What questions to ask a prospective babysitter?
December 12, 2006 8:35 PM   Subscribe

What questions should we ask of a prospective babysitter?

We are going to be interviewing a few high-school age kids to try to build up a short list of some prospective babysitters for our daughter (16 months). Up until now we've only had close friends volunteer for infrequent babysitting duties.
Any specific questions we should be asking during these 'interviews'?
Will also take any words of advice regarding babysitters in general.
posted by dan g. to Human Relations (34 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I'm assuming you'll ask about thier previous experience in babysitting, right? I'd also ask if they've had any training - I know there are courses kids of that age can take to learn the basics. You might also want to consider asking some scenario based questions - what would you do "if" sort of stuff.
posted by blaneyphoto at 8:43 PM on December 12, 2006

What sort of activities do you like to do with the kids you babysit?
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:44 PM on December 12, 2006 [1 favorite]

Do they know how to perform CPR?
posted by Sara Anne at 8:54 PM on December 12, 2006

Ask for references, names and contact info for other families the sitter works with. Then, ask the references the same questions you ask the sitter. Any troubling discrepancies can tell you both about the sitter's trustworthiness and about potential problem areas to look out for.
posted by decathecting at 8:58 PM on December 12, 2006

Make sure they have taken a CPR class, and know how to do CPR on a baby. They taught this in my high school, so these high-schoolers may have taken it.

YMCA also teaches a baby-sitting class. You could try to find someone who has taken some sort of class like this. Also ask for references. Call them and find out what they thought of the sitter. If they've never babysat before, maybe call a teacher and find out how responsible they are with school work.

Do a trial run with the person you're considering. Have them watch your daughter for a few hours with you there, then run to the store so they have some time alone, and you'll see how everything goes.

Ask what they'll do to entertain the baby. Ask what games they'll play. What about when the baby cries? (They should know how to check for any problems and then calm the child). Ask what they'll do after the baby goes to sleep. ('Do homework' is a good answer - it's responsible. If they say this and then never bring books, you know they were faking it.)

16 months, she's still in diapers right? As awkward as it may be to ask, make sure the sitter knows to wipe front to back, since apparently a lot of girls don't know to do that for themselves, let alone a baby.

I am not a parent, but I babysat and helped care for my baby brother a lot in high school.

Good luck!
posted by jesirose at 9:08 PM on December 12, 2006

Serious question: The vast, vast majority of parents don't know how to do CPR on a baby, nor have they taken a CPR class. So why is it important that a babysitter have done so? It seems kind of unfair to expect a babysitter to have medical qualifications that the parent's themselves don't have.
posted by Justinian at 9:18 PM on December 12, 2006

The vast, vast majority of parents don't know how to do CPR on a baby, nor have they taken a CPR class. So why is it important that a babysitter have done so?

Most places there are babysitting classes that kids can take which cover this material. Around here, most kids interested in babysitting have taken such a course. All other things being equal, a someone who has is better qualified than a someone who hasn't. Plus, having taken the course can be an indicator that they (are more likely to) take the responsibility seriously.

CPR alone may not be an absolute requirement but it's something to note when assessing a candidate.
posted by winston at 9:29 PM on December 12, 2006

(oops, I typed "a kid who has", tried to edit it to "someone who has" and left the a's in)
posted by winston at 9:30 PM on December 12, 2006

-Why do you want to be a babysitter? (good answers: I love kids, I enjoy spending time with babies, it's a fun job for me. bad answers: I desperately need the money (for crack), I got fired from my video store job (for being high) etc...)

-Tell me about your experience with kids and babies? (even if they've never babysat before, if they have little siblings they may be old pros at dealing with kids)

-What would you do if little Timmy won't stop crying? What if he throws up? (Make sure they're reasonable enough to know when to call you, etc.)

Then call her references and see what they think. Better yet would be to call a few friends and neighbors with kids and ask them to recommend a good sitter. If you can get a really good sitter, she can then recommend other good sitters to you if a job comes up that she can't take. Some people are proprietary about their special sitters, so ask a few people for recommendations, and then interview those ones.

