How to Find the Perfect Babysitter: 8 Dos & Don'ts

Finding a sitter? Hard. Finding a sitter you love, even tougher. Tammy Gold feels your pain. Even as a licensed psychotherapist with years of training, she, too, felt overwhelmed when she became a parent and had to hire someone to watch her daughter for the first time.

In fact, it made such an impact on Tammy that she became a parent coach to offer the emotional hand-holding she wished she'd had. Now a mom of three, she has a book out: Secrets of the Nanny Whisperer: A Practical Guide for Finding and Achieving the Gold Standard of Care for Your Child.

In an exclusive to The Stir, Tammy shared what parents need to look for in a caregiver (hint: there's something more important than experience), the question you should always ask their former employer, and how to set your sitter (and kids) up for success.


Do take the time to find a good sitter. "Ninety percent of the human brain grows by the age of 3, so the people who spend a great deal of time with children have a huge impact on them," explains Gold. "If there's a sitter who is feeding and changing the child but on her phone, distracted, and not interacting, she's not fostering the brain growth process." For instance, a preschool-aged child needs a caregiver who's willing to let them explore. "If the caregiver doesn't want to paint because it's too dirty or doesn't want to go to the park because it takes too much time, that nanny isn't meeting the developmental needs of the child," Gold says. "Every day, so much happens to children socially, educationally, and emotionally. Parents need to find caregivers who can stimulate and nurture these areas."

Don't discount someone who doesn't have education or experience if they love kids. "'Loves kids' is key over education or even years in this business," Gold emphasizes. "You want to look for someone who has the desire, energy, and pure devotion to care for children." And make sure you also find someone who's eager to share details about their past jobs, since that will help you get insight to their character.
Do your interviews. Surprisingly, interviews can mean very little in the caregiving world. "Most sitters are terrible with interviews and wonderful with children!" confides Gold. But that doesn't mean you should skip meeting with your new caregiver-to-be entirely. Her suggestion: Do two in-home trials to see your potential sitter "in action" -- both with your kids and as your employee. "You want to look for a desire to work hard, even if they make a mistake; someone with the energy to keep up with your kids; and someone who seems happy," says Gold. "It's so important that sitters come to work in a good, positive mood because children feel the negativity."
Don't ignore your deal breakers. Just like every caregiver is different, so is every family, Gold says. "For instance, one family may not care if a sitter is a bit late each day as long as she is amazing when she arrives, while another may say, 'Our dealbreaker is being late. We both work and commute.'" Lay out these needs from the start so you save yourself time and energy.

More From The Stir: 6 Signs Your Baby is Ready to Be Left With a Sitter

Do take your time to find someone. Rush into hiring a sitter, and you may miss a red flag. "Take time to outline your 'musts,' so you don't waste countless hours interviewing, doing trials, and background checks when a person can't even fulfill the basic outline of their needs," Gold says. And make sure to match the skills of the sitter specifically to your needs. Just because the sitter was great for your neighbor doesn't mean they'll be great for you.

Don't ask former employers how she was at her last job. Typically, you'll call a sitter's former employer and ask how they did at that job. But Gold recommends asking instead how they think the sitter would do at your house. "You want to focus on the future of your job, not the past of other jobs that might be very different. You may find that she's not good with infants, isn't proactive enough to handle the needs of a full-time working mom, and could never handle homework on a nightly basis," she says.

Do think about sharing childcare costs. In a nation where the average cost of putting an infant in daycare is higher than the costs to feed a family, watching the bottom line is paramount. So how do you afford a babysitter? "Sitter shares, where you and another family share a sitter for the entire week or split up the week, are a great alternative, especially for young babies who may need closer contact and 1-to-1 care," Gold suggests. "It works well when the caregiver has experience with multiple children and your kids are of similar ages. Also, some parents mix daycare or preschool with a part-time sitter."

Don't be afraid to tell your sitter when she's done something wrong. "A lot of parents hold things in and are not as clear as they can be, then get angry when the sitter does something wrong," Gold says. "So many sitters have told me, 'I wish she would have just told me to cook dinner, not said 'if you have time!'" She recommends parents use what she calls, "Nanny Speak 1-2-3." First, you say what you want for your children. ("They're going to music class at 9 a.m.") Two, say what you need from the sitter, such as, "I need you to dress the kids and pack their snacks." And three, be clear about what you need for yourself. (For instance, "I'll be late today so I need the kids bathed and fed by the time I'm home.") "The clearer you can be," says Gold, "the more easily your sitter will understand."

How did you find your favorite sitter?

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