Babysitter to the Rescue

Babysitter 411 @ jaxinthebox.comSometimes I just need to get outta Dodge. It could be the lack of wine talking (being pregnant and all) but some days these walls just seem to be closing in on me. For which the best remedy is to hire a sitter and drive around town in my minivan sans kids. Okay, I try to do something a bit more spicy, but some days I’d settle for crusin’ solo in my Odyssey.

It’s the hiring a sitter part that gets a bit tricky. Maybe you’re fortunate enough to have family in town you can call on. But that’s never been the case for us. We’ve had to seek out and vet sitters on our own for the past nine years and have learned a bit along the way.

Today I was updating my Babysitter Binder, and thought you might be interested in how we hire sitters and what info I leave them when we’re away.

Who Ya’ Gonna Call?

Without family to lean on, it can be difficult to find a sitter you feel comfortable with. Here’s a list of potential candidates I run down when I’m looking to add to my list. By the way … I like to have at least three regular sitters to call on. This way one is generally available when I’m in need.

  • Ask friends for referrals for sitters they use and like.
  • Ask the older children of your friends. (I started having kids later in life, so I have several friends with teen and college-aged kids.)
  • Ask the teachers/assistants in your Mommy & Me, swimming, gymnastics or whatever-you-do classes if they babysit on the side.
  • Ask your preschool/day-care teachers/assistants if they babysit on the side.
  • Ask your church or gym nursery workers if they babysit.

While I’ve not personally used the following methods, I have friends who’ve had success with:

  • Call the Education Department at your local college and ask for referrals or put an ad in the college’s Student Employment office.

Skills and Credentials


When I first started hiring sitters, my number one criteria was full frontal lobe development. I’m not kidding. You know, that part of the brain that that allows us to recognize the consequences of our behavior, choose between good and bad actions, and fight off peer pressure. The fact that our frontal lobe isn’t mature until our early twenties poses a big problem. At least in my town, there’s just not that many twenty somethings willing or able to sit for my brood.

So, I hire responsible high school juniors and seniors when all three boys need sitters (9-year old twins and a toddler). But I also have a very mature eighth grader on my list who sits for us when the youngest is in bed and her mother is available for her to call if she needs any help. It’s really about the maturity level of the sitter. Some eighth graders are old souls compared to other 17-year olds.


Some of the best sitters are ones with younger siblings or nieces and nephews that they watch regularly. This experience not only renders sitters comfortable with kids, but also wise to their shenanigans.

For those with less experience, having a Red Cross babysitting class under their belt provides some useful info on how to care for kids and handle emergencies.

Regardless of experience, I prefer all my sitters to have a CPR class. If lifeguard or sports referee is on their resume, they are already certified. But, if your sitter hasn’t had a class (make sure it includes infant/child CPR), consider offering to pay for one.

If you find your help from, your church, preschool or gym, he or she has probably already passed a background check. While I don’t check my underage sitters, I have done background checks on adults who have nannied regularly for me in the past.

Pay Rate

In my experience, sitter rates depend on where you are in the country. In Texas, I paid $12-15/hour for two toddlers/preschoolers. In Wisconsin, $8 for three kids (I’ll offer more when the fourth is born) is the going rate. My hypothesis is the higher cost of living here prevents parents from being able to match their Southern peers. 🙂

I simply ask the sitter I’m considering hiring what her or his rate is and go from there.

Preparing Your Kids

Especially if your kids are in elementary school or younger, consider inviting a new sitter over for an hour or so to meet your children and get a tour of your house. This way you’ll get a chance to see the sitter interact with your gang and for them to get comfortable with each other.

If you anticipate a tough separation between you and your kids when you leave them with a new sitter for the first time, try putting together a “Babysitter Basket” filled with fun, novel (and cheap) items that will distract and entertain them at the same time. A new game, coloring book, craft, special treat or movie often do the trick.

Setting the Ground Rules

While you might assume that all sitters will focus on your kids and clean up after them, I’ve found that we parents need to spell these things out. So, have a frank talk with your sitter and even consider typing up a list of ground rules (and adding them to your Babysitter Binder — see below) so you are both on the same page. Here are some suggestions:

  • No talking on the phone to friends until the children are in bed and sleeping.
  • No texting friends until the children are in bed and sleeping.
  • Do not open the door if you do not recognize the person knocking.
  • Do not leave the children unattended for any reason (if you are concerned about a noise outside, call a neighbor or police).
  • Do not bathe the children (they will have had a bath if needed).
  • Clean up after meals including doing the dishes.
  • Clean up children’s toys, etc. (or better yet, have them help you before bed).

One of my first sitters was a professional nanny. She gave me some great advice: Don’t assume your sitters will clean up after themselves or your kids. She was right! 90% of the time we come home to dirty dishes in the sink and toys all over unless we explicitly ask. Crazy, but true.

The Babysitter Binder

Even though I give all my sitters a thorough tour of the house, I don’t expect them to remember the locations of the spare house keys, all three fire extinguishers, the electrical box, etc. So, I include all this info and so much more in our Babysitter Binder. (If you are unable to open and download the template, just leave a comment below. I’ll email it to you.)

This is simply a 3-ring binder that I haul out and place on the kitchen counter every time we hire a sitter. In it I’ve included: 1) where we are going and how to contact us, 2) emergency medical information and phone numbers, 3) friends and neighbors for emergencies or questions, 4) health info for each child, 5) and daily routine information that would be helpful for the sitter’s reference. Make sure to walk your sitter through its contents so she knows all the good stuff it contains.

Click this link for an MS Word Doc. you can edit and print for your own binder: {Babysitter Binder Template}. Put in your own pictures and info, and voila, you have a personalized babysitter binder. It’s simply an MS Word Template that I found and re-purposed. Not rocket science, but it does the trick.

So that’s it. If your kids are old enough, make sure to talk to them about how things went with the sitter. What did they do? What did they talk about? Your kids are your best insight as to whether or not to call her back. And trust your kids. I had some pretty awful sitters when I was little … the only people who can tell you if the sitter acted like she was dead for an entire hour are your kids (true story). Give them a chance to spill the beans — both good and bad.

And if you love your sitter, let her (or him) know. Thank them with a gift at Christmas and round up when dishing out their cash for the night. Good sitters are keepers; express your appreciation for taking care of your most precious possessions.


3 thoughts on “Babysitter to the Rescue

  1. Pingback: Babysitter to the Rescure, Part 2: Separation Anxiety | Jax in the Box

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