Once you hire someone, make sure to give them a thorough tour of your house, leave a note detailing the evening and bedtime routines. Be very specific, since your child is probably too young to communicate very effectively with a new person if they leave out some crucial part of the routine (I once put a kid to bed without his precious blankie... I didn't know that he had one, much less where it was, and I couldn't understand what he was crying for at bedtime. He fell asleep after crying a bit, and the parents came home shocked and horrified to see the crucial blankie draped across the back of the living room couch. Don't let that be you.) Tell them to call you if there's any trouble, to help themselves to any food (point out certain food specifically that they should eat, if you want) and then leave. The leaving part is important. If your daughter doesn't have seperation anxiety yet, she may have it soon, and there's nothing worse for a sitter than a parent who hovers at goodbye-time, leaves, then comes back in when they hear a cry, then leaves, then comes back in, etc. Hug, kiss, bye bye, then go. The only time I ever had a child cry more than five minutes after his parents left was the kid whose parents listened outside the door after saying goodbye, and then kept coming back in and going back out and coming back in, looking very concerned and upset at the child and the sitter, trying to get him calm before leaving. It was terrible-- much better to have a loving goodbye and a quick exit. Your child will sense your calm and confidence.

Lastly, this may be controversial, but I would only have a girl or a woman babysit my daughter. No teenage boys, even though many would probably do a great job. I'm just not comfortable with it. You can make up your own mind about this issue. Good luck.
posted by bonheur at 9:43 PM on December 12, 2006

I'd ask some common sense, logic and basic knowledge questions.

* There's a grease fire in the kitchen. What do you do?
* Earthquake! What do you do?
* The kid drinks a cup of bleach. What do you do?
posted by frogan at 9:51 PM on December 12, 2006

"Serious question: The vast, vast majority of parents don't know how to do CPR on a baby, nor have they taken a CPR class. So why is it important that a babysitter have done so? It seems kind of unfair to expect a babysitter to have medical qualifications that the parent's themselves don't have."

Well, they SHOULD. It's important for anyone who is going to be spending any serious amount of time caring for a child to know important stuff like that. Unfortunately, many parents decide they don't need to take classes to learn important things like caring for their child. Many parents get outraged at the slightest suggestion that they don't know how to care for their child. Just because they can have a baby and not know how to care for it, doesn't make it responsible.

If the parents themselves don't know how to do baby CPR, maybe they should learn. I would think the ability to potentially save your child's life would be worth taking a few classes.
posted by jesirose at 9:57 PM on December 12, 2006

There are some great suggestions above. I would also ask about and provide strict guidelines for use of cell phones, landlines and computers. In the old days, you knew the sitter was on the phone (and not watching your kid) if the line was busy. Now they could be on a cell, text messaging or surfing the web, or they could be on your computer or their laptop sending email, instant messaging, etc. I don't think it's a big deal if they do this after your child is asleep -- homework is better -- but you may want to make sure they aren't doing this while they're "on".
posted by acoutu at 10:11 PM on December 12, 2006

"Do you have any younger brothers or sisters? Do you often take care of them, or help to take care of them? Who can you call if feel you can't handle a problem?"

(Hopefully, they know something about 911, Poison Control, burn emergency assistance for your area, and choking help. If not, be warned, because they aren't likely to be able to sort out a phone list while your kid is screaming in pain, or making funny noises in the next room.)
posted by paulsc at 10:17 PM on December 12, 2006

I ditto everything above. I am a seasoned babysitter (staying with my kiddies right now actually), but I started off at age 12 taking a Red Cross babysitting class and while it's not a requirement, it's a good sign. CPR is a must. Seriously.

Just be honest and try to get to know the prospective sitters a little bit. I highly recommend a paid "trial run" or two. That will help everyone evaluate the situation, and also your daughter will be much easier to leave with someone who they know a little bit.

I'd also like to second the suggestions to tell the babysitter as much as possible (and write it down). Especially stuff about bedtime routines. I was so grateful that 2 1/2-year-old Dustin's parents let me know that it was okay if he refused to go to bed and just fell asleep watching a movie on the couch. On the other hand, I spent three hours unsuccessfully trying to get 6-year-old Kaylie to sleep, only to have her parents come home and say "Oh, it's a Saturday night, it's fine that she is still up." @#(@$*@#!!!

Talk to the babysitter about what her ideas of discipline are, and communicate yours to her. Every family has different boundaries of what is acceptable or not and how to deal with bad behavior. What works best - time outs in a chair or in their room? no dessert? etc. Is it a big deal if they leave toys out or does the room have to be perfectly neat before bed?

