How to Be the Babysitter Every Family Wants

After almost twenty years of providing child care in various capacities, I feel fairly experienced in what parents are looking for in a babysitter*.  Of course, every situation has its own particulars, but in general, I’d say the following tips can make you the in-demand babysitter in your neighborhood…

*Occasional child care provider.  For instance, you watch the kids on a Saturday date night, or for an afternoon while Mom goes shopping.  Nannying or doing home day care is a whole other subject.

1. Ask Questions
Beyond the basics – “where are the emergency numbers?” and “what time do the kids go to bed?” – are lots of other crucial questions that can set you up for success and show the parents that you are invested in caring for their children.  These are topics that I always make sure to bring up, especially the first time I’m sitting for a family:

– medical information for kids (allergies?  anyone have a cold right now?  teething baby?)
– food (what can the kids eat?  where are they allowed to eat?  are snacks ok?  what happens if the kids don’t eat the provided dinner.. can they have something else later?)
– bedtime (all the specifics of how each child sleeps… with a certain blanket, nightlight on, door open or closed, sound machine, etc?  bedtime routine… stories, brush teeth, cup of water, potty?)
– activities (what do the kids like to do?  where are they allowed to play?  any toys/games/electronics not allowed?  where are art supplies or board games that might be stored in a different area?)
– house rules (any rooms kids can’t go in?  television or screen time limits?  can we play outside?  if the kids are older, are their neighborhood friends they like to play with?  how do you handle discipline?)
– current issues (is anyone going through a phase?  hitting his brother?  lots of backtalk?  potty training?  nap strike?  throwing food off the highchair?)

The specific questions you ask are obviously dependent on the ages and number of kids, what time you’re sitting, how long, etc.  But the point is that you want to think of as many scenarios ahead of time and think about what information you would need to know to handle the situation… instead of waiting until something comes up and you have to call (or text) mom or dad.

2. Be Prompt
This should be obvious, but I can’t tell you the number of parents who have complained to me about sitters arriving late.  It’s a job.  You need to be punctual.  If something happens and you’re running late, at least contact the parents to let them know you are on your way.  Additionally, if something comes up and you have to cancel a job, contact the parents as soon as possible so they can find a replacement.

3. Plan to Play
Come dressed to play on the floor with the kids.  You don’t have to dress like a slob, but be comfortable and don’t wear your newest, nicest outfit or shoes.  Tennis shoes are a must.  Mentally prepare yourself to play trains and cars and Legos and barbies and kitchen and chase and whatever other crazy nonsensical “game” the kids create.  I’ll admit, I’m better at certain kinds of play than others – art projects and Legos and board games are more my speed than imaginative play or simply racing cars around a room.  Whatever activity you end up doing, you need to be attentive to the kids.  It’s not rational to suggest that you never check your cell phone while sitting (most parents text nowadays, so I do check mine every so often), but it should not be your focus.

4. Do Not Take Advantage
Almost every parent will tell you to make yourself at home, eat anything you like, some even often computer access after the kids are in bed, etc.  I’m sure most of them are well-meaning, but you need to be reasonable and respectful.  Do not open new bags of chips or boxes of cookies.  Do not eat up the rest of the bag of Pirate’s Booty or finish off the last two Diet Pepsi’s.  My rule of thumb about meals is if I’m babysitting over a meal, I’ll eat with the kids; however, if the job doesn’t start until 6 at night, I can certainly eat my own dinner at home first.  In general, you should be comfortable while you are watching the kids, but exercise restraint around the box of Girl Scout cookies 😉

5. Bring Something Special
I always carry a few balloons in my purse.  These are the emergency fail safe for babysitting.  There’s not a kid alive that doesn’t love playing with balloons, so if all hell breaks loose, I whip those out (make sure to have enough for each child or you’re just asking for WWIII), and we have a great game of balloon volleyball or whatever.  You can also bring stickers, bubbles, or basically any other fun little thing you can get at the Dollar Store.  It shouldn’t cost very much, but it will be a special surprise that a) will entertain the kids, b) make you memorable, and c) show the parents that you cared enough to think ahead.

5b. Bring Something Extra-Special
If you read the Babysitter’s Club Books back in the day, you know about Kid Kits.  They were little kits that the fictional babysitters made filled with a few toys/books/crafts.  They would bring them along occasionally to sitting jobs because kids love new and novel things.  I have done this lots and it’s gone over like gangbusters.  Or just bring an age-appropriate project.  With Pinterest, this is even easier nowadays – I’ve done Christmas countdown calendars using construction paper and cotton balls, popsicle stick crafts, etc.  The kids have fun and the parents are crazy impressed.

6. Leave the Home Better Than You Found It
Pick up the toys and playroom after the kids have gone to bed.  (If you’re sitting during the daytime, you probably won’t be able to put everything away, but if you’ve turned one room into a toy-store-explosion, at least try to clear some of the chaos.)  Clean up the kitchen and any dishes you used.  You do not need to vacuum their house or wash every dish in the sink, but having the house a bit neater when parents arrive home than when they left is a nice gesture.  Most parents will prefer that you focus on the children’s well-being and safety when you are sitting, and you should, so this is really more applicable for night time jobs.

7. Give Parents a Detailed Report
Parents love to hear about their kids.  They love when you reply to their question of “how did it go?” with more than just the word “fine.”  Talk about what you played, what the kids ate, how bedtime went, etc.  Extra points if you can recall a little anecdote about the kids (Mason loved playing with his trains tonight and was doing really well with saying the right colors!).  If there were any problems, try to frame them as “I” statements.  For instance, instead of saying, “Emma just would not stay in bed and go to sleep” you can explain, “I had some trouble getting Emma to bed… I don’t know if I wasn’t singing the right song or if she just missed you guys.  Any tips for next time?”  This helps make sure the parents know what really happened without too much sugarcoating, but avoids the possibility that mom and dad think you are complaining about their precious angel.

Providing child care is a big responsibility.  Parents are taking a leap of faith, and finding good babysitters is really tough.  But it can be a really fun, flexible, profitable job IF you are committed to doing it well.  Happy Babysitting!  (Up Next… How to Keep Your Awesome Babysitter)


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