We have a 6-month-old baby, and my husband and I feel like we might be ready to go on a "date" alone for a few hours. I know I did a lot of babysitting when I was a teen, but I am still concerned about hiring a teenager to babysit for our son! What should we look for in a teenage babysitter? - Ricki in Petaluma, California
Good for you for wanting some "alone time"! With a little sleuthing, you can certainly find a very good babysitter and enjoy a well-deserved night out with adults only.
The qualities to look for in a teenage babysitter are comparable to the fundamental characteristics of all fine caregivers.
Likes kids: First and foremost is to find a babysitter who likes kids. Don't assume that everyone who babysits likes children -- lots of teens do it for the money or because there are no other jobs available.
Common sense: The next critical element is a healthy dose of common sense. Don't worry: there are rarely real emergencies while a child is being babysat. However, it is important that the babysitter be able to exercise good judgement on a range of everyday issues such as safety, comforting the crying baby and appropriate types of activities. A related characteristic is responsibility, meaning a caregiver who is trustworthy and knows how to handle childcare matters.
Experienced: Try to seek out a babysitter who has experience with babies. In my area, many sitters have worked with toddlers and young children of pre-school age. It is less common that a babysitter works with younger children, especially because many parents share your hesitation on using a sitter at this age. By no means does that suggest that you should stay home for the next 52 Saturday nights, in fact, you probably deserve a night out! Still, it is worth looking for someone who is comfortable and experienced with babies.
Teachable: If you can't find an experienced of sitter, consider "training" the person. Invite the sitter over for two hours (paid, of course) while you are home and let her get to know your child, change a diaper and hold him for a bit. That way, you will be able to assess firsthand if she is up to the task.
Has references: For the first time using a babysitter, it is reasonable to ask for references (if you didn't get the name from other families who have used her and been satisfied). It takes just a few minutes on the phone and can make you feel much better about the sitter's qualifications and capabilities.
Some final advice for your first foray into Parents' Night Out:
So go out and have a great time!
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