Expert tips for hiring a babysitter you trust.
The holiday season is just around the corner, and for many parents this means more kid-free evening commitments than usual. Between holiday celebrations, year-end company parties, New Year’s Eve and perhaps an extra date night or two, many parents will be turning to babysitters.
For those who had babies during COVID-19, this holiday season may be the first time you’re calling in a sitter. For others, it may be the first time that you’re having someone other than family watch your children.
Laura Davis, Edina franchisee of Jovie (formerly College Nannies + Sitters), says the anxiety of leaving your kids with a sitter for the first time is very real. To help alleviate some of that anxiety, Davis shares some tips on how to find a babysitter you trust.
First and foremost, “You need to build your team of caregivers,” Davis says. “That can be family [members], it can be a referral—somebody that you work with, the neighbor girl down the street—or it can be through a professional agency such as [Jovie].”
If you’re embarking on finding a sitter on your own, be sure to discover more about a potential sitter’s background through an in-person or video interview. Here’s what Davis says you should ask:
- Experience: Don’t just ask about how long they’ve been babysitting, but ask specifically about their experience caring for children that are the same age as your children. “Care for a 6-month-old and care for a 6-year-old is very different,” Davis says. “So you want to ask about the length of experience with the age of children that you have.”
- Preparedness: Davis suggests following up with a more specific question. She says, “Tell me about what you’ve done when you babysat for an X-year-old.” Hearing about activities they’d plan, food they’d prepare or how they handle bedtime will help you get a better idea of how experienced they are.
- Emergencies: Davis says it’s also important to ask about if they’ve ever dealt with an emergency when babysitting and how they handled it. “You’re not looking for how or why [it] happened. You’re looking for what was the [solution] and how did they solve that,” she says.
- References: As with any job—but especially when the safety of your children is in the balance—it’s so important to ask for references. Davis suggests asking for three: two work references and one character reference. And don’t neglect actually calling and checking in on the references, Davis says. But ultimately, “Trust your gut,” she says.
If you feel overwhelmed at the search process, Jovie’s sitter service can help. “When you enroll in our service, we meet with you virtually, and we do an intake,” Davis says. “So, we know the ages of your children, if you have pets and if there’s allergies and the profile, if you will, of your family and where you’re located, and then you have access to our team of caregivers.”
Davis notes that all Jovie caregivers are “fully vetted, meaning we have interviewed, we have determined what ages they’re qualified to work for, we have done all the references and we have done background screening at the county,
state and national level.”
But once you have a babysitter in place, then what? How do you deal with the anxiety of leaving your child at home with a sitter for the first time—or your child’s separation anxiety? Here’s Davis’ five-step plan to prepare you and your kids for your big night out.
Step 1: Ease Into It
Once your caregiver is in place, start preparing you and your children for having a babysitter come into your home. “You should just ease into it,” Davis says. “You’re easing into it for the children, you’re easing into it for you, as the parent, and you’re easing into it for that caregiver who is also new to your family.”
What does this look like? Davis suggests booking your sitter for three hours on a day when you’re around. Spend 30 minutes with your child and the sitter, playing together. After 30 minutes, say goodbye to your children and go to a completely separate area of the house. “Maybe go off and do some gardening outside or some laundry or something away,” Davis says. “But you are still in the house. And that’s the ease-in for the parent, right? They’re hearing [the sitter and child interact], they’re building their confidence level that these two are having fun.” After 30-60 minutes, it’s time to actually leave the house. It’s the perfect time for a solo Target run!
Davis suggests starting this “ease-in process” a month or two before your night out, so you can build up confidence in your own ability to leave your child and enjoy yourself while also building confidence in your sitter. In that month or two, do a few practice runs with your sitter.
Step 2: Talk About It
If your children are old enough, Davis suggests talking to your child about your night out—and their night in with the babysitter. Give them a rundown of what to expect that night. For example, Davis says talk about how their babysitter is going to come over to play with your child. Mention the babysitter by name, along with any personal details you know about them—like their own pets, children or hobbies, so that your child can start building context about this person. Then, talk about what you, as parents, will be doing that night—going out for dinner with friends, going to a work party, whatever it is—while they’re at home with their sitter. All of this will build confidence for your child about what to expect, as well as building excitement for a night that’s out of the ordinary.
Step 3: Connect with Your Sitter in Advance
Instead of waiting for your sitter to arrive to talk about dietary restrictions, bedtime routines and emergency contacts, set up a time in advance to discuss these details. “Then, when the sitter arrives, you’re not needing her attention to give the 10-minute rundown of the bedtime routine,” Davis says. By downloading as much information as you can ahead of time, when the sitter arrives at your home, “the focus can be on the child in the transition.”
But Davis says it’s also good to write all that information down and physically hand it to your sitter when they arrive, keeping safety top of mind. She says to create a list with your cell phone number, your home address in case an emergency arises, the name and phone number of a neighbor if relevant, as well as any allergies and where the sitter can find essentials like diapers or an EpiPen. She says that this will help you, as parents, have peace of mind that your sitter has everything she needs when you’re gone, and it will also make sure your sitter is walking into the situation with confidence. On top of that, you could include a general schedule the sitter can follow while you’re out.
If possible, keep this list digitally, then print it when you need it, so you can continue adding to it and have it readily available. A running list is especially helpful if you’re using multiple sitters throughout the holiday season.
Step 4: Incorporate Something Out of the Ordinary
For children who might be nervous to be left at home, give them something tangible to get excited about for when you’re gone. “That can be a book, that can be a game for the older kids. It could be a special snack that they don’t normally get when parents are around,” Davis says. “You’re looking for some sort of distraction and anticipation tool, basically.” They’ll ideally get excited about this new thing and stop thinking about how you’re gone. As parents, you can even build excitement throughout the day, telling them they’ll get a special treat when you’re gone, and allowing your sitter to give it to them to build trust and excitement.
Step 5: Plan a Check-In
Worried you’ll start worrying about everything you forgot to tell your sitter the moment you walk out the door? Make a plan ahead of time to check in with your sitter while you’re out. “You can say, ‘will you send me a picture when you’re done with dinner and [the kids] have PJs on?’” Davis says. “Set a time when you’re going to do that … so you’re not worrying the whole time [you’re out].”
Davis suggests setting a time in advance instead of spontaneously calling. “Either coordinate that time or ask the nanny to proactively do it so [their] attention isn’t gone from the children … so [they] can be prepared.”
Beyond all this? Just try to have fun and enjoy your parents’ night out, trusting you hired the right person to care for your children.