How to Find a Good Babysitter

Family Matters on 05.12.11
Contributor bio

My daughter is 2 years and change-old now, which is ushering in all sorts of new milestones and considerations. There's potty training -- in the thick of it now, so to speak-- there's day school, and there's the fact that my husband and I have begun to think about escaping from our cocoon from time to time to go out on a *gasp* date.

Don't get me wrong: We haven't completely sequestered ourselves from public interaction since our little urchin was born. We're really lucky to have our parents help us out during the week with childcare, and sometimes they even babysit on a weekend evening. But the grandparents have lives, too. They're actually pretty social creatures, so we don't want to cramp their Saturday Night Fever style too much. 

So the time has come -- the one where we seriously commit to finding a babysitter who can hang out at our house, play with our kid, feed her and put her down for the evening. Seems easy enough. But when I think of entrusting my daughter to someone, instead of remembering the best babysitters of my youth --like Carol, who helped me sew a purse out of her old Levi jeans--I remember the crappy sitters. Like the one who locked me in the bathroom because she was tired of my demon-crying. (Demon-crying = purple-faced child alternating choking sounds with gibberish screams, a chunk of Exorcist-like vomit thrown in for good measure). I kind of pity her now for having to deal with that, but she just wasn't cut out for nightmare babysitting gigs, let alone a kid who might get upset.

Makes the whole finding-a-babysitter proposition a bit harder for me. And while I've thought about just calling up a sitter and then setting up some Web cams, I'd like to think that I can trust my fellow (vetted) humans without a veiled threat of surveillance. Plus, it's just creepy.

Forging on, I wanted to share some resources and ideas I've been researching with anyone who's in the same boat as me. I'm also looking for some good tips from any babysitter-getting pros -- so feel free to pipe up in the comments below. In the meantime, here's some business of babysitting information for your consideration.

The Neighborhood and Friend Connection
Neighborhood list-serve groups, like Yahoo, are really helpful in ferreting out good care-giving recommendations. It's a good way to get an informal review on a local babysitter and find out what other parents are looking for.

A friend who can recommend a babysitter is the best-case scenario since he or she likely knows your style of parenting and the type of babysitter you cotton to. But don't blame your bestie if she doesn't want to give up the digits of her most-trusted kid-watcher right away. Ask her to consider throwing you any bones when she's not using the sitter and whether it's OK to contact that person.

Facebook - in particular, the Parentables FB site. Posting a question to your FB crew and other like-minded Facebook communities is a great way to get some feedback on resources.

Local Universities
I live near an all-women's college and was recently given the information of where I can post a "Babysitter Wanted" ad describing my ideal candidate. This is a good option since you can usually find grad students with their own transportation looking to ring a few dollars on the weekend. Plus, they're usually more serious-minded, which should translate to responsibility.

Third-party Babysitter Finders
Though they require a monthly or yearly membership fee, there are companies like SitterCity, which do a good amount of research legwork for you. What you're paying for is a background check and the ability to look at someone's profile and find out about their experience, education and whether or not they live in your vicinity. Weird to troll for a babysitter this way, but my friend Maria has had some good success with them. Speaking of my friend Maria ...

My Friend Maria
I stand in awe of her brain (she's a math professor doing magic-carpet-mental-level stuff) as well as her organizational skills, which extend to how she interviews and assesses potential sitters. Maria tends to have long-term relationships with her babysitters and uses them for daytime sitting from time to time as well, so she's looking for a bit more to her babysitter than a Saturday night couch sitter. Here are her top five recommended questions to ask a babysitter:

1.  Please tell me about your experience with toddlers. (It's very different watching a 2 year old than a 7 year old.)Also, do you have experience with watching multiple children? (Says a lot about the ability to manage kids.)

2.  How do you handle behavior/discipline?  What kind of behavior/manners do you expect of a 2 year old?  Can you give me an example of how you would know that things needed to calm down a little bit?  What would you do if the child were, say, throwing blocks? Or: Where do you fall on the spectrum between strict and laid back? (Looking for a good match with our style and also a sense of "leadership." Prioritizing safety and knowledge of positive reinforcement are a plus.)

3.  What kind of fun things do you like to do with kids? (Looking for *not* mentioning TV, for genuine enthusiasm, perhaps for interest in what my child likes to do.)

4.  What do you enjoy most about babysitting?  What do you find most challenging?  (Looking for enthusiasm on the first, honesty on the second.)

5.  Are you CPR/First Aid certified?  Have you ever been in an emergency situation with a child you were watching?  Or in an emergency personally? What would you do if my son were choking?

My feeling is that we're sometimes shy about asking these types of questions, but doing so arms you with a realistic idea of who the person watching your kid is -- rather than not asking the questions and then projecting who you want that person to be with your kid. A big thanks to Maria for sharing!

(Photo credit: Moviepix/Getty Images)

More Top Stories on Parents' Night Out and Babysitting
Babysitter Bots on the Horizon?
Schedule a Regular Date Night with Your Sweetie
Great Advice I Could Never Take