Ask your friends who have stayed with your daughter to give you any tips that they think would be helpful.

Oh, also make sure to show her where the flashlights and candles are! (We just had a power outage and it took us forever to find them!)
posted by radioamy at 10:30 PM on December 12, 2006

Write up a contract specifying rules and babysitter's duties (i.e. clean up messes you make, etc) and put in all kinds of things like wages, how early sitter needs to give you notice if she's sick, etc. It'll save your butt, trust me.

One nanny position I recently interviewed for - father said this: "We don't know if we're going to install surveillance, but how would you feel about it? (hidden cameras and the like.)" It's an interesting question that might give you a little insight.

Call references and ask if they actually play with the children or just sit and watch TV all night. Make sure that, if you do allow the sitter to watch TV, they know what programs are not allowed until the kids are asleep. If the kids are awake, you might want to specify that the kids' programming wishes come ahead of the sitter's - my neighbor's other sitter, who I am a backup for, just watches her shows, even when the child wants to watch Sesame Street.

Expanding on what acoutu said, if you allow the sitter on the Internet, I'd install parental controls and perhaps monitoring software... you don't want some parent coming to you and telling you their 16-year-old daughter met a pedophile over your computer.

If the sitter will be having a meal at your house and is not bringing her own lunch/dinner, ask what kind of food she likes and try to have it around. There's probably a few things that your family would eat too.
posted by IndigoRain at 10:34 PM on December 12, 2006

I don't know how you find your babysitters. We recruit our friends' children. My theory is that you'll know more about a teenager by knowing their parents than by "interviewing" them. I think it's more important that they learned right from wrong at home than that they know CPR. We leave them a note that says in case of problems, they are to call their own parents first for advice. Then us.

We deviated from our "know the parents" rule once, and hired a girl from our kids' Catholic school who lived in the neighborhood. After she watched our kids, we found questionable material in the browser history on our computer. She hasn't been back.
posted by takenRoad at 10:37 PM on December 12, 2006

I (adult, in my 20s) actually started picking up a couple sitting jobs in the evenings and on the weekends to keep me occupied/active when I wasn't working 9-5 and bring in some extra cash on the side. There was a thread about it a while back in AskMe if I recall...

I think one of the better things you can do is just talk to the potential sitter, get an idea of his/her experience by asking about some situations she's been in and asking about families shes sat for (what he/she liked and didn't, how she handled tough situations), ask some general conversational questions to find out some more about his/her personality and character, and give him/her some time to interact and play with the child.

I agree with some of the comments above in regards to setting out guidelines and even restricting TV use while the baby is awake and computer use altogether (simple password protection will do that).

You absolutely definitely want to check references, and ask the other parents their honest thoughts on the potential sitter. Ask the references what three words describe the sitter. If you are contemplating putting a sitter cam in to monitor the goings on, you may want to mention that up front. I've told parents if they wanted to do a sitter cam in the house, I'd be fine with it. I always presume there's one anyway. Hell, if I were a parent, I'd want the same.
posted by jerseygirl at 7:22 AM on December 13, 2006

My best advice? Chill out. Neighborhood kids have been babysitting for decades and now with cell phones it's not like they can't get in touch with you immediately if something goes wrong. If you're going to be too far away to get home within ten or fifteen minutes for an emergency that doesn't involve an ambulance (like a kid that WON'T STOP CRYING, or vomiting or sudden illness), leave the number of an adult neighbor who can. Locking the computer is a good idea, not because it's your business what websites the sitter likes, but just because it's a distraction and you want their attention to be with your kid. Get a cam, if you want, but make sure that the babysitter is aware of it. Hidden cameras are creepy. The questions about experience and CPR certification are great, but the most important thing is to observe the sitter with the kid and see if he or she seems natural and comfortable. Don't rule out male sitters, and especially as your kid gets older, make babysitting nights seem fun. Relax the bedtime rule by 30 minutes or an hour if it's a weekend, rent Disney movies, leave money for the sitter to order pizza. If it's something your kids look forward to, they'll behave better for the sitter, and that will solve most potential problems right there.
posted by cilantro at 8:20 AM on December 13, 2006

I agree that some personal connection with your sitter is best, if at all possible. Even the teenager of a friend of a friend would be preferable to someone found by posting a random ad, I think. As a teenager, the best babysitting experiences I had were ones with families I had some personal connection with. I felt more responsible and connected to the family. The ones where it felt like "just a job" (e.g. the parents had no interest in me personally) felt a little weird.

