Selecting a Safe Sitter
By Mary Rachui, RN-C, MS, manager, women's health education, Presbyterian Women's Center
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Selecting a babysitter is a critical factor for your child's safety and your peace of mind. For all parents, selecting a trustworthy caregiver while you are away from home can be a challenge, and for new parents, it can be a confusing one.
While there are agencies that provide in-home child care, in most circumstances, you will select a babysitter based on recommendations. You want to use the right sources for those recommendations, starting with people you trust or seeking leads from reputable youth organizations.
Even with a recommendation, ask potential babysitters for references and check them! If your child is very young, you should select a sitter with experience.
Selecting a Sitter
You will want to consider the sitter's qualities and qualifications. For qualities, it is a balancing act. They should be able to relate to the children yet be firm enough to keep them in line. Using age-appropriate games and activities, the sitter should be able to keep the child entertained and happy, yet needs to be comforting if the child is unhappy. They need to be firm enough to make them behave yet not a strict authority figure. And finally, the sitter should be able to be levelheaded in an emergency.
For qualifications, you may want to consider someone who has:
- Attended a babysitting class - In the Mecklenburg County area Presbyterian Hospitals and the Red Cross offer these programs for adolescents.
- CPR training – either separately or as a part of the babysitting class.
- Previous experience and can provide several references.
Get to Know the Sitter
By planning ahead and locating a sitter before you need one, you won't feel rushed and can consider your choices. It also can give the sitter, child and you time to become acquainted.
As you interview potential babysitters, trust your gut feelings. They have nothing to do with logic. If you have an uneasy feeling about an applicant, they are not the right one for you. You will want to pay for quality. A good babysitter may cost more, but a person who takes the health and safety of your child seriously will be worth it.
You may choose to have the sitter over for lunch or to hire the sitter for a time you need to get some things done at home. This allows you to observe the interaction between the sitter and child and gives them an opportunity to get familiar with your home and the children with you available to be a resource.
Rules for sitter behavior must be clear from the beginning. Never assume they will know your expectations, even about no alcohol or smoking. The goal for any rule is for safety and to keep the sitter's focus on the child. Not allowing friends to visit and limiting phone and computer use can help prevent distractions. If the sitter will be using the home phone, make sure he or she knows how to use the call waiting feature so you can reach them if needed.
The sitter must also know the child's restrictions regarding play, television viewing and computer time or sites. Be clear what food and drink items are available for the sitter and children. And finally, make sure your child knows the sitter is in charge while you are away.
Give the sitter a tour of the home, pointing out safety features like nightlights, phones, smoke detectors, flashlights, security systems and first-aid supplies. Keep emergency information next to a phone and make sure the sitter knows where to find this information:
- Child's name, birth date (age) and vital medical information, including allergies
- Address and directions to your house
- Where you can be reached (all phone numbers)
- Phone numbers of friends or relatives
- Child's doctor's name and phone number
Remember the sitter is a young person and you have a responsibility to keep them safe as well. Review how they should respond to phone calls inquiring for you or how to handle any visitors to the door while you are away. And finally, if you are not driving them home, make sure they leave in the care of a responsible adult or verify their safe arrival if they drive themselves.
For more information about our Super Sitter class, including dates and registration, call 704-384-CARE (2273). (Sitter names not available through this program).
Learn more about Presbyterian Women's Center's programs and classes