaving their children in the care of others, whether that means family, friends, or a paid caretaker. Others go years without leaving their child with anyone. Adults need adult time, when they focus on catering to their own needs. At some point after the first year, there is a good chance that you will need to get out of the house without your child.

You might be worried about leaving your child with someone else, but an hour or two in the care of another grown-up is good for a baby. You may be able to leave your child with a special person in her life, such as a grandparent, aunt, uncle, older sibling, or family friend. In this case, your child will have a chance to bond with someone significant. Also, it's good for your child to get used to spending some time away from you and learning that you will return safe and sound.

Remember that the more confidence you display to your child about separation, the more confident she will feel over time. If you're sad about leaving (and sometimes you will be) keep that feeling to yourself as much as you can. Of course, you can say “I'm going to miss you, but I'm glad you're going to have fun,” but keep the strong, visible emotions out of sight. Your child looks to you to clue her in, often with signals you are barely conscious of, on how safe she is and how her day is going to go.

Babysitters must be comfortable changing diapers, feeding a child, and understanding the specific safety needs of one-year-olds, specifically that they need to be watched all the time. If a babysitter is staying for an extended time, such as more than two hours, she must be able to put a baby down for a nap and know what to do if a baby wakes up crying.

For this reason, it is sometimes best to use adult babysitters or teenagers who have taken babysitting classes. Many schools and YMCAs offer babysitting classes, which are helpful because they teach students what to do in an emergency and how to play with a young child. Not all high-school-age kids — the group available for babysitting — are responsible enough to care for a very young child.

Keep in mind that just because someone is a relative or friend doesn't mean she is capable of watching a young child. Critically consider the personality of any babysitter. If someone you love isn't right for the job, simply say that you don't need that person's help, but that you're happy to have a visit. This can be difficult in the case of close relatives, but your baby's safety is more important than an adult's feelings.

Finding the Right Babysitter

It's best to look at the time you will use a babysitter as a special, beneficial time for your child. Think of the time of day when you need help — is it early afternoon, when your baby will be awake, or in the evening, when she'll need someone to feed her and put her to sleep? Then think of how to make the most of that time. For example, if it's a time when your baby is usually awake, you might want to ask someone who likes to play rather than someone who finds young children tiring.

You'll also want to make sure that your babysitter can be relied upon to show up at the correct time and not need to leave early. To do this, ask potential babysitters for references. Be sure to call and talk to the parents of other children she has cared for.

Also, before you hire her, ask your sitter if she's been around one-year-olds to be sure she's comfortable changing diapers and feeding babies. Set up appointments to have her watch your one-year-old with you at the house to make sure she is timely and interacts well with your child.

If your baby isn't familiar with your sitter, have her come over one time before you're actually going out and let her stay for an hour with you in the house. You don't have to hover over them, but make sure they seem happy together. If your child is suffering from separation anxiety, make sure the babysitter can deal with the child's crying without becoming upset herself. She should be able to try various distractions to entice your child into interaction.

Essential

Make your sitter feel comfortable in your home. Have food in the house and show her how to use the television. While it's true that she's working, you'll want her to feel relaxed. If there's something you don't want her to do — like use your computer, talk on the phone, or have friends over — make sure you tell her that.

Finally, be sure you are comfortable talking to your sitter about what you expect and how you want her to treat your child. Let her know that you will ask her some information after she sits, such as how your child was, what she ate, if she slept, and how her mood was.

Asking the sitter these questions will tell you two things: first, of course, whether your baby had any troubles, and second, whether your sitter was paying attention and bonded with your baby.

Information to Leave for Your Babysitter

When your sitter arrives, give her a minute or two to say hello to your baby. If your child is nervous about being left, be especially warm and friendly with the sitter. You should feel free to say, “Dylan is feeling a little nervous about my leaving, so I told him that you would be here for a couple of hours. He would really like to play with his blocks and have you read a story to him.” Acknowledging your child's feelings and letting your babysitter know them will allow him to see that there's nothing to be shy about and that you and the babysitter want to help him together.

Then walk the sitter through the house, showing her your child's room, the toys, and where to find whatever she'll need in the kitchen. Show her, too, where the phones are. Leave a list of phone numbers, including where you'll be, your cell phone number, your house number (she may need to give it to someone), and the numbers for the police and fire department, and a friend or neighbor she can call if she needs something.

If you plan to call when you're out, let her know, and if you want her to answer the phone whenever it rings, tell her that, too. Ask if she has any questions. Then, say goodbye to your child. Don't linger or drag out your leaving.

When you return, check on your baby before the sitter leaves. Be sure to find out how their time together was, and ask if there's anything she would need if she were to come again.

Remember, you are your sitter's boss, so she'll want what anyone wants while they're at work: respect, support, acknowledgment, decent pay, and direction.

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