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Parent's Corner

In Search of a Sitter

By: Pamela Brill

Your little bundle of joy has finally arrived. And while it may be difficult to fathom wanting to spend even a moment away from her, chances are you'll be in need of a babysitter at some point. Whether you are returning to work and looking for full-time help, or are simply in need of an occasional night out with your spouse or partner, you'll want to line up someone you can trust implicitly with the care of your child.

For Your Reference

When beginning your hunt for a sitter, experts advise checking a candidate's references immediately. "Parents do background checks regarding home repair work, so the most precious and vulnerable person at home needs to be cared for by a reliable and trustworthy person," says Stevanne Auerbach, Ph.D. and author of Choosing Childcare.

Candi Wingate, president of Nannies4Hire, concurs. "The nanny should have solid references from prior employer-families, a clean background and completed training on nanny basics," she states. These include instruction in CPR, first aid, the Heimlich maneuver, basic nutrition and food preparation and general personal/home hygiene.

Background checks may seem unnecessary if you get a comfortable vibe during the screening process, but Wingate says it's better to be safe than sorry. Character and personal reference checks point to a potential sitter's experience in being responsible, ethical and nurturing. Education and licensure verification speaks to a sitter's claims on whether she does, in fact, hold a degree in early childhood education, or that she has passed a course in certified CPR training.

Additional checks include criminal/sex offender registry checking, credit history, department of motor vehicles (to ensure a safe driving record) and Social Security records. Much of this information can be obtained via the Internet or through Nannies4hire.com.

Relevant Experience

Once a sitter's background has checked out, Auerbach emphasizes the importance of related experience with your child's particular age, "so there is comfort for both sitter and child."

Wingate seconds this notion. "The nanny should be able to relate easily and bond well with your children, while also maintaining a clear distinction from them," she says. Observe whether she can play with her charges, but also command the proper authority when necessary. "The nanny must be able to relate to your family and administer discipline in a manner that is consistent with your family's boundaries," notes Wingate, adding that parents should discuss the appropriate style of discipline in advance of hiring.

Crisis Management

Since babysitting isn't all fun and games, Auerbach urges parents to present their sitter with details about their child's health and general temperament, "so they know the sitter can handle unexpected problems."

Be clear with your sitter about what defines a true emergency. "The nanny should be capable of handling small crises on his/her own," says Wingate. "You and your nanny should come to an agreement about what issues may warrant a call to you and what he/she is authorized to manage alone."

Also, be upfront about living arrangements and house rules. For instance, if yours is a no-smoking home, this environment may not be the best fit for a sitter who smokes. And if you'll be considering care outside of the home, be certain to check for the appropriate child/caregiver ratio, which varies by state.

Avoiding an "Oops"

No matter how much advance preparation parents make when looking for a reliable sitter, experts still notice potential pitfalls. "Some parents forget to give the caregiver and child time to spend together while they are at home to ensure they are a good fit and comfortable with each other," observes Auerbach.

Wingate sees parents who don't properly communicate what the sitter's responsibilities will be. "When a family is interviewing a sitter, they should be clear about their expectations, the pay, duties, length of term, hours and what a general day is like in their home," she notes.

If you've done all your homework, you and your family will be blessed with its own Mary Poppins to whom you can entrust your child's well-being for years to come.