It isn't as easy to find someone to watch your children as it was a century ago. In the "good old days" when our ancestors lived, you could hire any teenager off the street and be reasonably assured that you wouldn't come home to find our child hurt or your home destroyed. In these days, however, when we are all more aware of public safety and don't trust anyone we don't know very well, it's important to be a bit more picky. Unfortunately, you can't just choose the first eligible babysitter that shows up at your door; odds are that they would indeed be a kind, helpful person, but no one wants to take any chances.
It's always a good idea to choose a person that you know very well, perhaps a cousin, older sibling, or old friend of the family. This way you will have know this individual's personality and can judge what kind of evening your children will have if they are being cared for by this person. For those of you with small babies in the house, make sure the caregiver knows when and what to feed Baby, how to take care of her, what to do if an emergency comes up, and so on. Even if the babysitter in question is a family friend, you will want to go over credentials and what you know about him or her; someone who holds wild parties in whatever location they happen to be staying is probably not the best sitter to choose (unless, of course, their idea of a wild party is a movie and Monopoly).
Don't be afraid to ask friends and neighbors if they know anything about a prospective babysitter. If he or she is a member of your family, such as a distant cousin's daughter or something like that, family may be reluctant to talk about this person's flaws. Friends will be more honest and give you an overall picture of what kind of behavior to expect. Also, if your children seem to have a decent reason for despising or being afraid of this babysitter, it's very important to take this into consideration. Most kids do their best to chase off babysitters and that's to be expected, but if there seems to be a valid distrust or fear it's best to inform the person their services just aren't needed right now.
If grandparents don't mind the extra work, it's always an idea to ask if they can watch your kids for awhile. Children may suffer the slightest bit of boredom if there aren't as many toys or games as they're used to, but you can guarantee your kids' safety and expect a decent report of what is going on. Kids may not be as quick to get in trouble if they know that everything they say and do will be reported to Mom and Dad, and grandparents are a lot more likely to do this than teenagers. Make sure that any babysitter you choose *always* knows they should not take bribes or let kids stray from the rules.
Choosing an older, responsible sibling to watch younger children can have its ups and downs. On the positive side, you know your babysitter's personality better than anyone and can foresee any trouble that may occur. Kids will probably trust a brother or sister more than a stranger, but this can also work against you. If they know that Big Brother has a weakness for something, they may employ the ages-old method of let-me-do-what-I-want-or-I-tell-Mom-and-Dad (fill in the blank). Depending on how well kids know their older siblings, they may offer something he or she likes in exchange for extensive freedom. You'll want to sit everyone down and explain what is acceptable and what's not.
Some parents give babysitters or caregivers the authority to use punishment on their behalf if the need arises. You will want to think very carefully before deciding to do this or not. Their method of punishment may not match yours. Also, if you're not a fan of spanking, you don't want to wonder if a babysitter is punishing your kids by spanking when Mom and Dad don't do that. It is a bit more difficult to choose a sitter if your child is a newborn or a baby as special circumstances need to be taken into consideration. Older kids are able to put themselves to bed and take certain responsibilities, but babies will need to be looked after constantly and you need to find a person who is both willing to do this and capable of doing it.
By Lacie R. Schaeffer