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Choosing and Instructing a Babysitter

Entrusting someone to care for your kids can be challenging. Finding a qualified babysitter requires time and effort, but your reward is assurance that your child is in capable hands. You'll want to find someone who is mature and friendly, has common sense, and a genuine fondness for children.

The recommendations of people you know and trust are your best bet for finding a reliable and capable babysitter. If you're new to the area and don't know how to go about finding a sitter, ask your neighbors or coworkers for recommendations, inquire at your place of worship, or ask staff in your pediatrician's office for suggestions. If your child is already enrolled in a daycare or after-school care program, staff members who are already familiar with your child may be willing to either babysit or provide sitter recommendations.

Interviewing sitters and checking their references will help you narrow down your choices. Prepare a list of questions to ask ahead of time. Ask about a sitter's experience caring for kids and whether he or she is certified in infant and child CPR or has taken a babysitter course. (Your local YMCA, community hospital, or American Red Cross chapter might have a list of babysitters who have completed their babysitting safety and infant and child CPR courses.)

Consider inviting a sitter over for a dry run while you're at home to familiarize him or her with your household and observe the interactions with your child.

Babysitter Instructions

Before you walk out the door, prepare the sitter with the following information:

  • Go over your child's usual routine (homework, bedtime, mealtimes) and your general house rules, including any limits on TV, computer use, video games, playing outside, etc.
  • Make sure the sitter knows where you will be and how to reach you at all times, and under what circumstances to call 911 before contacting you.
  • Point out where the sitter can find the number for the poison control center, which is 1-800-222-1222 (it should be posted in a prominent location).
  • Make sure the sitter knows whom to contact in an emergency. Provide an emergency phone list that includes neighbors, friends, relatives, and your doctor. Write your own phone number and address on the list, so that in case of an emergency, the sitter can give that information to the 911 operator.
  • Show the babysitter where emergency exits, smoke detectors, and fire extinguishers are located. Demonstrate how to enable and disable security systems and alarms if you have them.
  • Show the sitter where you keep the inside door keys in case a child locks himself or herself inside a room.
  • Let the sitter know of any special problems your child may have, such as an allergy to bee stings, certain foods, or household products, or the need for medication at a specific time (explain and write down the directions).
  • Review your first-aid kit with the sitter.
  • Teach kids the meaning of 911 and how to call for help, so that if something happens to your babysitter, they know what to do.

Let your babysitter know your expectations before you leave. If you'd prefer that the sitter not leave the house with your child, make that clear. If the babysitter is a driver, let him or her know the rules about driving your kids. If the phone and visitors are off limits, discuss those restrictions.

Sitter Safety

Make sure the sitter knows these safety rules:

  • Don't give your child any medicine without your specific instruction.
  • Don't leave kids alone in the house or yard, even for a minute.
  • Don't leave kids unattended near water. Infants and small children can drown in only a few inches of water, even in a bucket or toilet.
  • Don't feed kids under 4 years old popcorn, nuts, hard candy, raw carrots, or any hard, smooth foods that can block the windpipe and cause choking. Foods such as hot dogs or grapes should never be served whole and should be chopped into very small pieces (skin should also be removed from hot dogs).
  • Don't let kids play with plastic bags, latex balloons, coins, or other small objects they could choke on.
  • Don't let kids play near stairs, windows, stoves, or electrical outlets.

After you return, ask your kids if they enjoyed the sitter's visit. When you find a reliable sitter they like, you're sure to have a more relaxing and enjoyable time away from home.

Reviewed by: Kate M. Cronan, MD
Date reviewed: September 2010

Kids Health

Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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