I think I was a pretty good sitter (I would play/draw/read with them for hours and the kids were always really happy to see me), and I would have been annoyed if I felt like the parents expected me to do homework instead of watch TV once the kids were asleep--even asking that question is a little condescending. I think expecting common sense in emergencies (asking "what if" questions sounds great) and for the sitter to play with/be responsible for taking care of the kids is perfectly appropriate.
posted by tk at 8:21 AM on December 13, 2006

Also - make SURE the kids know that if they misbehave for the sitter, they WILL get it from you when you get home. It's a good idea to make the repercussions worse when they misbehave for the sitter than when they misbehave for you. Your child is too young for this to be a worry yet, but I was a babysitting fiend when I was younger and the parents who didn't back me up when I was blatantly disrespected and mistreated by their children were parents who lost a good, fun, available, reliable babysitter.
posted by cilantro at 8:26 AM on December 13, 2006

One very important question to ask: "What will you do if you feel angry and/or frustrated with my child?"

A few others:

"How will you deal with a stubborn or tantrum throwing toddler?" (have her give examples of how she handled past experiences)

"Have you ever been in an emergency? How did you handle it?"

"Tell me about the best and the worst child you ever babysat." (her descriptive words will tell you a lot - is she unkind and rude about the 'worst' child? - calling them brat, trouble-maker, etc. - and you'll learn what child behaviors she thinks are bad)

"What will you do if my child hits or bites you?"

Also make sure she knows how to give a child a bath (correct temperature, correct water level, never leave child alone even for one second), and how to properly install the carseat (or put child in the seat).

If she asks YOU questions about your discipline philosophy, routines, house rules, child's favorite activities, etc., then that's a very good thing! (ask her if she has questions for you)
posted by LadyBonita at 8:42 AM on December 13, 2006

Ask them what kind of books they like to read. You can't necessarily tell a lot about adults by the books they claim to like, but you certainly can with young people.
posted by hermitosis at 8:45 AM on December 13, 2006

I agree with all of cilantro's comments. I did lots of babysitting in my time- uptight parents were the worst, and guess what? Their kids were always the worst, too. So wound up, so crazy, so rude- this never failed. Your kids will be able to tell if you like and trust the babysitter (well, maybe not a 16 month, but when they get bigger, they will!). My advice? Don't have too many rules for the babysitter to enforce (I once got a 3 page printed sheet of rules), but do have a set bedtime and tell the kids what time they have to go to bed. Show the babysitter how to work the TV/DVDand let them know what they can and cannot let the kids eat (and what they can and cannot eat).

On preview: Also make sure she knows how to give a child a bath (correct temperature, correct water level, never leave child alone even for one second), and how to properly install the carseat (or put child in the seat).

And what, paint the house and caulk the ceiling? It's a few hours, not adoption. Make babysitting fun and not a huge chore, and you will be able to keep good babysitters for years. Be obnoxious and uptight, and you will suddenly find that no one wants to babysit for you.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:57 AM on December 13, 2006 [1 favorite]

ThePinkSuperHero - some parents do request sitters to bathe children - and if so, the babysitter should know how to do so safely. I don't see a problem with giving a bath before bed - and it can be great fun (certainly not a huge chore!).
posted by LadyBonita at 9:11 AM on December 13, 2006

Bathing children before bed is one of those things that I don't think parents should ask babysitters to do. Either do it before the babysitter comes, or let the kid go without for a day.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:19 AM on December 13, 2006 [1 favorite]

Oh yeah - this is a good one. If the grandparents don't mind (and I can't imagine many of them would), leave their number for the babysitter to call for any non-emergency concerns they might have about behavior issues or those awesome times when the kids SWEAR mom and dad let them have 5 bowls of super sugar bombs right before bed. That way the sitter won't bother you and your husband while you're making out in the back of the minivan and the grandparents will probably be more than glad to give advice and be a part of what's going on with your family.
posted by cilantro at 9:21 AM on December 13, 2006

