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Choosing a babysitter for your preschooler

by Maxine
Posted December 4 2011 07:21pm
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For many parents one of the biggest challenges can be finding a babysitter who they like and feel comfortable leaving their child with. Often grandparents or other family become the go-to option when mom and dad need a break or have to attend a function, but when your parents aren’t available there are things you can take into consideration for finding the sitter who’s right for your family.

"First time parents especially have trouble figuring out where to go for a babysitter,” says Karon Foster, a Registered Nurse and Parenting Expert. “It can seem really daunting to leave your preschooler with someone other than you or your family."

Here are some ideas for places you can start when looking for a sitter:

  • Other parents: Ask other parents. Some will give out their sitters' names, but others will not.
  • Neighbours: Ask your neighbours if they know of any babysitters in the area where you live.
  • Babysitting co-operatives: In some areas, there may be organized babysitting co-ops. These are groups of parents who take turns babysitting for each other. As part of the co-op, you have access to other parents who can baby-sit for you and, in return, you baby-sit for them when they need a sitter.
  • Religious organizations: If you belong to a religious organization, you may find that there are babysitters among the congregation.
  • Local high schools, colleges and universities: Another option is to approach your local high school, community college or university. These organizations may have students who are looking for babysitting jobs to earn some extra money.
  • Senior citizen organizations: Some lively seniors like the exposure to young children.
  • Early childhood educators or nursery school teachers: These individuals may know of teachers or early childhood educators who also baby-sit during the evenings or on weekends.
  • Babysitting services, au pair or nanny agencies: If you are not comfortable leaving your baby with a teenager or college student, consider approaching an agency that offers the services of nannies, caregivers or au pairs. An au pair is usually a young foreign person who provides assistance with childcare and household tasks for a family, in exchange for room and board. These options may be more expensive than a babysitter. As well, you may have to pay a transportation fee for the sitter to travel to and from your home. A quick web search can help you find agencies in your area.

Once you have found some options for a babysitter, you have to begin the process of choosing the right one for your family. This usually involves two steps:

  • First, interview your candidates.
  • Second, have the candidates you select come to your home to meet you and your child. Do this in advance of the first time you plan to leave your child alone with them.

You might want to merge these two steps into one, but you definitely don’t want to go away and leave your youngster alone with a relative stranger the first time they meet. Your child needs your help to learn about this new caregiver first. Once you feel comfortable with the new sitter you can leave them alone together.

Below are some tips to help you get through the interview and first visit.

The Interview

Always interview any babysitter before you hire this person to care for your child. Even if you are using an agency that has already done a screening interview, you’ll want to do your own interview so you can judge how comfortable you’ll feel leaving your preschooler with this person.

Key areas to ask about during the interview include the following:

  • Experience: How much babysitting experience does this person have? Has she babysat children of different age groups? Has she babysat a child the same age as yours? How would she keep your preschooler safe from injuries? What would she do in an emergency, such as a fire or if your child became ill?
  • Training: Has he taken a recognized babysitting course? These courses may be offered by community organizations, schools, etc. Does the babysitter have a certificate to indicate he has completed the course? Has he taken a first aid course that includes infant/child CPR? Does he have a certificate to show that he’s completed this course?
  • Fees: What does she charge per hour? Do her rates vary depending on the age and number of children? Does she require cab fare or a ride to/from home?
  • References: Have your interviewing sitter provide a list of references that you can call. These references should include parents that he’s already babysat for in the past. If you want to hire a babysitter with no previous references, start out by leaving your babysitter and child together for very short periods of time, and then gradually increase the length of time you are away, until you feel very confident this person will do a good job.

The 1st Visit

Even if your chosen babysitter is a family member, it’s a good idea to have that person come to your home, at a time when the three of you can just concentrate on getting to know each other.

When the babysitter comes to your home the first time:

  • Time it so your preschooler will be awake and in a good mood.
  • Introduce your child and your babysitter to each other.
  • Take your babysitter on a tour of your home -- show her the nightlights; telephones; first aid supplies etc;
  • Have some treats available, and encourage your babysitter to help feed your child.
  • Read a book to your child, demonstrating the way you go about it.
  • Review any specific rules you have about safety, having visitors while you are out, or activities that your child is not allowed to do.
  • Use your imagination, and think of ways to pave the way to a good relationship between these two.

Your preschooler’s reaction to the sitter: For your child’s comfort, you want a sitter that your little one feels comfortable around. Does the sitter respond to your child’s sensitivity and needs? How does your preschooler respond to this sitter?

Your reaction to the sitter: How do you feel about the babysitter? Do you relate well and feel comfortable? Can you communicate easily?

Your Favourites

It's helpful to have all of your favourite babysitters' names stored somewhere so you can quickly contact one of them, should the need arise. Fill out your own Babysitter List and keep it near your phone.

How hard was it to find a good babysitter? What advice would you give to other parents? Leave a comment below and share your story with other parents just like you!

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