How to Find the Perfect Babysitter

toddler and baby sitting on the floor
(Christina Bennett/DVIDS)

One of my least favorite parts about military life is leaving behind the great helper people I’ve found when we move. It seems particularly cruel to abandon a great hair stylist, babysitter you trust with the lives of your little (or not so little) ones or a dentist that doesn’t fill your heart with fear.

Babysitters seem to be a particularly difficult challenge to find at all. And since when you do you’re relying on another person who likely has some military ties, the chances that one of you will move away sooner rather than later is pretty good.

So how do you find and keep someone great? How do you locate just the right people to trust with your kids?

Here is what I’ve learned. And while it's not always 100% successful, it has proven a pretty good system over our many years.

1. Know where to look. How do you find a sitter in a new area? You have no local friends who can make recommendations and you’ve yet to really meet your neighbors or their teenagers. So where do you go?

I always start with SitterCity.com, and I’ve been very successful using it to find perfect sitters to hang out with my little guys. You can use the site to post a sitter opening as well as job details. Sitters can then apply for the job, and the site will send you their profile and any additional information they chose to include. You can also use the site to search for potential candidates and reach out to them individually. Care.com offers a similar service, although I've never used it. For the sake of this post, I'll be referring back to SitterCity.

2. Be a snob. When it comes to the needs of your household and your priorities for your children, you have a right to be snobby -- especially if you’re in the market for a sitter you plan to hire frequently. If using a site like SitterCity, look at your babysitting job posting as you would any job opening. You don’t need to respond to every applicant, and you can pick and choose which ones you plan to pursue based on whatever criteria you like. I ignore, for example, every “application” written in all caps, ones that utilize no punctuation or people who don’t bother to run spell-check. In my mind, there's a clear difference between the occasional accidental error and systemic carelessness. To me, those are signs that the person applying doesn’t care. And where my kids are concerned, you better care a lot.

But what if you don’t get any applications? Can you still be picky? First, consider the timing of your job posting. I find I get far more responses when I post in early summer than when I post during, say, the first week of the local college semester. I guarantee you babysitters are out there – they just aren’t scrolling through SitterCity in large numbers. And yes, you can still be picky. These are your children we're talking about. Take the time to individually message some candidates suggested by SitterCity and you may get lucky.

3. Interview your sitter. Just like you, I don’t want to leave my kids with someone I don’t know or someone who hasn’t come recommended by a trusted friend. So I ask them to come for a brief interview to discuss details, expectations and to meet my kids.

You can learn a lot about a person during a short interview. For example, did they cancel your meeting at the last minute? Are they 30 minutes late? This is probably not someone you want to rely on to be there on time so you can get to your doctor's appointment. And how do they look? If someone doesn’t care enough to take off their jammie pants to meet with you, well ….

This is also a great time to discuss expectations. Talk about what’s important to you when you hire a babysitter. I always tell them that I expect the TV to stay off. I also always mention that I expect them to clean-up whatever mess they make either in the kitchen or with my kids. I’m not asking them to clean my house, just clean up after themselves.

Make sure to ask them about their expectations as well. How much are they usually paid? Do they have any concerns about your kids? All of this stuff lays the foundation of a great sitter-parent relationship.

4. Plan to pay well. When we asked SpouseBuzz readers how to find and keep a great sitter their advice was universal – if you want greatness you’re going to have to pay for it. In our area, $8 is considered on the high end, and that’s what I pay per hour. When a sitter tells me, as one did just yesterday, that they charge $6 an hour I say I pay $8. Working for me and taking very good care of my precious babies should be worth their time. I also tend to round up to the nearest $5 increment.

Babysitters ARE pricey. And it DOES add up. But in my mind, that's all the more reason to make doubly sure you have hired someone you value. If I'm going to make this kind of an investment for a few hours a week in my children and a caretaker, I want it to be worth it. Laying the groundwork for that is the most important part.

Don’t know what is average in your area? SitterCity has a tool allowing you to enter your zip code and find out.

5. Think you’ve found the one? Do a test drive. If you think this is the sitter for you, ask them to come over for a short sit as soon as possible. Tell the sitter you’ll be gone between an hour and an hour and a half, and then return closer to the one hour mark so that you can catch them in action with your kids.

Many sitters ask for a minimum time or pay commitment to make the job worth the gas to get there. I don't want to leave my kids with a new sitter for hours on end -- but I am willing to pay the minimum to test them out. Again, the cost of this can add up. But this is my way of making sure I have the best possible person with my little guys.

When you get back, ask them how it went, what they did – get as many details as possible. Did your kids cry? Why? What did they play with? What did they talk about? What did they eat? You know your kids better than anyone else – and talking about what they did and said can clue you in about how the sitter interacted with them.

If you have older kids who can give you their own sitter report, wait until they leave to ask them the same questions.

6. Follow-up. If you've gotten this far and this isn't the sitter for you then you owe them a "thanks but no thanks" email or phone call. You don't have to give specifics - just say you've found someone else or that you don't think she's the right fit for your kids.

If this is the right person for your kids, make sure you let them know that, too. Schedule another sit soon, and rejoice that you've hit babysitter gold.

And that’s it! While finding a sitter may take some serious work, having a few go-to gals or guys you can trust with your kids will be well worth it.

What are your tips?

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