What your babysitter wants you to know

May 15, 2010 at 1:30 a.m. ET

When you hire a babysitter or a nanny, you probably spend some time asking questions about experience and telling your sitter what you need and expect. But do you take the time to let your nanny tell you what she thinks is important? Here's what she wishes you knew -- straight from the source.


In the not-so-distant future, my 11-year-old will be old enough to stay home with her younger siblings, and I will spend significantly less time calling around the neighborhood for a sitter. Until that glorious day some three years hence, however, I'm stuck doing the sitter shuffle.

Over the last decade, I've used a handful of trusted sitters and nannies to take care of my five children, and I've learned a fair amount. But recently, I called the experts at Care.com, whose mission is to provide a trusted place for families and care providers to easily connect, share caregiving experiences, and get advice. Turns out there are a lot of questions we're not asking our sitters, and some pretty significant information they want us to know.

What you should know about your nanny

A career nanny generally has credentials and certifications from the Red Cross and other agencies and thinks of herself as a professional. If you hire a nanny for her experience and knowledge, you need to give her the space to use that experience as well as respect it.

It's also very important to remember to tell your child's school, day care, and camp that you have a nanny and sign permission forms for her to pick up your kids if that's part of her job description. If the school isn't expecting the nanny and doesn't have signed forms on file, the situation can quickly become unpleasant for everyone.


Before you hire a nanny, be very clear about the job responsibilities. If you expect housecleaning, you should expect to pay for it -- and define specifically what should be done. Remember, too, that your nanny needs vacation at times, and you'll need to work out how many paid days off she has. Take the time to put everything in writing before you hire someone.

>> Questions to ask before you hire a sitter

Get to know your casual sitter

When you hire a teenager or even a college student as a casual babysitter, it's important to remember that he or she needs direction. Write down specific descriptions of tasks that seem obvious to you -- like warming a bottle in a pot of hot water instead of sticking it in the microwave -- so that your sitter can do them just the way you want.

>> See our tips for choosing a teenage babysitter

Babysitters love regular sitting arrangements -- it gives them a chance to establish a relationship with the kids and family -- but they expect some loyalty from you. If you want your sitter to be available every Monday night, then you should pay her even on the rare occasions you have to cancel at the last minute. That way, she knows that you value her time.

Dos and don'ts for parents

Nannies and sitters both have some legitimate gripes about parents who sometimes seem to throw them to the wolves. For example, if you tell the sitter that your kids can't watch any television during the week, make sure that's the rule when you're home, too. It's unfair to hold your sitter to a standard you don't stick to, and it undermines her authority ("My mom always lets me watch iCarly before bed!")

Don't tell your sitter that your kids can't have any sugar if you have a pantry full of juice boxes, "fruit" snacks, and sugary cereals. If you don't want your kids to have sugar, don't stock it in the house. It's unfair to load your kids up on candy and cookies and then expect the sitter to get them into bed.

A new caregiver needs a little help in the beginning. The first time you leave someone new with your children, plan to stick around for at least a short while. Introduce everyone, get the kids used to the routine, and answer any questions.

>> Taking the sitter on vacation? Read this first!

Feeling nervous? Totally normal. Stop by the house and check in unexpectedly. A confident, successful caregiver expects this behavior and won't have a problem with it. In fact, she'll be thrilled to have a chance to prove that you can trust her. If there is a problem, even a small one, talk about it. Don't let little resentments build up.

With a little prep work, you and your caregiver can have a long, happy relationship.

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