A babysitter is someone who provides occasional child care for a few hours at a time. Teenage babysitters often provide babysitting services for a few hours at a time. However, in-home sitters range from nannies who may have training in child development and first aid to women who, although not trained formally, have had many years of experience caring for children, including their own. Parents might prefer an au pair, a young person, usually a woman in her early twenties, often from abroad, who lives with the family to provide child care.
In order to give themselves time off from parenting, parents hire babysitters. However, time away from home is enjoyable only when parents are secure in knowing that their child is well cared for. Some parents join a babysitters' club, for example, a group of mothers may agree to take turns caring for each others' children so that each of them can have some time away from their children and know their children are in excellent hands.
The American Red Cross provides a certification course for babysitters. Young people over age 11 are eligible to enroll in the eight-hour training course, offered at various community organizations and schools. Some organizations underwrite the cost of the course and offer it free to participants; others charge a fee. The course provides instruction in supervision of children, planning activities for children of all ages, accident prevention, emergency response techniques (including whattodoina choking emergency), and job-hunting strategies.
Babysitters should understand that parents often have ambivalent feelings about leaving their children with a babysitter. The primary goal of parents is to provide safe and competent babysitting without feeling a need for substitute parents. No matter how conscientious the sitter, she or he will not care for the child in precisely the same way as a parent, and it is unreasonable to expect a carbon-copy parent. Once convinced the sitter is a decent and kind individual, parents will allow the young person to be herself (within the outline of the family's needs and rules) and to use her own judgments.
Most families provide the babysitter with general guidelines about bedtime, acceptable activity and behavior during the parents' absence, and instructions on who to contact if case of an emergency. In addition, young people who want to be babysitters may take the American Red Cross course. Books and videotapes also outline techniques and strategies for safe and successful babysitting. The teenage babysitter must be able to answer lots of questions in an extensive interview with conscientious parents.
Finding a sitter
Parents advertise for a nanny or sitter in the local paper, on the church or community bulletin boards, or with an agency. Word-of-mouth is often the best source. Parents ask other parents for recommendations. Good sources for sitters who are no longer needed by a family are local preschools and nursery schools. Many parents post their names and numbers in these locations as soon as they anticipate needing a sitter.
Interviewing the sitter
Parents interview interested applicants and request and examine references. This meeting provides an opportunity for direct exchange of ideas between the sitter and the parents. Questions pertain to rules regarding food and methods for handling discipline problems and fees the parents will pay. The sitter and the child(ren) should meet to get to know each other a bit.
Potential babysitters need to prepare for interviews with parents. The sitters should be ready to answer specific questions. They need to provide proof of identity (such as a driver's license or social security card) and supply names, addresses, and phone numbers for three to five references.
During the interview parents may want to address the following concerns:
- Is the teenage babysitter mature, well-groomed, and disciplined?
- What childcare experience does she/he have? What were the sitter's best and worst experiences?
- How does the sitter handle issues of discipline? What would the sitter do if the baby cried for an hour or more? What if the toddler was defiant or inattentive to the sitter's directions? What if the child broke the sitter's watch or destroyed other prized possessions?
- How does the sitter feel about TV? Would the sitter watch TV while the child was playing or napping? What kinds of programs do children and teenagers watch in her home? Would the sitter offer television as regular entertainment for the child?
- How much time does the sitter spend with other sitters and friends? Does the sitter enjoy taking the children outside to play in the backyard or to the neighborhood playground?
- What does she know about good nutrition ? Does she limit snacks to healthy foods?
- Does the sitter drive a car, have a cellular telephone, or have a need to spend time talking on the phone while working?
- What would the teenager do in an emergency such as a sudden illness for the child or if the sitter became ill suddenly? What would the sitter do if there was a fire and other emergency?
The interview is the proper time to discuss hourly or evening rates. Some sitters request a higher rate after midnight. This is also the time to discuss travel arrangements. Does the sitter drive and have a car or does the sitter need to be picked up and returned home?
