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Babysitting: 5 Questions to Ask Before You Take the Job

Every family you babysit for will be a little different. Knowing what to expect can make your babysitting experience safer, easier, and a lot more enjoyable. Here are 5 questions to ask before you take a job:

1. "What are the hours?"

You know what time to arrive. But what about when you'll be finished? If you're relying on your parents or another family member to drive you home, you'll need an idea of when you'll be done.

So when the family who hired you lets you know what time to show up, ask for an estimate of when they'll be home so you can let your own family know when to expect you.

Even if you asked about hours when you accepted the job, check again when you get there. If there's a last-minute change and it doesn't work for your schedule, let the parents know. And if you'll be home later than you thought, tell your family so they don't worry.

2. "How many kids will I be babysitting?"

You think you're babysitting for the Simon twins, but when you arrive you also find their two 5-year-old cousins and a 7-year-old friend. Perhaps you're not ready to take care of five small kids at once. Most adults aren't! So ask ahead of time how many kids there will be — including friends and relatives.

If you arrive and there are more kids than you expected, say something to the parents. They may let you call a friend to help, or they may call and ask another babysitter to come and join you. If that doesn't work, tell the parents that you are concerned about the safety of the children with only one caregiver for so many kids. When it comes to the responsibility of caring for children, you shouldn't have to do something you're not comfortable with. And if you get loaded up with too many kids again, cross the family off your babysitting list.

3. "What kinds of things will you need me to do?"

It's not unusual for parents to want you to feed the kids or help with homework before you put them to bed. Find out exactly what's expected of you. That way, if you'll be doing something like bathing the kids or giving them medications, you can ask a parent to go over what's involved.

If you'll be feeding kids or planning activities, you'll want to find out if there are any health issues like food allergies or special care needs. Plus, knowing what parents expect of you gives you an opportunity to ask about family rules: Are certain foods (like soda or candy) limited or off limits completely? What about specific activities, like TV watching or computer time?

4. "Do you have pets, a pool, or anything else I should know about?"

Most parents love sitters who ask questions — it's a sign of responsibility. And the answers give you a heads-up on what to prepare for. For example, if you're allergic to cats or afraid of big dogs, you might not want to take a job where you'll be around pets. Even if you love animals, it helps to know if you'll be expected to walk the dog or if there are three dogs in addition to three kids, which might seem like too much.

Perhaps the family has elderly grandparents they'd like you to include at mealtimes. Maybe a child has special needs. Asking questions helps you know what to expect.

It's also good to know if the family has a pool. If it's a nice day and you're allowed to play with the kids in the pool, you may want to bring your bathing suit! Before you take kids into a pool, even a family pool, ask the parents about the kids' swimming skills and see if you can bring a friend to help in the water. If you will be supervising kids around pools, it's a good idea to know about pool safety — or take a lifeguard training course to be even more prepared. If the kids are very young, ask if the pool is fenced in and has a gate that locks.

5. "How will I get home?"

This is a question to ask yourself (and your family if they'll be driving you!). If the parents of your babysitting charges offer to take you home, that's great. But don't assume that they can or will. It's your responsibility to provide transport to and from the job, unless you agree otherwise.

If you aren't a driver or don't have a car with you, make sure that you have a ride home lined up in advance. If someone in your family is picking you up, remind that person before you leave the house. Or, know bus times or other ways to get home. If you live within walking distance and it's after dark when the parents get back, ask someone to walk you home.

Babysitting can bring all kinds of surprises — both good and bad. Knowing what to expect helps you prepare. And with preparation comes confidence!

Reviewed by: Kate M. Cronan, MD
Date reviewed: February 2013