Before we all started moving around so much, people depended on other family members when it came to ad hoc childcare. There was generally a grandparent, an aunt or a cousin who’d happily keep an eye on your offspring. It meant you could pop to the shops, work late or even have a night out.
If there were no family, there’d be a neighbour. Or, when the kids got older, the parents of a school friend with whom you could trade babysitting duties (and even sleepovers). On those occasions when you did need outside help, we’d hear of a friend-of-a-friend’s niece who had experience, and that was good enough.
No longer. It’s not only that we’re more mobile – these days, extended families are often spread across continents, not just a single country – but also that we’re warier. We’ve all seen the headlines about babysitters who abuse their young charges, and we need to be certain we’ve found someone trustworthy, reliable and caring.
Here’s what you need to consider when choosing a babysitter for your kids.
1Do they have experience with the right age group?
Years ago, some friends offered to babysit for our six-month-old son so we could go to a proper grown-up dinner party. We’d known them for years and trusted them. We knew they each had nephews and nieces they looked after and adored. What could go wrong?
We hadn’t thought about the practicalities. They were great at engaging with small kids, but neither of them had ever changed a nappy. We came home to find our son wearing his back to front. There was no harm done, and we all laughed about it – but it’s the kind of detail you’ll want to check.
2Always meet them in person first
Who you’re considering as a babysitter will determine how formal the interview will be. It will be different if you’re going through an agency, for example, as opposed to a colleague’s 17-year-old daughter.
Either way, though, you should conduct an interview. It’s a chance to ask questions and gauge their competence. Ideally, your child will be there so you can see how they interact.
3How would they cope in an emergency?
What would they do if your child was choking or fell and bumped their head? Basic first aid skills are essential in anyone you leave in charge of your kids. How they react to a crisis is also important, though; all the medical knowledge in the world is useless if they faint at the sight of blood.
Even though it’s unlikely they’ll need to; you want to be reassured they could cope if something happened.
4Request – and check – references
Anyone offering professional babysitting services should provide references and a basic DBS (Disclosure & Barring Service) criminal record disclosure. They shouldn’t be offended when you ask for them. (The DBS is the UK service; the US and other countries will have their equivalent.)
Make sure you follow up on any references and have direct contact with the person it’s from. After all, anyone can write a letter and sign someone else’s name at the bottom.
If you’re less formal – say your potential babysitter is related to someone you know – you might feel awkward about this. What if they’re offended you don’t trust them?
Your child’s safety and wellbeing are more important. Any reasonable person will understand you want to be sure you’re leaving your child in the best possible care.
5Ask for a trial run
It’s a good idea to have a test session while you’re in the house, especially if your potential babysitter is young. Find somewhere you’re out of the way – this might be an opportunity to retreat to your bedroom with a good book – and let them get on with it. You’ll both have the reassurance you’re there if they need you.
Afterward, talk about how it went from both sides. It’s important each of you is honest. You don’t want to hire a sitter you’re not confident in, and they shouldn’t commit if they’re not comfortable either.
6Trust your instinct
On paper, you might have found the perfect candidate. They’ve got the right experience and lots of it. All your questions were answered correctly and their references check out. But, for some reason, you’ve got an uneasy feeling in your gut.
Trust it. If you’re sure it’s not just the thought of leaving your child with a stranger, don’t risk it. There’s a reason why we have instincts – we should use them. If something feels ‘off,’ politely decline and keep on looking.
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