Thursday, May 19, 2005

Finding a Reliable Sitter for Baby

By Kathy A. Schaeffer

There are many things of which to be aware when deciding on the caretaker who will watch over your baby while you are out for the evening or during the day if you work outside of the home. Hopefully this article will serve as a checklist of things to watch out for, both good and bad, and help you to make that very vital decision.

If it is a workday sitter, it will most likely be someone older than a teenager since school will be in session for the teens for most of the year. This list of things to be aware of can easily be used with the adult sitters you wish to consider as well as the younger candidates.

The first thing to remember is that just because someone offers to do childcare for you and happens to be the teenager of a friend or co-worker, it does not automatically make them the best choice for the person to hire. There are still things you need to look for just the same as if you were interviewing a stranger.

One of the first things to decide on is the age of a babysitter you would prefer. If someone says they know a great sitter who is 11 or 12 years old and you don't feel comfortable with someone that age watching your baby, then by all means hire someone older. It can get sticky if a close friend or colleague suggests a child or niece of theirs but if you feel it is too young for a sitter, don't be afraid to say "I'm sure she (or he) is a great sitter, but I wish to hire someone a little older." Since it is your baby's welfare at stake here, any friend should understand your feelings on the matter. Many people now are setting a limit of 16 and sticking with it, so if that's what you prefer, stand firm on your convictions and don't interview anyone younger.

When it comes time to interview a possible sitter, there are things to take note of and remember. The first thing you will want to notice is if she arrived to the interview at the appointed time. If she couldn't get to a job interview on time, you may have trouble getting her to arrive when you need her at other times.

Ask about the hours and days she will be available. If, for instance, she can only help you out one Saturday night a month, or her Friday nights are always unpredictable, you may be better choosing someone with more availability.

Ask the babysitter candidate about her experience with infants. Don't assume that just because she has watched other children who may have been older means that she knows about taking care of a baby. Let her hold the baby during the interview and see how she interacts with him.

Another thing you may want to ask is if she has taken any child care classes, babysitting training (many towns offer it now) or first aid classes. This isn't in itself a reason to hire or not hire because experience with a younger sibling often teaches more than a class would. On the other hand, it's a good question to ask because you really don't want to assume things like this person necessarily knows how to change a diaper or calm a crying infant.

Ask for references from your potential sitters, and be sure to call those references. This would be not only people who have hired her to watch a baby, but perhaps you would like to talk to a parent or teacher (if it is a teen) as well. Make sure the potential sitter knows your rules about phone calls, visitors, and internet usage well enough ahead of time so that it won't turn out to be a problem the first time she arrives "for duty."

After you hire someone for the job, there are still things to look out for. If you have, for one example, not given permission for her to use a computer in the house, have you found signs that she may have done so anyhow? Are there signs that she had a visitor or visitors over while you were gone?

As sad as it is to have to put this into a babysitting article, it is also very important to be sure to observe the baby. Are there indications that a diaper hadn't been changed? Is the baby unusually irritable or fussy? It bears mention to keep in mind that such a thing (fussiness) may happen because of separation from you, so it's not automatically a flag that something is wrong, but you may want to try something to make sure. (One way would be to have someone else come by for an evening when you're out . . . a trusted family member or neighbor, and see if the same thing happens.)

It goes without saying that anything out of the ordinary by way of bruises or marks on the baby needs immediate action. Also, if there was to be a feeding time while you were gone, was the bottle actually used, or in the case of an older baby, the baby food used? It seems like a lot to remember, but it is all important.

A few things to do for the babysitter before leaving should be having emergency contact numbers written down, including where you can be reached and a neighbor's number. Write down directions to your home if you do not have a street address should the awful scenario of having to give directions to emergency workers arise. Include the name and number of the baby's doctor on the list. Be sure to write down times for feedings and time and precise amount for any medication the baby may need to be given.

Write down your instructions about the baby's routine and things the sitter will need to do for those times. You may want to change the routine in some ways for the nights you will be using a sitter, such as bathing the baby yourself before leaving or having the baby dressed for bedtime when you leave. Be sure to tell the sitter if he sleeps on back or tummy or if there is a special toy always in the crib.

When it's time for you to leave, be sure that you walk through the house with the sitter and show her where you have put your emergency phone numbers and instructions. Ideally that will be near the phone and then you are showing her where to find the phone as well. If you have some kind of alarm system at the house, tell the sitter what the procedure is if the alarm sounds.

When you take the time to make certain that everything is order, leaving your infant with a sitter will be a lot less stressful for you and you may be able to enjoy your time away just a little bit more.