Show & Tell: Ten Things Your Babysitter Should Know Before Your Next Night Out

Whether you hire a neighborhood teen or a more seasoned sitter, you want to set her (or him) up for success. Armed with a little insider info and your mom-knows-best tips, your sitter will be ready for whatever kid chaos develops in your absence.

1. Approved snacks:

Don’t expect a sitter to sift through your Mother Hubbardly cupboard in search of treats for the tots. Post a list of appropriate eats on the fridge, and store snacks in easy-to-find locations. Show your sitter the goods before you go. If the kids are hungry, no one’s happy.

 2. Clean expectations:

Nothing kills the mood of a romantic date night like coming home to a toy-strewn mess. If you’d like the kids and their caregiver to tidy up, say so. And explain your expectations to the kids and the sitter at the same time, so everyone understands. The sitter will need your support to encourage – or enforce – the cleanup.

3. Play-by-play:

Leave a (flexible) schedule of events to guide the sitter through your usual routine. “Dinner at 5:30, play games or color, bath at 7, put on pajamas, stories at 7:30, lights out at 8,” for instance. Unstructured time can be stressful for everyone.

4. Pay plan:

Parents and sitters may be reluctant to talk about money. Don’t be. Ask your sitter up front how much she charges, and/or explain how much you’re willing to pay. Your sitter may not speak up if she’s underpaid; but she won’t be available next time you need her. Pay fairly and generously. Caring for kids is hard work.

5. Tech specs:

If you want to limit kids’ screen time, give guidelines to both your kids and the sitter. You can say: “You can watch ‘Kung Fu Panda,’ but after that, the TV turns off.” While you’re at it, show the sitter how to operate your electronics, like the DVR that holds
seven episodes of Dinosaur Train and your daughter’s on-demand videos.

6. Secret soothers:

Some kids struggle with separation or grow agitated when their routine is disrupted. Let the sitter in on your if-all-else-fails options for comforting tired, cranky kids. Favorite songs? Baby Einstein? Best-loved book? Must-have blankie? Bubble-bath bonus time? Share your secret weapons.

7. Bedtime basics:

Resist the urge to say “just lay her on her back in the crib” and leave it at that. Your nighttime wind-down is probably more complicated – and more instrumental in getting your child to sleep – than you realize. Leave a quick step-by-step guide. “Bath > pajamas > snack > read two books on the bedroom floor, then put her in her crib on her back, with her brown-and-pink polka-dot blanket” isn’t bossy, it’s helpful.

8. Hidden hazards:

Food allergies, pesky pets and your toddler’s obsession with toilets and trashcans should be revealed up front. Situations you monitor regularly (like the fact that your 5-year-old goes outside without asking) won’t be on your sitter’s surveillance plan unless you make them known.

9. Discipline directions:

In your smart-sitter tour of the house, point out where kids go for time out or where you stash taken-away toys. When your little angels behave badly, the sitter will need to know how to address their behavior. Her best bet will be to know your standard strategies. Predictability restores calm.

10. Contact info:

Leave detailed information about your plans and several cell phone numbers your sitter can call in case of emergency. You never know whether you’ll have a weak signal or a dead battery. Also, let her know if it’s all right to call with questions on problems. Coming home to a wide-awake baby and a strung-out sitter could be a bitter end to your romantic date night.

[sws_green_box box_size=”99%”]How Much?

Babysitters’ pay depends on:

  • location
  • number of children
  • kids’ ages
  • sitter’s age and experience
  • special circumstances such as time of day, travel, and chores to be performed (such as homework help or cooking/cleaning)

Ask other parents how much they pay, or use an online rate calculator (try or to get a ball-park figure.

Safe Babysitting Classes for Young Adolescents. 

In Chico: Safe Babysitting Class for ages 11 & up who want to learn to be a responsible babysitter & to gain insight on infant & paediatric CPR techniques. Two upcoming Saturday dates: Oct. 20 & Dec. 15, 9-11:30am; $35. To register call Enloe Mother & Baby Ed. Center at (530) 332-3970.[/sws_green_box]

Heidi Smith Luedtke
About Heidi Smith Luedtke

Author Heidi Smith Luedtke, PhD, is a personality psychologist and mom of two.

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