By Sharon Brooks, Executive Director,  Kids Can Fly

It’s holiday time and babysitters are in high demand.  How do you find a good one? What should you pay? How do you orient a sitter so that you can leave your child without worry?

Parenting is a 24-7 responsibility and while it brings the most joy you have ever known is also can be draining.  Moms and dads need to have occasional breaks and this requires finding a babysitter that you can feel confident leaving your Most Precious Possession with.  Everyone is not so fortunate to have doting grandparents, aunts, uncles or other family members vying for time with the baby.  Realistically they will not always be available to starting the search for a paid sitter should be on the ‘to do’ list for all parents.

Word of mouth is the very best method of finding a sitter; referrals from friends or parenting group peers.  When this isn’t possible you may have to advertise or check on sites like Kijiji or ads at the Early Years Centre.   Each possible candidate needs to be thoroughly screened and you are within your rights to ask for a current police criminal reference check.  Meet and interview each candidate and if you feel comfortable, let them spend some time with your children and see how they interact. Ask for personal references and follow them up!

Expectations will vary from family to family.  If you have a young baby, a sitter who has experience with infants is critical.  With older children you may be looking for someone who will play games but who is also capable of managing behaviour.  Many teens take the Babysitting Course and this might be something you have as a requirement.  They will have been provided with some first aid knowledge as well as scenarios about child development and how to cope in an emergency.  Never make a final decision based only on paperwork.  If the individual just doesn’t seem ‘right to you in your gut’ then keep looking. 

Discuss payment with the sitter.  Expect to pay at least $5 an hour and more if there are multiple children.  Some sitters will state their rate which might be higher.  Experienced mature sitters can be worth the higher fees and are more likely to accept your jobs if they are well compensated.  Some families pay more after midnight or if the sitter has to do household chores, put children to bed, walk the dog etc as opposed to just arriving when the kids are in bed and watches TV.  If two families share a sitter – they should EACH pay. Provide a snack for your sitter and instruct them on how to use your TV or other household appliances that might be needed (such as bottle warmer).

Before you leave the sitter entirely alone with your child it is a great idea to have a trial run where they come to the house but you are there. (They should be paid for this time).  Go through the routines; tour the home showing them how to operate equipment, where you keep first aid etc.  Review a list of emergency numbers including neighbours or emergency contacts in the event that you can’t be reached. Discuss any challenges that might come up such as kids who are reluctant to go to bed, where you store flashlights in case of power failure, evacuation plan in case of a fire.  Go over your expectations re discipline, children’s snacks etc.  Allow some time for the sitter to play with your child, perhaps changing a diaper, reading a story or general playtime which will allow your child to start to get to know the sitter.

Check List for Baby sitters:

  • Have the sitter arrive 15 minutes before you must leave to orient them (start paying)
  • Clearly outline the duties or expectations which might include giving the child a meal, bedtime routines, TV – internet limitations, keeping the doors locked etc.
  • Leave your contact and emergency numbers in a very obvious spot by the phone
  • Let them know when you expect to be home and call if you are going to be late
  • Have cash or a cheque on hand and always pay the sitter when you return home
  • Be clear with your rules regarding having friends over or their use of telephone or internet
  • See that the sitter gets safely home.  Walk them,  drive them or call a cab

It is great to have at least two screened sitters in case that one isn’t available when you call.  Parents need to put a priority in some ‘couple time’ and it is also good for children to adapt to occasional caregivers.  Better to organize this in advance that need to do so in a crisis. Taking the time to screen, orient and feel confident in your sitter will allow you to leave with confidence.  You can be a better parent if you have spent some time being good to yourself!”

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