When I was 15, my family moved and one of the new neighbors dropped by a plate of cookies to welcome us. I answered the door to a woman pushing a toddler in a stroller and she had barely shoved those cookies toward me as her eyes lit up and she asked, “Do you babysit???” I did, in fact. And I ended up babysitting that weekend and nannied for them until I left for college years later! And while as an angsty teen I was thrown by that mom’s initial excitement, I now recognize her fiendish glee in finding a new potential babysitter.
Sitters - it can be challenging to find one that fits just right with your family. You want someone who is responsible and trustworthy, but also fun and playful with the kids. She’s gotta have some hobbies and activities so that she’s a good influence on your kiddos, but you don’t want her so involved that she’s never available. (I mean come on, Courtney, you can blow off your ACT prep course so I can go drink happy hour Sangria, right? Obvs you should never say this…even though I may have once thought it.) Dependable, fun, responsible, and available - that can be a tall order. So here are our thoughts on how to go about finding those sitters you can trust and know your kids will find fun.
And a couple quick FYIs: This isn’t a post about finding a full-time child care setting. This is who you look for to watch your babies when you have to attend an after hours work event, you’re heading out for a date, you’ve got a dentist appointment, or you’re grabbing a coffee with a friend. Finding full-time childcare is another post. And, I’m going to use the pronouns ‘she’ and ‘her’ here only because I’ve predominantly used female sitters. Doesn’t mean all who babysit are girls!
Where to Look
I mean, I know folks who are ok with sitters who are ‘the girlfriend of the cousin of the girl who cuts my hair’ to others who practically want an FBI report on a person. Point is, there’s a whole range. However, no matter your comfort level, there are some basic tips for finding and ensuring you’ve got a quality sitter watching your little ones while you tear it up at the neighborhood trivia night. Here are a few ideas on where to look.
I find the best place to start is by asking friends and family for a trusted person they recommend. (Just remember though, because one sitter is great for your best friend’s family, it doesn’t mean that she’ll be your family’s favorite. Everyone has different preferences.) Ask around on your FaceBook Moms groups, your neighbor friends, any second-cousins-once-removed you reconnected with...they’re all fair game when it comes to finding a sitter. Check with your place of worship as they may have suggestions of members interested in babysitting. If you were in a sorority and maintained connections, you can reach out to the local chapter and see if they have a list of students who want to babysit. Also, instructors at those art, music, and gymnastics classes or even the super fun librarian who does story time at the public library may babysit on the side. And if they do, chances are your kiddo will already feel comfortable with them and you will have a good sense of who the person is.
Your child’s daycare or preschool is also a safe bet to seek a sitter. She will typically have training or a degree in early childhood development, a background check, and be comfortable with your kiddos. I’ve had good luck with hiring swim coaches from our school district’s swim team - they all have background checks, are trained in working with young kids, have CPR and first aid certifications, and come summer, they help with swim lessons!
If you aren’t having luck with asking around, there are online services you can use. These sites can be especially helpful if you are new to an area and don’t have a network to ask. Sites and apps like care.com, sittercity.com, urbansitter.com, and others allow you to search a database of available sitters. Many potential sitters may have background checks, public state and county criminal records checks, and other safety checks noted on these sites. You can peruse their profiles and reach out to those that interest you…kinda like a dating site. Other apps like bambinositters.com or sitter.app allow parents to connect through their social media platforms and see who has babysat for their friends and connections. Some sites require a subscription fee, others charge a booking fee per job, and some are free for a basic membership.
What to Look For
Look for certain certifications with your sitters. This may be somewhat old fashioned, but it could offer peace of mind if your sitter has taken a babysitting certification course through American Red Cross or even their local health or parks and recreation department. These courses cover topics like basic care and first aid as well as what to do in an emergency. Additionally, First Aid and CPR certifications are also a plus.
You read the reviews on those denim cutoffs you were shopping for. (You know, TTS, high waisted with just enough stretch, leg openings too roomy, etc.) Make sure you do your due diligence on a sitter by checking out reviews! (And by reviews, I mean references.) Ask her if you can reach out to other families she’s babysat for or see if she has letters of recommendation. I’ve had a few really top-notch sitters ask me if they can share my contact information with other families who’ve requested references and I was more than thrilled to wax poetic about what great babysitters they were.
Try to have the sitter over to your home for an interview-ish meet-and-greet if possible. Interview the sitter at your home and bring your kids in for the second half to see how they interact together. This will give you a sense of how she’ll be independently with your babes and also gives your sitter a chance to ask any questions that may have snuck up on you both - like where the bottles are kept, where you store the diapers, and all those other little crucial details.
