You don’t want to leave your kid with just anybody. I get that. But did you know that babysitters don’t want to sit for just anybody either? Some clients (parents) are harder than others. Their kids might be great, but the things they say and do make the situation more stressful than it needs to be all around.
I’m a high-school senior who’s been a babysitter for more than five years for multiple families—including babies, toddlers, big kids, groups during parties, just for the evening and all day long, and also as a standing weekly gig for a family I love. I also asked my friends for their pet peeves and preferences about babysitting.
We all agreed that it doesn’t take much to make babysitting simple. Maybe just kindness, respect, common sense—and these little pointers:
Invite me over beforehand to meet your kids (if I don’t know you).
This lets us get comfortable with one another so I’m not so much of a “stranger” when the big night comes—and same with you if we’ve never met. It doesn’t have to take long, but things always run more smoothly when this happens. Ask me about my background and my experience. This is also a good time to exchange phone numbers if we haven’t already and to tell me about good-to-know tips about your child and home, like food allergies or the trick to opening your child safety latches.
Or just to chat. I’ve been amazed how many parents are willing to leave their kid in the charge of a teenager they never laid eyes on before!
When I arrive to babysit, be welcoming and show me around the house.
This accomplishes two things:
1) Your kids will be much more excited if they see you greet me warmly (and hopefully you’ve told them beforehand that I was coming!).
2) I want to feel comfortable in your home and need to be familiar with the basics to do my job right. So please show me where the important things are, such as any clothes your kids need to change into (like PJs or bathing suits), toothbrushes or any other nightly routine items, books, the food you expect your kids to eat, entertainment, or anything else we’ll need.
Have me arrive a few minutes before you leave in order to make time for this, so it’s not super-rushed!
Babysitting your kids means babysitting YOUR kids…and only your kids.
Unless we discuss it ahead of time, this doesn’t include the neighbors across the street or the friends from who-knows-where who show up an hour after you leave until who-knows-when. A mother once told me to walk her 7-year-old down to the park after she left so he could meet up with a friend. I had no idea who the friend was and didn’t feel comfortable being responsible for this mystery kid.
Talk pay before your hand is on the doorknob to leave.
I have no problem asking about rates before I accept a job. But some kids feel uncomfortable bringing up the topic of money and arrive at your house still not knowing what they’re being paid. So be up front about it if your babysitter doesn’t speak up.
A good way to start is to ask me my usual rate. The rate should be appropriate for your area, the number of kids you have (more kids, more per hour), and their ages (more for babies, who usually require more hands-on attention and work). And it should be fair! Be willing to negotiate—like you would for any other really useful service. I’m certified in CPR, First Aid, and the American Red Cross babysitting training, which gives some parents extra peace of mind that they’re willing to pay extra for.
Leave me notes on your kid, not a term paper.
If I’ve never babysat for you before, prepare a quick list of instructions and general information. This does not mean you should type up a book with each and every detail of how Levi can only play Uno and no other card game and how the curtains must be closed all the way with no gaps and alternate activities if it happens to rain and there’s no cable—I have babysat before! Once I got so caught up rereading notes on how much juice was allowed and how to dilute it that I realized I wasn’t focusing as much on the kid.
Although trivial details and endless instructions are unnecessary (and distracting!), it’s helpful to have a list of contacts and key information—like whether the kids are allergic to anything or your tried-and-true ways to calm them down if they’re rowdy and bouncing off the walls before bed. One of my friends told me a family she sat for never told her their son had a severe behavioral issue, which made his tantrums super-intense. If only she’d known, she would have been less mystified and less stressed out about helping him.
Ignore the tears. Really.
Don’t coddle your little ones if tears emerge when you begin to walk out the door. They’ll stop crying sooner than you’d believe—never underestimate the novelty factor of a fun babysitter! It only extends their misery if you rush back to say goodbye one last time or pretend that you forgot something inside. I am capable of dealing with crying kids. That’s part of the reason you hired me! Enjoy your night.
Don’t micromanage me after you leave.
I know what I’m doing and will text you if there are any problems (like Ava skinned her knee playing and I can’t find any first-aid equipment). But it makes me feel as though you think I don’t know how to do my job if I’m receiving texts or calls every few minutes asking how everyone’s doing.
You wouldn’t like it if your boss called you hourly to check in on your work progress! Not only will I be able to focus more on your child and less on my phone, but you’ll feel more relaxed too.
I’m your babysitter, not your personal cleaner.
If I ate dinner with or cooked for the kids that night, I’m gladly willing to do any leftover dishes. Ditto for cleaning kitchen surfaces and kids’ faces. But I’m not so inclined to do your laundry for you!
If you’re expecting visitors of any kind to the house, please, please tell me beforehand.
Sometimes a neighbor has pre-arranged to drop something off. Or a family member will come to visit. It’s unnerving when someone knocks on the front door at night when you don’t expect it—and it isn’t your home, and you’re alone with a kid! Not only does it scare and worry me, but an unexpected doorbell ringing might scare your kid!
Return on time.
I arrive at your house right on time, in order to keep you on schedule—and I know you can’t wait to get out of the house at the agreed-upon time—so please do the same for me.
There’s nothing more vexing than waiting for you to come home when you said you would at a certain hour—and then you don’t. It’s understandable if there’s traffic or some other kind of delay. But if so, just please tell me! A friend of mine once agreed to babysit on a school night. Instead of the parents being “back by 10,” as they said, they didn’t arrive until 1 in the morning! Without a word!
For many younger babysitters who can’t drive, this isn’t just scary. It also can be difficult in terms of getting home at night if you can’t drive them. (And we have parents who worry too.) Ideally, text your babysitter when you’re heading back so the sitter has a heads-up and can arrange a ride home instead of being stranded.
Pay me. Pay me. Pay me.
It’s the worst to have to ask to be paid right when I’m walking out the door because you forgot to give me money. It’s just awkward. I kept your kids alive! I made it possible for you to have a fun evening and be carefree grownups!
One of my friends had the parents she was sitting for tell her that they “didn’t have any cash on them” when they got home and said they’d pay her the next time she babysat. She never heard from them again!
Note that younger babysitters often don’t yet have bank accounts and will appreciate cash over a check.
The secret to my babysitting for you again…
Get to know me! I’m much more willing to come back and babysit if I feel like I have a connection with you. Use the time before I leave (or the first few minutes before you walk out the door) to ask about my life and how I’m doing. When you come back, you can always start out (and probably should start out) asking how the kids were for me and if everything was okay.
I always feel more comfortable around friendly, relaxed parents rather than helicopter parents or ones who act completely indifferent.
Here’s what a successful babysitting gig should look like…
You, the parents, don’t feel antsy and worried. You have fun. Your kid has fun. I, the babysitter, have been equipped to do a good job, and I do. I love being with your kid—and everybody involved can’t wait for the next time!
Photos: Maria Catherine, Babysitting 101 and Tips/YouTube, David Fulmer/Flickr, Mike Liu/Flickr, Jean Tessier/Flickr