Babysitter Basics

From the nightly routine to feeding your tribe, all the info your sitter needs to know.

Friday night, date night, a chance to chill with your spouse. But your usual sitter calls in sick and instead recommends her best friend. Now you’ve got a new trainee to break in. Where to begin? We asked for some pointers from Bretta Cochran, a registered nurse and instructor for Methodist Le Bonheur Germantown’s baby-sitting class. Here are her top tips.

Meet and Greet
When starting out with someone new, have your babysitter arrive early. Give a detailed tour of your home, pointing out quirks like the childproof cabinet locks in the kitchen or the deadbolts that require an interior key and a swift nudge of the shoulder. Have your school-aged kids demonstrate how to run the television set or computer games; doing so can be a good way of fostering a new caregiver relationship.  

Let your sitter know the basics: your cell number, where you’re going, and how long you’ll be away. Be aware that your sitter may only know you as Mr. and Mrs. So-and-so. If your cell goes dead and you have to be found the old-fashioned way, with say, a call to a restaurant, she’ll need to know your full names. Compile this information (first and last name, address, cell numbers, emergency contact numbers) and leave it on the fridge.     
Once your sitter is settled, you want to make sure she or he knows some safety basics. These include CPR, in cases of choking or major injuries, and keeping kids safe, by not letting children under age 3 play with anything small enough to fit through the hole of a toilet paper tube. Point out where you keep supplies like disinfectant and Band-Aids, should an accident take place. Most teens should know how to wash hands, rinse cuts, disinfect, apply ointment, and bandage.  
What to Feed Them
Familiarize your teen with any gadgets you use to feed your baby or toddler. Show her how to work the bottle warmer, or how to secure the booster seat buckle. Remind her when giving the baby a bottle to hold your child, don’t just prop up the bottle so baby can drink. To steer clear of choking hazards, leave easy foods for snack or meal time, like mac and cheese, or Cheerios.

Your sitter needs to know not just what to feed your kids, but when and where. Is food allowed in the living room? When do you cut off liquids before bedtime? Be sure to share this, since coming home to a little one who has soaked his sheets can make for a quick buzzkill.

Share the Family Routine

Nothing is more exhausting than returning home to a fussy child who missed a nap, or a wired child who slept all day and will be up all night.

“The sitter may not keep my exact schedule time-wise, but she should keep things in order,” says Nikki Scudder, a Midtown mother of three children under the age of 8. Her schedule is simple: “Playtime after supper, bath, and winding down before bed. It makes things run a lot more smoothly when my kids know what’s coming next.”
Scudder also lets her sitter know what’s needed for bedtime. “Mason sleeps with his sock monkey and a certain blanket. And the baby is teething right now, so she doesn’t get her pacifier all day but falls asleep with it and spits it out in the night.”

If your toddler is still in diapers, the sitter will likely know to change them when soiled, but remind her to check the diaper every other hour and to put a fresh one on before your arrive home, in case you need to head back out with the family. Children in potty-training stages may not even realize they need to go until it’s too late. Remind the sitter to ask often, even in the midst of intense play. Not that you need a written record of waste, but tell her to note the frequency of diaper changes or bathroom visits.

Older kids may try to push boundaries while you are away, saying, “We’re allowed to have cake for supper,” or “Dad lets us play Grand Theft Auto.” Go over what activities, TV shows, and video games are permitted. If your child can play on the computer, make sure the sitter pays attention to the content. Also be clear about what your sitter is allowed to do in your home. Endless texting with her latest crush, or surfing the web can interfere with keeping a watchful eye on your children.

When to Call

Before you’re out for the night, discuss which issues are crucial for you to know about right away and which ones, like bickering, the sitter should be able to handle on her own. You don’t want 10 calls because one son won’t share Legos with another. At the same time, be clear that you expect to be called if there’s an emergency. Go over appropriate discipline, designated time-out spots, and let your child know — in front of the sitter — that you will receive a full report when you get home.  

Most importantly, encourage the sitter to interact with your kids instead of just keeping watch. Bretta Cochran, registered nurse and instructor of Methodist Le Bonheur Germantown’s babysitting class, trains teens to be responsible sitters. “As a parent, I want someone who will play with my kids, stay alert, keep them safe, and help them clean up after themselves.”

Finally, keep this in mind: You are the employer. Sharing your expectations on the front-end creates a good working relationship. You won’t mind paying $6 an hour for a job well done, because believe me, a reliable sitter is worth every penny.

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