Baby and child care: What to look for in a babysitter

There’s nothing more stressful than looking for a babysitter- but with these helpful tips you can go out with a feeling of confidence!
So the big night has finally arrived – reservations made at that wonderful little restaurant; a beautiful outfit picked out and you’re ready to go… except for the babysitter!

But where to start hunting for a safe and reliable one? While the Yellow Pages may be a great resource when looking for a painter or a plumber, they have yet to list babysitters among their clients. So you’re left to your own devices to find a reputable babysitter for your children. So what should you be looking for – and possibly more important, what warning signs should alert you to potential problems?

Baby and child care: What to look for in a babysitter

The first, and probably most important aspect to look for is a high maturity level. Fortunately or unfortunately, this is not usually based on age and can only be determined by talking with the prospective sitter and assessing him/her with a critical eye. It may be a “cool” job to babysit for a few hours and walk home with some extra cash in hand, but if an emergency occurs what will he/she do? It takes a cool head to deal with an accidental poisoning, a bad fall, a sudden fever. Even if you leave emergency numbers with instructions to call immediately your babysitter needs to have the ability to make a decision fast and make the right one; even something as simple as calling 911 or your own cell phone to ask for assistance. It’s easy enough to read a book or play video games with your child, but is the sitter prepared to not only take charge of a situation but also be prepared to deal with the emotionally charged atmosphere that’s guaranteed to erupt.

So what can you do to find the right sitter? One resource you can use is to ask for references and then follow up on them. Don’t be afraid to ask if the prospective sitter dealt with any emergency situations and how the results were. Was the sitter prompt and on time; or did he/she leave you tapping your toes and staring at your watch? Did they take notes and seem alert while you spelt out your expectations, or did they shrug them off while checking out the goodies in the refrigerator? How did they relate to your children; with empathy and a good sense of humor or seem more interested in the new video games or satellite dish you just had installed? All these factors need to be taken into account while assessing a potential sitter, and only by asking previous clients can you get a full perspective.

While most babysitting assignments have nothing more serious than perhaps a tummy ache from too much junk food there’s always the chance of a medical or other emergency. Another area to explore is the “visitor” scenario; having the sitter’s boy/girlfriend “drop over” and monopolize the attention that should be dedicated to your child. Again, don’t be afraid to ask the people you’re calling for references how they dealt with this situation and if they had any problems. While a single event may not make the final decision for you, it may highlight potential problems for the future. As well, feel free to contact her/his parents and ask about their qualifications and resources that they can offer in an emergency to their child. While the sitter may feel uncomfortable calling you first, it’s likely he/she may call home and ask for help. If the parents seem responsible and alert to dealing with not only their child but also your own in case of emergency, it may be useful in making your decision. Depending on how close they live to your home you may feel more comfortable with asking them to drop in and/or be available for their son or daughter to call on those first few nights you leave your child with him/her.

Another resource to tap might be asking if they have any certification. Many volunteer groups now offer babysitting courses specifically aimed at preparing young men and women for dealing with situations that could crop up some evening. First aid is usually covered, along with dealing with young children and how to assess a situation quickly and choosing an effective course of action. Many adults have trouble dealing with emergency personnel while under stress; one can only imagine the reactions of young teenagers when presented with a crisis. While the training deals with only the basics, it’s amazing how it can help build confidence not only in you, the potential client, but also the young man or woman seeking to improve him or herself. As well, it gives you a general idea of what to expect from the sitter in case of a crisis or emergency situation, knowing what level of training has been received. Don’t be afraid to call up your local organization and ask for a list of “graduates” from such a course; it will provide you with a large pool of potential sitters to pick and choose from. And almost all groups issue certificates for their members to display, don’t be afraid to ask if your candidate has one and if you could see it. It may not guarantee the best response to an emergency, but it can certainly help you feel more secure with your choice.

The ideal sitter, of course, would be a lonely bookworm who is thrilled to play with your children, attentive to your needs and demands and able to put the kids to bed with little problem. Drinking only water and eschewing all junk food, he/she would be certified in CPR, first aid and a paramedic on the side while training to be a military drill sergeant on weekends. But while you search for this perfect sitter, you can make do with the best you have, taking advantage of the tips above to research with confidence. Then you can close the door behind you with a smile on your face, looking forward to a lovely evening out while confident that your home and family is well protected by a skilled and competent young man or woman.

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