How to Keep Your Awesome Babysitter Coming Back

We talked last week about how to be a fantastic sitter.  The other side of the coin is for parents who are trying to lock down that great sitter… here’s what I’d recommend!

1. Leave clear expectations
Your sitter is responsible, considerate, and has common sense about what is and is not good for children.  However, your sitter does not know how you parent and how your household runs on a daily basis.  Tell them.  Leave him or her with specific instructions on house rules, food, discipline, and routines.  Do you expect your children to be in bed by, lights out, by 8?  That’s fine – but you have to clarify, and not be wishy-washy and tell the sitter that bedtime is between 8 and 8:30.  Do you expect the sitter to clean up the playroom after the kids have gone to sleep?  Again, perfectly acceptable, but it has to be stated ahead of time.

2. Set them up for success
You want your children to be well taken care of while you’re gone, and you want everyone (the kids and sitter) to have a good experience, right?  Then, you should do what you can to set everyone up for success.  If your little ones are “bad” eaters, then tonight is not the night to try a new recipe – leave a meal like mac’n’cheese or pizza or something they will almost always eat.  Otherwise, you are just setting the sitter up for food / snack battles all night.  Have the kids had a busy day outside or with lots of outings?  Then recognize that they might be spent by 7pm and give the sitter the green light to watch a tv show with them if need be, instead of thinking that everyone will peacefully play board games until bedtime.  No matter the issue, think about your kids’ trigger issues or potential challenges, and try to mitigate any possible disasters.

3. Payment is Value
How much is your children’s safety and well-being worth to you?  You can’t think of a babysitter’s hourly rate the same way you think of other “menial” jobs.  Minimum wage might be okay at McDonald’s,, but it’s not appropriate for the person watching your children.  You get what you pay for, and some of that is simply showing a sitter that you value and respect his or her time, experience, and effort.  I’m not saying that you should pay your sitter an exorbitant amount of money; ask around and find out what the going rate is in your area (it can vary greatly in different parts of the country).  But, you should not be thinking of child care costs as a place where you can pay the bare minimum.  Sitters know the families who pay a low rate, or who nickle and dime them (I’ve had people figure out my payment to the 15 minute mark…).  Round up to the nearest half hour or hour, and tip if the sitter deserves it.  (Examples of which include a) one of the kids barfed, b) a pet barfed, c) anything involving barf.)

4. Little Extras Sweeten the Pot (or the Stomach)
You can have the brattiest kids on earth (and if you do, you should definitely follow this tip), and still keep a great sitter with two little perks – good snacks and the wifi password.  😉  I’m only 90% kidding.  No, you do not have to buy food specifically for your sitter, but take a quick look in your pantry and fridge… is there something edible that’s easy to snack on?  Your healthy collection of greek yogurt, quinoa, and frozen turkey burgers is going to make a sitter cry.  Chips, crackers, granola bars, fruit, popsicles, bags of microwave popcorn, etc… anything that is quick, easy, tasty, and is recognizable is good.  A good sitter will know not to open a new box of Girl Scout Cookies, but don’t reduce them to snacking on dry cereal because it’s the only thing in the house without a cartoon character on the package.  Other little perks… show the sitter how to work the television (and Netflix, or Roku streaming or however you consume media)… give them the password for the wifi so their phone battery doesn’t get completely drained… or specifically tell them they can and should open the box of Thin Mints 🙂

5. Be Realistic
Your kids are not perfect.  I’m sorry – should I have said spoiler alert? 😉  One of the ways you can keep your awesome babysitter is by realizing this fact.  Your sitter is going to try her best to have your children eat a healthy meal, play nicely, clean up their toys, bathe, brush their teeth, and get to bed on time.  However, your little angels have a totally different understanding of  a night with a babysitter; for them, this is an opportunity to stretch every rule and routine that mom and dad have set up!  Kids are not malicious, they’re just kids!  I once had a parent get upset that I let her seven year old eat two frozen pancakes as an after-school snack.  The first grader told me he was allowed to, and it seemed reasonable – it wasn’t like he was asking for a giant ice cream sundae, it was pancakes!  I don’t know whether the kid was trying to be sneaky, or if he had never asked to have pancakes for a snack before and was just trying something new… either way, is this something worth getting upset about?  Kids convince good sitters to let them sty up 15 minutes later to read one more book, or to play with playdough in the livingroom, or take a glass of water to bed with them.  If it’s something that’s worth a battle, you can encourage the sitter to say no next time or whatever, but if it’s something minor, let it go.

6. Be Respectful
Your awesome babysitter is taking care of your most precious possessions.  Treat them with respect.  Overall, this is the biggest factor I notice in families that I want to sit for again and again, and those who I begrudgingly sit for a second time.  Respect your sitter’s time by arriving home when planned, or at worst, texting or calling to let them know you’ll be late (this should not be a frequent occurrence).  Respect their abilities by believing their version of the evening and trusting that they made the best judgment calls possible.  Treat your babysitter with respect and they’ll be with your family for a long time.

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