Monday, June 19, 2006

Need a Sitter for the Summer?

Another school year has passed and it's time for school children to start making some great summer memories. It should be a time of laughter and happiness, not a time for them to get up in the morning and dread having to see the babysitter. There are ways to assure you find a good sitter for the kids, it just takes a little bit of research and a checklist of sorts. Just because you already have a great sitter for the baby doesn't mean the same person will work well for older children suddenly being under her care at the same time.

The first thing to remember is that every babysitter is not going to be a magically perfect fit for each child or group of siblings. As a parent, you need to ask questions and not just assume that if someone is a babysitter they will know how to take care of children properly or even be attentive to the children at all.

Don't be afraid to ask questions and by all means, ask for references and follow up on them. That may sound like a useless activity since a sitter would not give a reference of someone he or she had trouble with, or that their kids didn't like the sitter, but take it a step further and when you are calling a reference, ask if they know anyone *else* for whom the prospective sitter has worked. In that way you will have more of a full picture of the sitter's style and knowledge of child care. Being good with babies doesn't mean the same sitter will be good with a 5th grader at the same time.

The trend in desired sitters seems to have turned over the last decade or so. In the past, the "perfect" summer babysitter was often a teenager who was also free from school and wishing to make a little money during vacation. Slowly the trend turned toward working parents wanting to have other parents watching their children, however. That does not mean that it's necessarily the better choice, but an added benefit may be a playmate or two for your child.

If you decide on a younger sitter, you may want to ask the teen to come by your home for a day or two when you can be there. It will give you a chance to watch the interaction with your children and they will be able to tell you their feelings about the sitter before you make a final decision. It is only fair to pay the teen for the two or three days for that observation. If you just have someone starting to come by out of the blue one day, it will be too late for your children to have any say in the matter concerning who they will be spending most of the summer with.

If it is at all possible, it is usually a better idea to have a sitter come to your home for the day than to have to take the children somewhere else. It means a lot to be with their own belongings, own room, etc. during the daytimes to avoid boredom. Be sure that the sitter knows (and will adhere to) any house rules you have concerning internet time or supervision or television time.

Having trouble finding a sitter? Check to see if the Red Cross babysitting course is offered in your area. If it is, they should be able to give you some referrals on people who have completed the course. It is especially important for sitters of school aged children to know first aid and basically know how to handle any emergency that may arise. This would include natural disasters (such as being in an earthquake or tornado prone area, or a city that may be marked as a terrorism target).

Babies and preschoolers are often supervised constantly, but older school aged children are often outside playing and maybe even going with friends or around the neighborhood. This makes it extra important to make sure there are rules for the sitter about knowing where the children are, having them check in when possible, and so on. Make sure to write down the house rules on matters such as this.

The other things to keep in mind are just basic babysitter issues. Have a list of phone numbers available and go over security issues. Be sure the sitter knows if he or she is allowed to discipline the children (with time outs or being sent to their room, NEVER by striking, of course).