Paying the babysitter
Babysitter pay rates consider the age and number of children, the age of the babysitter, the type of care expected from the sitter, and the time of day (or night), and whether the sitter drives or not. The distance traveled to the job also dictates the pay rate. For teenagers the base rate is $4.00 to $5.00 an hour for a baby sitter who cares for two children and drives to and from the job. The pay increases with the number of children to perhaps $10.00 an hour for three children.
The going rate varies by geographical location and over time in any one area. Urban rates may range from $3.50 to $10.00 depending on age and experience, the number of children, and the lateness of the hour when the parents return home. In general, fees are higher for younger children.
Parents should leave emergency information for the sitter, most often near the telephone or on the refrigerator, where it can be found easily. The information may include the following:
- 911, as the emergency number to call
- family name, home address, and phone number (Sitters may "blank out" while trying to give this critical information over the telephone to the 911 operator.)
- telephone numbers of the family doctor or pediatrician
- telephone numbers, including cellular phones, for reaching parents
- children's full names and dates of birth
- name, address, and phone numbers of neighbors who have agreed to be on call in case of an emergency and numbers of back-up friends or relative
- time parents are expected to come home
- parents' full names, cell phone or pager numbers
- special activities for children and any food restriction for each child
- child's routine, including approved snacks, toileting habits, bedtime, and comfort objects needed for bedtime
- guidelines for the babysitter's personal behavior, such as personal telephone calls or friends visiting
- safety and security procedures, such as what to say when answering the telephone and how to secure all doors
Children should be told in advance that their parents are going out and the babysitter will be staying with them. Even if they are initially accepting, it is not unusual for young children to cry when they realize that their parents are leaving. The tears will dry when the parents leave; in response to children's tears, it is useful to minimize the problem and leave happily, assuring young children about the parents' return. The babysitter can use this time to comfort the children. She can distract them by engaging them in conversation or mentioning the next activity.
Parents should plan to stay in the house for at least 15 to 20 minutes after the sitter arrives to give general information about the kids and specific instructions about the home. If the family lives in an apartment building, the parent should point out emergency exits or fire escapes and leave candles and flashlight handy in case of a possible power failure. They should review simple first-aid, where to find bandages and home remedies for bumps or bruises . However, juvenile sitters should not be asked to dispense medications to children.
Sitters should know the household routines, approved television programs, recommended bedtime stories, and bedtime. They should be prepared for behaviors that are problematic, such as temper tantrums . In all, the sitter's job is to keep the children safe and as happy as possible within the guidelines set by the parents.
Certification course —A course of instruction that covers the basics of babysitting; a certificate of accomplishment is given to teenagers who successfully complete the course.
Dayee, Frances S., et al. Babysitting. Danbury, CT: Scholastic Library Publishing, 2001.
Lansky, Vicky. Dear Babysitter Handbook: A Handy Guide for Your Child's Sitter. Reno, Nevada: Group West, 2001.
Murkoff, Heidi, and Sharon Mazel. What to Expect Baby-Sitter's Handbook. New York: Workman Publishing Company, 2004.
Williams, Joseph L., et al. About Babysitting Our Children: A Personalized Information Resource for Your Babysitter. Farmington Hills, MI: Petit Pois, 2000.
Wolf, Jerri L. Redbook's Nannies, Au Paris & Babysitters: How to Find and Keep the Right In-Home Child Care for Your Family. New York: Sterling Publishing Company Inc., 2001.
National Institute on Early Childhood Development and Education. Office of Educational Research and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education, 555 New Jersey Ave, NW Washington, DC 20208. Web site: <www.ed.gov/offices/OER/ECI>.
"A Guide to the Business of Babysitting." University of Illinois Extension. Available online at <www.urbanext.uiuc.edu/babysitting> (accessed December 13, 2004).
Aliene Linwood, RN, DPA