You may want to conduct a background check. This can get more involved, but if hiring a sitter you don’t know, it could very well be worth the additional time and money. I’ve never personally background checked a babysitter because I’ve either used close contacts or hired sitters who also work for a school or organization that conducts thorough background checks during their hiring process. (I’ve let someone else do the heavy lifting.) To do a check, you’ll need the babysitter’s permission and her personal information such as driver’s license number and address history. (In some cases, her social security number is needed as well.) You can contract an online service to conduct your check for you and they look into driving records, credit reports, criminal history, sex offender registries, etc. Or, with your babysitter’s information, you can conduct your own search as well by contacting the necessary agencies.
Also, you can get a clear sense of how engaged a sitter is by asking your children (if old enough) what they did together while you were gone. Did they have a snack and play restaurant or dinosaurs or was she on her phone? What games did you play? This can give you some insight into how the sitter fits with your family. And, as with much of parenting, always trust your gut. If something just feels off about a particular babysitter, don’t try to shoehorn her into your family. Chances are, you’ll find out at some point you were right all along and she just wouldn’t be a good fit.
I remember asking my pediatrician when I should start cleaning my baby’s teeth. Uhhhh, when she gets them, was the response. Sure right, that makes sense. But it was so obvious that I didn’t think of it - Brush teeth when they come in. This stuff kinda follows along those lines. Pretty obvious, but you still might forget or not even think about it so I’ll include it.
Make sure your sitter has a fully charged phone to use. You may want to have a charger available or plan to have a house line at the ready. Granted, most teenagers these days would be more likely to forget their, I don’t know…their shoes...their actual clothing...anything other than their phones? But that doesn’t mean it won’t occasionally happen. And make sure to let your sitter know if you will be out of service and who they should plan to reach by phone as backup if necessary.
Also know that you need to make sure your sitter has a safe way home. You may be expected to provide a ride yourself or money for a rideshare or public transportation home.
Sitters want your WIFI password. After they get those kiddos snuggly in bed, they’re going to need to access their online AP Chemistry homework to work ahead…or to watch TikTok videos. (But I’m pretty sure it will be the chem homework.) You should probably just have your network name and password on your emergency contact list.
Which brings us to the emergency contact list. I keep a typed sheet taped to our pantry cabinet with names and numbers of folks you’d want your sitter to have. Have your numbers on there so she can reach you (duh), but also include Poison Control, the names and numbers for a couple of neighbors, and anyone else you think would be helpful. (I crazily have the pediatrician and pediatric dentist as well as the nearest children’s hospital address on there but I tend to go overboard.) If you’re extra nervous, you can always let a neighbor friend know that the kids have a sitter that night who may reach out to them with a question or hiccup. (Like that I said hiccup instead of broken arm, ingestion of the dog’s food, or Sharpie all over the couch? By the way, all real things I’ve heard of happening with a sitter on duty!)
And what to pay those babysitters? Ask a few parent friends in your area what the going rate is and try to stick within that range. Prices vary a lot based on location and the sitter’s age and experience so keep that in mind. I also have some friends who are more than aware that they have a, shall we say, labor-intensive kiddo. They’ll pay a bit over the usual rate to make up for the extra work. And, it may be gaming the system, but I’ve always felt that paying at the top of the range for a great sitter really only costs you an extra few bucks an evening and ensures that your sitter will be eager to choose your kiddos and house if she has a couple of job offers to choose from.
What to Do if it Doesn’t Work Out
Just ghost her. No! Don’t do that! While that may absolve you of having to face any conflict or discomfort, that’s a terrible way to handle things! It leaves the sitter feeling no sense of closure and could unnecessarily make her feel insecure. If you’ve got upcoming dates scheduled and it’s not working out for your family, just let her know that it’s not a good fit and move along to find another sitter. If you’ve only had the sitter a few times, don’t worry about calling her again. Of course, if there is something very specific (like she’s taking the kids to the pool regularly but can only dog paddle herself, or you’re about to have a new baby and she has no experience with newborns, or you need someone comfortable driving and she doesn’t have a license) let her know the reason. If it’s just that eh, your toddler thinks she’s boring to play with, well, you can probs just keep that one under your hat and get by with a ‘it’s not you it’s me’ type of thing.
Hopefully you can pull some tips to secure a great babysitting lineup for you and your kiddos. Peace of mind that they're in good hands while you handle the rest of life is a good thing!