A while ago, my cousin approached me and asked me to write a list or guideline to help her daughters prepare to become babysitters. They had taken care of their siblings before, but were just coming of age to take care of other people’s kids. She wanted them to be quality babysitters, so she asked me to help put in words what a mom REALLY wants in a babysitter. She asked me because she knows I feel pretty strongly about quality babysitters…and the fact that they are hard to come by these days. We had some really great babysitters at the time, plus some really bad ones, so I took the good, the bad, and the ugly from all our experiences and put together a very long and exhaustive narrative about babysitting. And now I’m going to share it with you. In a minute.
My husband and I love going on dates. I think every couple needs them. But to pay for a babysitter is challenging if you’re on a tight budget. So you either go on less dates or shorter dates. I don’t know about you, but constantly checking your watch (or cell phone) and calculating how much every minute of quality time you are spending with your spouse is costing you sure cuts down on the “quality” part.
I know a lot of people who have successfully worked out babysitting swaps, like Janae. Hats off to you! Janae mentions a few tips to making a swap successful, though I’d add one more. Find people who have similar genders to you. It is hard for us to swap with people who have boys, since we have only girls. We have no toys for boys (or very few) so most boys end up getting restless and rambunctious. And they don’t really play with our girls. So there’s way more trying to entertain and keep things under control, rather than the kids just having a great time together. We’ve had very little success putting together babysitting swaps or co-ops for a variety of reasons, which means we’re left with babysitters.
Most of my friends tell me that they only care that their children are alive when they come home, and that they don’t care what happened in between. I’m not like that. I’m picky. Maybe too picky, but I’m just so frustrated at the laziness of my sitters and then their expectation to be paid as much as my husband was paid to work when he was in college. I don’t think babysitters are as well trained as they used to be. Remember “The Babysitters’ Club”? I read that series religiously. Today, babysitting usually involves plopping the kids in front of the TV while you tweet or Facebook or text.
In case you feel a little bit like I do and want to give your babysitter an idea of what you expect, or if you’re a mom trying to prepare your 10 or 11 or 12 year old to start babysitting, here are a couple tips I’d give. I tried to make it as conclusive as I possibly could, so it sounds WAY more extreme than I really am. But it at least covers all the bases.
TO THE BABYSITTER:
- Talk to the mom. If she’s talking to you, make conversation. Actually look her in the eye.
- When you get to the house, talk to the kids, even if it is awkward. Usually, the mom and dad still needed to get ready for another minute, so jump into babysitting mode even before they leave the house. If they’re trying to get dinner on, ask if you can stir the pasta or set the table. Or if they are trying to get ready, ask the kids if you can read them a book or if they want to show you their toys.
- Follow the instructions the parents gave you. Even if it is tempting to throw on a movie the whole time, if mom said no TV, that means no TV. If mom said only do TV as an absolute last result, be creative and make sure you never have to use it. She meant no TV. If she said movies are okay, only watch one.
- Put the kids to bed around the time that mom said they should go down. Even if it is hard to get them to cooperate, at least do your best. But be firm. They will want to manipulate you so if they ask for water for the 10th time, you need to put your foot down and tell them no. Or say, “I will come back in 10 minutes with a cup of water for you. If you have been quiet and stayed in your bed, you can have a drink. Otherwise, we’ll have to wait for you to cooperate.” Usually, the kid will be asleep before you come back. And they didn’t NEED the drink anyway.
- If you make a mess, clean it up. If the kids make a mess, clean it up. If mom made a mess, do your best to clean it up. Even if you want to sit down to watch TV or read a book or whatever after the kids go to bed, spend 10 minutes cleaning up and you will be rewarded for it. Either they will call you back or pay you more or you’ll just feel good about it. But there is nothing worse than coming home after a date and having to clean the house. Especially if the mess was created by the sitter.
- Spice things up during the night. Do different activities so you and the kids aren’t getting bored. Spend some time coloring, some time outside, some time reading, some time playing a game, some time eating, and some time getting ready for bed.
- When the mom drives you home and asks, “How’d it go?” she really does want to know how it went. But if you just complain about how hard things were for YOU, it’s not going to be impressive. So, talk about the kids. “They did great. Tommy was a little sad after you left, but we played games and he had a great time.” Also, remember that the kids are going to talk tomorrow so if you did something you don’t want the mom to know about (i.e. Gave them extra ice cream or whatever) she’s going to find out about it tomorrow.
- Never count the money in front of the mom. As tempting as it may be, don’t do it. This isn’t about the money, it’s about the kids. When she asks you, “How much do you charge?” say “I don’t charge a certain amount.” Don’t follow that up with “Some people pay me $10 an hour and others less, so you do what you want” because that means you do care about the money. So just let them know you don’t charge a certain amount.
- Don’t toot your own horn. Don’t say things like “Yeah, I’m pretty much the neighborhood babysitter” or ” yeah, most people think I’m the best babysitter.” It’s about the kids, not you. So talk about how much you enjoy babysitting, if someone asks.
Wow, that’s a lot. Sounds really picky. But mainly I was just going thru things that I think will set a girl apart as one of the best babysitters. Sure, she doesn’t have to follow all the rules. They’re just suggestions anyway. Just trying to help.
Some of my favorite babysitters come prepared with a Babysitting Bag. Just like in “The Babysitter’s Club” or even “The Berenstain Bears-The Sitter,” they come prepared with special things to make the night even more special for the kids. It would be fun for a bunch of girls to make babysitting bags and stock them together. Here are a few of the things our sitters have brought, as well as some other things.
BRING (not all each time, but mix it up):
- Nail polish for girls. They LOVE it!
- A coloring book for each kid to use WHILE YOU’RE THERE. Not to keep, but something new to color in.
- A book to read (for the kids)
- Maybe a craft or some play dough or something. Ooh…beads. Super fun.
- Age appropriate puzzles
- Maybe some matchbox cars for the boys
- A fun movie if it is approved by the mom ahead of time
- A game
- We had a girl bring those capsules with a shaped sponge in them. That was fun. Or shrinky dinks the kids could color and melt (though that involves the oven…maybe not a good idea). Or perler beads (though that involves the iron…another potential bad idea). Or foam stickers. Or any little activity.
- Lip Gloss. Cold sores are contagious and I don’t know where your lip gloss has been.
- One babysitter once brought embroidery floss to make friendship bracelets. While that was a sweet thought, the girls were obviously too young to participate, so it meant her doing it while the girls did something else. Don’t bring things that are going to require your time away from the kids.
- While bringing cookie dough or something to make with them would be FUN, only do it with permission. If you don’t know the family’s rules about sweets, you may be overstepping your bounds.
Hope that helps! What have your babysitters brought that you love or hate? What else do you like or not like?