Parents, either couples or single parents, all require time off now and then, time away from their children, to get their second wind, visit with friends, or perhaps take a course that interests them. Parents tend to find their children much more delightful when they have had some time to themselves. However, time away from home is enjoyable only when parents are secure in the knowledge that their children are in good hands.
How do parents go about providing safe services so they can enjoy that important time away from home? First of all, try to avoid feeling as if you are hiring a substitute parent when you select a baby sitter. No matter how conscientious the sitter, she will not care for the child in precisely the same way as a parent, and it’s both unfair and unwise to expect a carbon copy parent. Once convinced that the sitter is a decent, kind individual, then it is best to allow that person to be herself (within the framework of the family’s needs and rules) and to react with her own good judgment.
Before placing a child in the care of an utter stranger, an interview should take place and references requested and scrutinized. This is the time for direct questions and answers and also an opportunity for the parent’s instincts to come into play. Does the prospective caregiver seem to be a warm, flexible human being? Does she have views on discipline that are reasonably close to yours? Does she seem to like children and to be comfortable around them? It may be wise to be somewhat cautious about a prospective sitter who seems overly concerned with neatness and cleanliness, who seems inflexible or depressed.
The interview is the proper time to discuss hourly or evening rates. Does the sitter charge or is the parent willing to pay a higher rate after midnight? This is also the time to settle the matter of transportation. Does the sitter provide her own or does she expect to be picked up and returned home?
It is only fair to give the sitter general information and specific instructions about your child and your home. Be very clear about what you want her to do in your absence. Describe the routines in your home, particularly the ones that involve the child. Do you read him a story before he goes to bed? Do you feel strongly that he should not watch certain violent television programs? Do you have very definite ideas about discipline! A parent has every right to expect the sitter to follow these general guidelines, still leaving plenty of space for fun and initiative and creativity.
Prepare a sheet of vital information for your sitter, and leave it in a convenient place such as directly over the telephone. The list should include:
- Your name, home address, and phone number. This may seem unnecessary but, in an emergency, sitters have been known to “blank out” while trying to give this critical information over the phone.
- The phone numbers of your doctor, the police department, and the fire department.
- The name, address, and phone number where you can be reached.
- The name and phone number of nearby neighbors to be contacted in an emergency. (This should be cleared with the neighbors in advance.) As a back-up, the phone number and name of a relative or close friend.
- The time you expect to return. If there is any change in plans, and you find you are going to be late, be sure to let the sitter know. There may be people she will need to notify so they won’t worry about her.
After the sitter arrives, plan to stay on the premises for at least 15 or 20 minutes. ‘Me child should be told in advance that Mother and Father are going out and that “Susie” will stay with him. Even if he initially seems accepting, it is not unusual for a youngster to burst into tears when he realizes his parents are actually going to leave him.
Although his tears may be genuine, they will most likely fade fast once he recognizes the inevitability of his parents’ departure and that there is nothing he can do to make them waver. This is especially so, if the sitter is quick with a reassuring statement such as, “You know, when I was your age, I used to cry when my parents went out too. You can make other Suggestions for breaking the ice or staunching the tears. The sitter can tell the child she likes his house-and-why. She can tell the youngster that she knows somebody else with the same name he has, a topic that almost never fails to fascinate a child. Suggestions like these from a parent serve to convince the sitter that you deeply care about the quality of the time she will be spending with your child.
During the interval before leaving home, take time to show the sitter the location of essential things. If you live in an apartment building, point out emergency “its or fire escapes. Leave candies and a flashlight handy in case of a possible power failure. Test the batteries. Explain where to find Band-Aids and review simple home remedies for a bump or a bruise. However, juvenile sitters should not be expected or allowed to give medication to a child.
If the parents are going out for the evening, the sitter should be told what snacks the child is permitted as well as snacks for herself. (if you plan to use the sitter again, be generous with snacks.) If the parents are going out during the day and meals will be involved, appropriate and simple instructions should be given. It’s difficult to find one’s way in a strange kitchen, so necessary implements should be set out.
- Each family and situation is different but there are general rules and procedures that should be covered in any babysitting situation.
- Is it okay to use the telephone! Perhaps it would be wise to specify the length of phone calls in case you need or want to reach home, Is the sitter allowed to invite a friend for company or to work on a homework assignment? Same sex? Different sex? More than one? A group of friends on a baby sitting assignment is seldom a good idea.
- What are the rules about answering the door? Certainly a sitter shouldn’t let anyone she doesn’t know into the apartment or house, no matter who they may claim to be. It’s too bad if a good friend or relative is refused admission but actually that’s a sign that the sitter is doing her job well.
- Leave instructions on how to answer the phone. If you are expecting an important call, describe how you would like it handled, take a message? Call back the following day?
- Be sure to reaffirm any important routines and habits that were covered in the interview: What time the child is to go to bed. is a night light turned on; is the door to his room left ajar; does he have special stuffed animals he likes to take to bed, etc.
- Does the child have homework! If so, is the sitter willing and/or able to help?
- Is the sitter expected to do some simple household chores, such as washing dishes? if so. is extra pay involved?
- Jot down any special words the child uses for certain items or functions.
In one baby sitters’ manual, the sitter’s creed was given; “Keep Them Happy, Keep Them Safe”. That, after all, is what babysitting is all about.