"Pop-quiz, hotshot. My kid decides to [...] What do you do? WHAT. DO. YOU. DO?"
posted by alby at 9:25 AM on December 13, 2006

I suppose it's an interesting idea to give the babysitter a thousand different phone numbers, but I babysat for years, and I never called anyone, not even the parents. I never encountered any emergency situations, and I'm not going to call the parent just because the kid is crying- it's part of my job to give the parent the night off, I can handle a little crying. So give all the phone numbers you want, but realize it's probably more for your peace of mind than the babysitter's.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:37 AM on December 13, 2006 [1 favorite]

Another vote for chilling out. The Pink Superhero has it 100%. Uptight parents, obnoxious children -- too much tension. I don't know how it is now, where you live, but when I was babysitting, I didn't have to take any crap -- I had more work than I wanted, and my friends did too. Treat her the way you would want to be treated at your job -- I assume you would resent three pages of rules and surveillance cameras.

You don't need Mary Poppins-Dr. Spock rolled into one; all you need is a nice, intelligent, responsible kid who your kid will like. That's it. Willingness to take direction is preferable to having the right answer already, I would think. After all, aren't you going to tell the babysitter how you want things done? You'll see for yourself whether she is nice or intelligent when you meet her, her references will tell you whether she is responsible, but above all -- what does your kid think? Introduce her to your kid, and see how they get along. If they like each other, that's all you need to know.
posted by Methylviolet at 10:11 AM on December 13, 2006

I'm with ThePinkSuperhero and Methylviolet. People are trying to make this much too industrial a process. You're not hiring a supernanny to raise your child 24/7, you're just looking for a neighborhood kid to make sure yours don't burn the house down while you get away for a couple hours. Hidden cameras? Itemized lists of rules, privileges, duties, numbers, etc? Holy smokes, batman!
posted by Justinian at 11:41 AM on December 13, 2006

Its a 16 month old, Justinian. It's a little more complicated than keeping the kids away from matches for a couple hours.
posted by jerseygirl at 12:03 PM on December 13, 2006

The American Red Cross offers a good class:

"Babysitter's Training - Learn how to interview for a babysitting job, make responsible decisions, supervise children, keep kids and yourself safe, choose safe and age-appropriate toys. Skills taught include: rescue breathing, first aid for choking, first aid for bleeding, and basic care (diapering, holding, feeding, dressing) for infants and small children.
A Babysitter's Safety Kit is available for an additional $13.00 at class or upon registration. This large zippered nylon bag includes first aid supplies, compact flashlight, emergency information forms and plenty of room for children's books, games and toys. A break will be provided, and students should bring a lunch or snack.'

Call your local chapter. Perhaps they have a list of folks that have taken the class?
posted by drstein at 12:19 PM on December 13, 2006

Late to the party, but search for nanny agencies on the web and then look at their online employment applications. Most of them are incredibly in depth and have many possible scenarios to ask potential babysitters about. Just reading over it may bring up concerns you hadn't considered before: pet allergies, pools/swimming, driving, etc. If it's good enough for an agency to to screen its applicants, it should work for you.

posted by Ugh at 4:16 PM on December 13, 2006

I think there has to be some balance. You want to feel comfortable with the sitter and for her to feel adequately prepared, but you don't need to make the situation more stressful than it needs to be. A list of phone numbers is a good idea, though - a quick phone call can solve a lot of stress. Also, this sounds kindof silly, but when I was younger my mom always put our address and phone number on the fridge in big letters. That way if the sitter had to give the info to 911 or even just to a pizza delivery place, it was right there? Okay, am I anal? Sorta. But I'm being paid $100/night right now to stay with my kiddies for the week, so I'm obviously doing something right!

As for the bath thing? When they're little its not unreasonable to talk specifics about baths or request that sitters not bathe the baby. As the sitter how comfortable they are with it - it might be a nonissue if she has lots of experience with infants or has little sibblings. If neither of you like the idea, suggest she just wipe off the baby's face and hands before bed.

I do think that it's okay to lock down your computer - I don't like anyone I don't know using my computer, let alone a teenager. I wouldn't ask about what they're going to do once the kids are asleep. Most kids will do homework because it gets it out of the way, but hey if she wants to watch TV, more power to her.
posted by radioamy at 9:58 PM on December 13, 2006

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