All parents need breaks from parenting and time to do their own thing. Babysitters can help with this, but you want to feel confident you’re leaving your child with someone you can trust. It’s also important to prepare the babysitter and your child for the babysitting arrangement.
Finding a babysitter
If you decide that hiring a babysitter is a child care option that suits your family, it’s important to choose the right person for the role. If you don’t have a close and trusted family member or friend who can babysit your child, you could think about the following options:
- Ask parents from playgroup or kinder, friends or your child health nurse if they know of a good babysitter – this might be someone they’ve used and have been happy with in the past.
- If your child attends formal child care, ask your child’s carers if they’re interested in babysitting after hours.
- Babysitters often advertise on noticeboards at child care centres, local schools, community centres, universities, libraries or local shops. You could also look in your local newspaper. If you don’t know the babysitter, check experience and references carefully. If the babysitter doesn’t offer you references, make sure you ask for some.
You can find formal babysitting agencies in the Yellow Pages or on the internet. Other parents might also be able to recommend one.
Agencies can provide experienced babysitters, often at short notice. A possible drawback is that you might not have a chance to find out if the babysitter is the right fit for your family before the sitter arrives to care for your child.
Agencies conduct police checks to find out whether potential employees have any prior convictions recorded against them. They also ensure the people on their books are of good character via reference checks.
In some states or territories, babysitters employed by agencies are required to have a Working with Children Check card. To find out more about police checks and Working with Children Checks, see the state-based table at the end of this article.
Your friends or parents of your child’s friends can make great babysitters. You can set up these sorts of babysitting arrangements in various ways. For example, you can pay a standard rate or try a babysitting swap, where you take turns to babysit for each other. You can also join or set up a babysitting club with other parents.
What to look for in a babysitter
A good babysitter is someone you can trust with your child, and someone you and your child get along with. You might want to check that the babysitter has experience caring for children the same age as your child. References and recommendations will help you choose someone with an experienced track record in caring for children.
You also need to consider practical issues, such as availability. If Saturday nights are when you often need a babysitter, there’s probably no point asking your friend’s teenage child to do the job. Likewise, if you usually need someone at short notice, a busy aunt or uncle probably isn’t your best bet.
Above all, your child will be the best judge of whether the sitter is someone who fits well with your family.
Babies, young children and older children all need different styles of care. For carers employed to look after babies, experience in the care of a baby is vital. Generally, the younger your child is, the more experienced the carer should be. If your carer is under 18, you might be legally responsible for the carer as well as your own child if something goes wrong.
Preparing for a babysitter
It’s a good idea to take the time to introduce the babysitter to your house and family. You should also provide the sitter with all necessary information to take good care of your child. The following checklist might help you get started.
- Show the babysitter around the house. Explain door keys and locks, heating and cooling systems, and where the telephone is.
- Tell the babysitter where you’re going and when you’ll be back, and leave a contact phone number (preferably a mobile).
- Give the sitter information about giving your child medicine, if necessary. Also let the sitter know about any other medical issues, such as your child’s asthma plan.
- Explain any food allergies or intolerances, or any food not allowed.
- Explain the daily or evening routines for your child, particularly those for meals, rest times and bedtime.
- Provide the babysitter with some information about managing behaviour, such as what to do if your child refuses to go to bed.
- Explain what to do if your child becomes upset or wakes up after going to sleep.
- Explain the rules of the house that might apply to your child, such as eating only at the table, or no TV after 6 pm.
- Explain rules about your home and possessions that might apply to your sitter, such as no eating on the lounge, no smoking in the house, and no drinking alcohol.
- Say if you don’t want the sitter to carry out certain activities, such as bathing your child or going out in the car.
- Leave out a blanket, pillow and snacks for the sitter, as well as instructions for the TV and DVD.
You might also want to talk through safety rules, particularly if you’d like the babysitter to be responsible for activities such as bathing your child.
- Bath times: the sitter should first make sure the bath water is a safe temperature, then stay with your child at all times. Read our article on bath safety for more information.
- Mealtimes: the sitter should supervise your child in the kitchen, and while your child is eating. Hot drinks should be kept well out of reach.
- Bedtimes: the sitter should know and follow the rules for safe sleeping.
- Toddlers: the sitter will need to be able to keep up with your child’s energy and speed. You should also let the sitter know to keep a constant eye out for the toddler tendency to put interesting objects into nostrils and ears.
- Transport: if the sitter will be using your pram, explain how to open and use it. If driving your car is allowed, ensure the sitter follows your rules about car safety. If the car is the babysitter’s own, check there’s a seat suitable for your child.
- Ovens and stove tops: if you’re allowing use of the oven or stove top, provide instructions on how to use them properly.
- In case of emergency: have the 000 emergency number clearly displayed, as well as phone numbers for the local doctor and poisons information. Also show the babysitter where you keep your first aid kit, fire extinguisher or fire blankets.
Preparing your child
Even children who are used to spending time away from you can make a fuss if you’re going out and leaving them with a babysitter. Try these tips:
Give advance notice. On the day the babysitter is coming, let your child know that someone else will be looking after him, and for how long.
Prepare some special activities or food. If time with the babysitter includes something special, it can help make the event something your child can look forward to.
Let your child play host. An older child can benefit from helping to show the babysitter around – she could show how to work the TV, or even explain some house rules.
Give your child something to show. Children as young as three can benefit from having something special or important – such as a doll, a drawing or a favourite photograph – to show their babysitter. It can be the start of a game or a conversation that will ease the first few moments.
Always say goodbye to your child. It can be tempting to sneak out if the babysitter has your child distracted with a game, but your child might get upset once he notices you’re gone. Let your child know what time you’ll be home, and ring the sitter if you’re going to be late. Sometimes a child can be reassured if you say you’ll come in for a kiss goodnight, even if he’ll be asleep by then.
Concerns about your babysitter
If you have concerns about the babysitter’s behaviour, you have a few options.
You can express your concerns and clarify your expectations about the behaviour, or you can tell the babysitter you won’t be using him or her again.
If you suspect behaviour that’s in any way damaging to your child – excessive yelling, hitting or other physical abuse – you have every right to ask the babysitter to leave immediately. You should also report your experience to any agency, centre or person who recommended the babysitter. Finally, consider whether the situation should be reported to the police.
Even if you don’t have any concerns, it’s always a good idea to watch for your child’s reaction to the babysitter. If your child’s old enough, talk about the babysitting experience with her.