I have seen post after post on Facebook lately about finding a babysitter. Having done a ton of babysitting myself, using babysitters in the Iowa City/Coralville area, and now having a daughter who is babysitting for our family and others, I thought I’d share my experiences and “best practices” tips. It does not need to be as stressful as we moms make it!
(While I refer to the female babysitter for continuity below, I will say that we have had excellent male babysitters for our family. Our sons need role models as well as our daughters.)
A Mom’s Guide to Finding Babysitters
*To clarify – this guide is about the occasional babysitting need, not the service of a consistent child care program or daily professional caregiver. A babysitter is very different from a child care provider.
1. If you have them near, start with your own parents.
There is nothing my children enjoy more than spending time with Grandma and Grandpa. It seems to be a mutual enjoyment, too. Our parents always want to help us make our lives easier, so they often offer or accept our request for the occasional free babysitting. We tend to call it “going to Gran’s” instead of babysitting.
2. While family is fantastic, do not abuse their willingness to help.
I think the key here is open communication and respect. What works for one family may never work for another. They are family; you have to see them at all life functions forever.
3. After family comes close friends.
Some are willing and able to provide babysitting services, and some are not. It’s nothing personal or against your children if they request to be paid or chose to not babysit. When in doubt, prepare to pay. Again, open communication and respect.
4. To find local babysitters, start with where you spend most of your time.
Many people find babysitters in the youth group at church, through an acquaintance or co-worker, community bulletin boards at the library or coffee shop, or online in the mommy groups. Start asking who your friends use or if anyone knows of a great local babysitter. Word of mouth is hugely popular for this type of resource. We also had great success with College Sitter Contact back before our oldest was of babysitting age.
5. When communicating with a potential babysitter, have as firm a day/time needed as possible.
Babysitters are seeking work to be paid. Make a commitment with them. Here it is again – open communication and respect. (I’m seeing a theme develop…)
6. If you need to cancel, give as much notice in advance as possible.
If she arrives at your home and you no longer need her, it is most courteous to pay her for the agreed upon time, or at least one hour for her trouble. She most likely gave up another paying opportunity to work for your family.
7. Plan to provide transportation unless the babysitter tells you she will get there on her own.
This is especially true for babysitters of the younger ages. Do not rely on her parents to get her to/from your house. It is always fine to ask if she has transportation, but expect to do the driving.
8. If possible, meet the babysitter before she stays alone with your children. Have the children meet her, too.
This is all about trust and confidence. You need to trust the person you are leaving with your children, and she needs to have confidence in your family and the environment. This is the perfect time to interview her, find out her training (many take the American Red Cross Babysitter’s Course) and experience (only child, oldest of four, etc.?), and see how she and your children interact. She may decide she does not have the skills needed for your situation or doesn’t want to work with you.
Believe me, you do not want to work with someone who is not a good fit.
9. Ask the babysitter her hourly rate.
Do not negotiate; this is something she has thought about and decided for herself.
If she does not state a rate (some are really new and don’t know), have your own budget in mind. Consider the age of the babysitter, her experience and training, the ages and how many of your children she will care for, and what hours she is at your house. For local mamas, I have seen babysitting fees in this area as low as $5/hour and as high as $15/hour. Make an offer. Once accepted, stick to that rate with her.
10. Ask her how she prefers to be paid.
Cash has always been best, especially for younger teen babysitters. Not knowing one’s financial situation, whether or not she has a bank account, etc., cash is the universal payment option.
11. It is courteous to round up the payment at the end of the night.
Since most babysitters are paid hourly and are being paid in cash, rounding up makes it easier on everyone than counting quarters. Plus, then she’ll be more likely to talk about how generous you are to her friends, instead of how you counted out your spare change. Generous parents have access to more available babysitters. (Being generous does not mean you need to pay an exorbitant amount over the hourly rate you agreed to pay. I find rounding up to the next dollar or $5 is fine.)
12. Have everything ready and easily accessible for her at your house.
Her main task at your house is playing with and caring for your children. If there will be a meal served, have things out on the counter so she can do it quickly and effortlessly. Show her where the diapers, clothes, Band-Aids, etc. are kept. Pre-make the bottles! If you use cloth diapers, be sure to ask if she is familiar with it before leaving. Give her a quick tutorial, if needed.
13. Allow her to enjoy her time with your children and at your house.
When we have a babysitter, we share what our normal is, suggest they follow it as closely as possible so things are easier for everyone, but we also know that she is not us – our children are going to be different with the babysitter there. If bedtime will happen, share your routine, but expect things to not go as they do when you are there. We tend to allow more things like electronics or a special dessert, because we know our children will ask anyway. Make it easy for her to say “yes” instead of having to be super strict. That said, we also tell our older children to behave. We always get a full report on the evening when we arrive back home.
BONUS: Babysitting is a fantastic “first job” experience for those with an entrepreneurial spirit.
Since babysitters tend to be teens or young adults, their interaction with you is another learning experience for them. How would you want to be treated as the babysitter for your family? How would you want your own child to be treated once they are old enough to babysit?
I hope this guide helps you when it comes to solving this ever-present parenting need.
Tell us – how often do you use a babysitter? Where did you meet her?