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Choosing and Instructing a Babysitter

Finding a qualified babysitter takes time and effort. But your reward is knowing that your child is in capable hands. You'll want to find someone who is mature and friendly, has common sense, and is genuinely fond of children.

The recommendations of people you know and trust are your best bet for finding a reliable and capable babysitter. If you're new to the area and don't know how to find a sitter:

  • Your neighbors or coworkers might have recommendations.
  • Ask at your place of worship.
  • See if staff in your pediatrician's office has suggestions.
  • Check with your local YMCA, community hospital, or American Red Cross chapter for a list of babysitters. Many will have completed a babysitting safety and infant and child CPR courses.
  • If your child is in a daycare or after-school care program, ask staff members if they babysit or have recommendations.

Interviewing sitters and checking their references will help you narrow down your choices. Prepare a list of questions to ask ahead of time.

Ask sitters:

  • about their experience caring for kids 
  • whether they're certified in infant and child CPR
  • if they've taken a babysitter course
  • how they feel about pets, if you have one

It's a good idea to invite sitters over for a test run while you're at home. That way, they can get familiar with your household and you'll see how they interact with your children.

Babysitter Instructions

Before you leave, prepare the sitter. Be sure to:

  • Go over your child's usual routine (homework, bedtime, meal times). Talk about your general house rules, including any limits on TV, computer use, video games, playing outside, etc.
  • Tell the sitter where you will be and how to reach you at all times, and under what circumstances to call 911 before contacting you.
  • Show the sitter where you've posted the poison control center number — 1-800-222-1222. It should be somewhere easy to see and find.
  • Make sure the sitter knows whom to contact in an emergency. Provide an emergency phone list that includes:
    • neighbors
    • friends
    • relatives
    • your doctor
  • Text or write your own phone number and address. That way, if there's an emergency, the sitter can give that information to the 911 operator.
  • Show the babysitter where emergency exits, smoke detectors, and fire extinguishers are.
  • Show the sitter how to enable and disable security systems and alarms, if you have them.
  • Show the sitter where you keep the inside door keys in case a child locks himself or herself inside a room.
  • Let the sitter know of any special problems your child may have, such as:
    • an allergy (to bee stings, a food etc.)
    • needing to take a medicine at a specific time (explain and write down the directions)
  • Review your first-aid kit with the sitter.

Teach kids how to use 911 to call for help, so that if something happens to your babysitter, they know what to do.

Let your babysitter know your expectations before you leave. If you'd prefer that the sitter not leave the house with your child, make that clear. If the babysitter drives, ask about their driving experience, and let them know the rules about driving your kids. If visitors are off-limits, discuss those restrictions.

Sitter Safety

Make sure the sitter knows these safety rules:

  • Don't give your child any medicine without your specific instruction.
  • Don't leave kids alone in the house or yard, even for a minute.
  • Don't leave kids unattended near water. Infants and small children can drown in only a few inches of water, even in a bucket or toilet.

If you have kids under 4 years old, the babysitter should know these rules:

  • Don't feed them popcorn, nuts, hard candy, raw carrots, or any hard, smooth foods that can block the windpipe and cause choking
  • Don't serve foods such as hot dogs or grapes whole. They should be chopped into very small pieces, and the skin removed from hot dogs.
  • Don't let kids play with plastic bags, latex balloons, coins, or other small objects that they could choke on.
  • Don't let kids play near stairs, windows, stoves, or electrical outlets.

After you return, ask your kids if they enjoyed the sitter's visit. When you find a reliable sitter they like, you're sure to have a more relaxing and enjoyable time away from home.

Reviewed by: Kate M. Cronan, MD
Date reviewed: August 2019