How do I find a good occasional baby-sitter?

     It can be difficult for parents to find a teenage baby-sitter they feel comfortable using. When they leave their child for an afternoon or evening, they want to know that he’ll be happy and safe. Yet it’s hard to tell from a quick conversation or a few minutes’ observation whether a sitter will be responsible. The best way for parents to select a sitter is to ask for recommendations, get to know the sitter, and monitor carefully the way she performs the job.

     To find potential sitters, ask friends, neighbors, relatives, and coworkers for recommendations. You also can ask local high school teachers or counselors for suggestions. Good sources of names are sitters who may be too busy to work for you but who can pass on names of friends. Whatever your source for baby-sitters, get suggestions from people you trust. Also, as you seek referrals, keep in mind the ages of baby-sitters. Parents of infants may prefer an older teenager while parents of four- and five-year-olds may be comfortable enough with a twelve- to fourteen-year-old sitter who will keep their child entertained.

     After you’ve contacted a potential sitter, invite her to your home so you can observe her with your child. Ask questions about her activities, schoolwork, and friends. She’ll be pleased that you take an interest in her, and from her responses you’ll get to know what she’s like. Watch as she interacts with your child. Is she friendly, playful, nurturing? How does your child respond to her? One father was delighted when the girl he was interviewing spontaneously took out her keys and jiggled them in front of his whimpering eighteen-month-old, calming the child. If the sitter is young or inexperienced, you may want to meet her parents—and they may want to meet you.

     If you decide to use the sitter, have her arrive early on the day she’ll watch your child so you can give her instructions. Teenagers need strong guidance and limits, so be prepared to tell your sitter in detail what your expectations are. Describe how you want her to handle feeding, playtime, television, toilet use, and bedtime, and write down your instructions so she can refer to them later. Make it clear if you don’t want her to talk on the phone, invite her friends to your house, or take your child outside.

     Before you leave, let your sitter know how you can be reached and leave emergency phone numbers. You might want to write down a list of activities your child enjoys and another list of things to do (take out play dough, read books) if he gets silly or hard to handle. A four- or five-year-old may spend time testing a new sitter and feeling a sense of power: “This is my house, my food, my TV.” Let your child know ahead of time that you expect him to behave appropriately, and let your sitter know that it may take time for him to feel comfortable.

     If he has a difficult time separating from you, you might feel tempted to leave without warning him or saying good-bye. But if you do this, you’ll probably increase his anxiety. It’s better to tell him you’re going and have the sitter comfort him as you leave. If he’ll be asleep when you go, tell him before bedtime, “While you’re sleeping, Kim will come and baby-sit for you.” You also can take time before the baby-sitter arrives to tell your child about the fun he and she will have. If you let the sitter do special things with him—give an extra dessert, play a new game—he may be less anxious about your leaving.

      While you’re out, call home to see how things are going. Occasionally, your sitter will tell you that your child isn’t feeling well and you’ll then have to cut your evening short. This can be frustrating and at times upsetting. But it will happen less and less as your child gets older.

      Trust your instincts. If you feel that something happened while you were away, try to find out about it. If your child seems unhappy with a sitter, try to learn why. You can ask a three- to five-year-old, “What do you like about Michelle? What don’t you like?” Although you may hear some exaggerated stories, you should take him seriously when he says, “She yells too much,” or, “She tries to scare us.” If you’re unsure about a sitter, ask a neighbor or relative to come by and check next time the sitter is at your house. And if you feel that a sitter is not responsible, stop using her and look for someone else. In order to enjoy your time away from home, you have to feel good about the person watching your child

Picture Credit : Google