It can be difficult for
parents to find a teenage baby-sitter they feel comfortable using.
When they leave their child for an afternoon or evening, they want
to know that he’ll be happy and safe. Yet it’s hard to tell from a
quick conversation or a few minutes’ observation whether a sitter
will be responsible. The best way for parents to select a sitter is
to ask for recommendations, get to know the sitter, and monitor
carefully the way she performs the job.
To find potential sitters, ask friends, neighbors, relatives, and co
workers for recommendations. You also can ask local high school
teachers or counselors for suggestions. Good sources of names are
sitters who may be too busy to work for you but who can pass on
names of friends. ‘Whatever your source for baby-sitters, get
suggestions from people you trust. Also, as you seek referrals, keep
in mind the ages of baby-sitters. Parents of infants may prefer an
older teenager while parents of four- and five-year-olds may be
comfortable enough with a twelve- to fourteen-year-old sitter who
will keep their child entertained.
After you’ve contacted a potential sitter, invite her to your home
so you can observe her with your child. Ask questions about her
activities, schoolwork, and friends. She’ll be pleased that you take
an interest in her, and from her responses you’ll get to know what
she’s like. Watch as she interacts with your child. Is she friendly,
playful, nurturing? How does your child respond to her? One father
was delighted when the girl he was interviewing spontaneously took
out her keys and jiggled them in front of his whimpering
eighteen-month-old, calming the child. If the sitter is young or
inexperienced, you may want to meet her parents—and they may want to
If you decide to use the sitter, have her arrive early on the day
she’ll watch your child so you can give her instructions. Teenagers
need strong guidance and limits, so be prepared to tell your sitter
in detail what your expectations are. Describe how you want her to
handle feeding, playtime, television, toilet use, and bedtime, and
write down your instructions so she can refer to them later. Make it
clear if you don’t want her to talk on the phone, invite her friends
to your house, or take your child outside.
Before you leave, let your sitter know how you can be reached and
leave emergency phone numbers. You might want to write down a list
of activities your child enjoys and another list of things to do
(take out play dough, read books) if he gets silly or hard to
handle. A four- or five-year-old may spend time testing a new sitter
and feeling a sense of power: “This is my house, my food, my TV” Let
your child know ahead of time that you expect him to behave
appropriately, and let your sitter know that it may take time for
him to feel comfortable.
If he has a difficult time separating from you, you might feel
tempted to leave without warning him or saying good-bye. But if you
do this, you’ll probably increase his anxiety. It’s better to tell
him you’re going and have the sitter comfort him as you leave. If
he’ll be asleep when you go, tell him before bedtime, “While you’re
sleeping, Kim will come and baby-sit for you.” You also can take
time before the baby-sitter arrives to tell your child about the fun
he and she will have. If you let the sitter do special things with
him—give an extra dessert, play a new game—he may be less anxious
about you're leaving.
While you’re out, call home to see how things are going.
Occasionally, your sitter will tell you that your child isn’t
feeling well and you’ll then have to cut your evening short. This
can be frustrating and at times upsetting. But it will happen less
and less as your child gets older.
Trust your instincts. If you feel that something happened while you
were away, try to find out about it. If your child seems unhappy
with a sitter, try to learn why. You can ask a three- to
five-year-old, “What do you like about Michelle? What don’t you
like?” Although you may hear some exaggerated stories, you should
take him seriously when he says, “She yells too much,” or, “She
tries to scare us.” If you’re unsure about a sitter, ask a neighbor
or relative to come by and check next time the sitter is at your
house. And if you feel that a sitter is not responsible, stop using
her and look for someone else. In order to enjoy your time away from
home, you have to feel good about the person watching your child.