Whether you hire a neighborhood teen or a more seasoned sitter, you want to set them up for success. Armed with a little insider information and your mom-knows-best tips, they’ll be ready for whatever kid chaos develops in your absence.
1. Approved snacks – Don’t expect a sitter to sift through your Mother Hubbardly cupboard in search of treats for the tots. Post a list of appropriate eats on the fridge, and store snacks in easy-to-find locations. Show the sitter the goods before you go. If the kids are hungry, no one’s happy.
2. Clean expectations – Nothing kills the mood of a romantic date night like coming home to a toy-strewn mess. If you’d like the kids and their caregiver to tidy up, say so. And explain your expectations to the kids and the sitter at the same time, so everyone understands. The sitter will need your support to encourage – or enforce – kids’ cleanup.
3. Play-by-play – Leave a (flexible) schedule of events to guide the sitter through your usual routine. ‘Dinner at 5:30, play games or color, bath at 7, put on pyjamas, stories at 7:30, lights out at 8,’ for instance. Unstructured time is stressful for everyone.
4. Pay plan – Parents and sitters may be reluctant to talk about money. Don’t be. Ask your sitter up-front how much they charge, and/or explain how much you’re willing to pay. Your sitter may not speak up if they’re underpaid; but they won’t be available the next time you need them. Pay fairly and generously. Caring for kids is hard work.
5. Tech specs – If you want to limit kids’ screen time, give guidelines to both your kids and the sitter. Say, “You can watch Hole in the Wall but after that, the TV turns off.” While you’re at it, show the sitter how to operate electronics, like the DVR that holds seven (precious) episodes of Dinosaur Train and your daughter’s on-demand videos.
6. Secret soothers – Some kids struggle with separation or grow agitated when their routine is disrupted. Let the sitter in on your if-all-else-fails options for comforting tired, cranky kids. Favorite songs? Best-loved book? Must-have blankie? Bubble bath bonus time? Share your secret weapons.
7. Bedtime basics – Resist the urge to say, “Just lay her on her back in the crib” and leave it at that. Your nighttime wind-down is probably more complicated – and more instrumental in getting your child to sleep – than you realize. Leave a quick step-by-step guide: ‘Bath, pyjamas, snack, two books on the bedroom floor. Put her in the crib on her back, with her brown and pink polka dot blanket’ isn’t bossy, it’s helpful.
8. Hidden hazards – Food allergies, pesky pets and your toddler’s obsession with toilets and trashcans should be revealed up-front. Situations you monitor regularly (like the fact that your five-year-old goes outside without asking) won’t be on your sitter’s surveillance plan unless you make them salient.
9. Discipline directions – In your smart-sitter tour of the house, point out where kids go for time-out or where you stash taken-away toys. When your little angels behave badly, the sitter will need to know how to address their behavior. Your sitter’s best bets? Your standard strategies. Predictability restores calm.
10. Contact information – Leave detailed information about your plans and several cell phone numbers your sitter can call in case of an emergency. You never know whether you’ll have a weak signal or a dead battery. Also, let them know if it’s alright to call with questions or problems. Coming home to a wide-awake baby and a strung-out sitter could be a bitter end to your delicious date night.
How much? A babysitter’s pay depends on:
Heidi Smith Luedtke, Ph.D., is a personality psychologist and mom of two. Read more psychology lessons for life at www.heidiluedtke.com/blog.
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