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As a parent, leaving your child in anyone else’s care for the first time can bring a load of emotions. There are some things you can do though to help in the process of finding someone you trust as a stand-in parent, according to Debbie Coshatt, BSN, and educator in Patient Health and Safety at Children’s of Alabama. The most important part of a sitter or nanny search is getting recommendations and checking references. “Always use babysitters that you know personally or who come highly recommended from trusted friends and family,” says Debbie. “Never use sitters without references, such as those posted on social media sites or advertising flyers.”

Debbie Coshatt, BSN, and educator in Patient Health and Safety at Children’s of Alabama

Debbie Coshatt, BSN, and educator in Patient Health and Safety at Children’s of Alabama shares what to look for in a good babysitter. Image courtesy of Children’s of Alabama

Debbie says a sitter’s comfort level with the demands of the age and needs of the child/children is also key. “Babysitting infants (less than 1 year of age) can be very demanding. They require a lot of time and attention, so new babysitters should not start with this age group,” says Debbie. “Preschool age (3- to 5-year-olds) is the easiest age to babysit because they are able to do a lot of things independently and are generally a happy age.” Young teen sitters can make for wonderful “mommy’s helpers,” playing with preschool-age children and supervising while the parent is home working in another area of the house and available if a need arises. Keep in mind, when your child is between 1 and 2 years old, you may see a harder transition time with your child’s attachment to you at an all-time high. In that case, it’s important to stick with the same couple of sitters consistently, allowing the child to develop a relationship with the caregiver and hopefully making for an easier time.

A great babysitter will be happy to play with your little one.

When looking for a great babysitter for your family, it’s important to do the groundwork necessary so you AND your child are comfortable with their new caregiver.

When contemplating if you and your baby are ready to try a new sitter, or as the impending end of a maternity/paternity leave nears, “know that leaving your child with someone else is inevitable, and sometimes the sooner the better for them to get used to another person,” Debbie says. “It’s a personal and emotional decision, and each family is different. The first time leaving a child can be very hard emotionally but hiring a sitter you’re confident in and comfortable with can make the transition easier.” Choking rescue and CPR skills may make you feel much more confident in leaving your child with a babysitter. There are also community babysitting classes that help prepare young babysitters for what the job will entail.

A babysitter is the substitute parent while you are away. Here are some of the most important qualities to look for when you’re hiring a new babysitter or nanny:

  • Trustworthy
  • Responsible
  • Present (not easily distracted)
  • Experienced
  • Engaging, willing to play
  • Reliable
Finding a great babysitter for your family will require finding a perfect fit your child's age.

When you’re interviewing a potential babysitter, invite them to spend some time with your child while you’re at home so you can observe their interaction.

Of course, just because someone comes highly recommended doesn’t mean that person is the right fit for your family. Schedule an interview and ask the right questions (see below). Observe how the sitter and your child/children interact with each other for a few minutes. You can also schedule a trial session when you pay the sitter to watch your child while you prepare a meal, run a quick errand or do some work at home to see how they get along.

Here are some questions you’ll want to ask in an interview with a potential babysitter:

  • Can you please provide at least two references? (And always follow up with the references.)
  • What is your babysitting experience with certain ages?
  • Are you comfortable with the ages and number of children in our home, the length of time, and the time of day?
  • Do you have training in choking rescue? Do you know CPR?
  • What do you charge?
  • What are some ways you might keep my child/children active and happy while I’m away?
  • If needed: Do you drive?
  • If needed: Are you open to helping around the house?

To prepare for your babysitter/nanny’s first visit, begin by giving a house tour, showing your sitter the location of supplies, a list of important numbers (including poison control and an emergency contact other than yourself), and any off-limit rooms. “Also make sure the sitter knows how to operate your baby gates, highchair, baby monitors and/or car seats because they’re all different,” Debbie says. Go over feeding specifics and off-limit food items. Debbie adds that it’s sometimes best to request no use of oven or microwave and to avoid choking-hazard foods like grapes and hot dogs while the sitter is on-duty. Always make sure you and your sitter are on the same page about your rules for your child and what the child is able to do and not do independently.

A great babysitter is one that engages with your little one.

Part of establishing a solid relationship with your babysitter is establishing ground rules and expectations for all parties.

“Just as it may take some attempts to find the perfect fit with a pediatrician,” says Debbie, “you may go through a few interviews and sitters before finding the person who is just right for your family.”

To learn more about Children’s of Alabama and the services offered, visit childrensal.org.

This article is sponsored by Children’s of Alabama.