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Caring For Our Kids

Tips for finding the best babysitter

Babysitting is not easy, nor is finding a good babysitter. photo: TownePost Network / flickr

Babysitting is not easy. To be good, you need to have patience, and be caring and confident. As parents, we want a sitter who can settle an argument over a toy, calm a child with separation issues, and who can think on his or her feet in case of an emergency.

These traits come at a price. According to the annual national child care rate survey conducted by the website UrbanSitter, San Francisco is the most expensive city in the United States to hire a babysitter, probably no surprise. The survey suggests that the average hourly rate for one child is $14, and higher for more children. On other popular babysitter websites, it is tough to find a college student who will babysit three children for less than $23 an hour. This makes for an expensive night out.

As parents, we want to make sure it is an enjoyable experience all around: We want to feel our children are safe so we can enjoy ourselves. We want our children to be engaged and happy, and we want the sitter to enjoy the experience so he or she will want to come back. Here are some tips to make sure all three of these criteria happen.

COMMUNICATION

One of the best things we can do as parents to ensure a successful evening is to communicate clearly with the sitter, especially if it is the first time with our children. Before the job is accepted, be sure to make your expectations clear — what you are willing to pay, how the sitter will get to and from your home, and what the schedule will be or what the job entails. When the sitter arrives, have clearly written directions detailing the schedule and any special notes, such as allergies and emergency phone numbers. One of the best questions a babysitter ever asked me was, “What are your house rules?” because I could really explain how I like things done so the sitter wasn’t left relying on my 6-year-old. House rules might include limits on screen time or guidelines about dessert or chores.

RESPECT

This is a two-way street. You want a sitter who will take the job seriously — someone who will be on time and won’t cancel at the last minute. For parents, this means being home when you say you will or if you are going to be later, checking in to make sure the sitter is comfortable staying longer. For many students or young adults who are babysitting, time is money, so the same goes for parents — try not to cancel at the last minute. Sometimes plans change or children get sick, and those are understandable circumstances. If you need to cancel, you may consider offering to pay a percentage of what you would have paid the sitter that night. This good-faith gesture might help ensure the sitter will consider accepting the job the next time you ask.

TRUST

Trust takes time, and if you have communicated well and there is mutual respect, most likely trust will fall into place. It is a big deal for parents to leave our most prized possessions in the hands of someone else. Feeling confident that person will pay attention to our children, keep them safe, and follow our rules is most important.

One of my newer rules is asking the sitter not to use his or her phone or text unless it is with me or it is after the children are in bed. This can be challenging, depending on your sitter’s age. I want my sitter to take the job seriously and not use the time to text or catch up on social media feeds.

If there is any doubt, you can just ask your children the next day, and in most cases, they are more than willing to provide a full report.

A few last tips I can offer are if the sitter goes beyond expectations, the more likely the parents are to reciprocate. Nothing makes me happier than coming home and finding the dishes done or the house picked up. Though I am paying for childcare and not house cleaning, there are always a few minutes of downtime to tidy up, and that goes a long way for me. Also, if your sitter is going home late, offer to call for a ride, and if you were happy with how things went, consider paying a little extra.

We all need a break, and whether it’s a night out with friends or a date night with our husbands, the night is guaranteed to be more enjoyable if we know we have left our children in good hands.

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Liz Farrell is the mother of three young children. She was formerly a television producer in Washington, D.C. and in San Francisco. E-mail: [email protected]

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