If there’s one thing just about every parent on the playground will agree on, it’s this: If you can find a babysitter who you trust and your kids love, you hold on to that sitter’s number harder than your kid holds on to his favorite stuffie when you say it’s time for the toy to take bath.
No matter how easygoing you are, it can be tough to find a good babysitter who makes you feel like you can actually relax when you’re out of the house. And you’re not alone in this struggle: A recent American Red Cross survey determined at least 55 percent of parents have had to stay home from an event because they couldn’t find a sitter when they needed one, and 30 percent said they’ve rejected a potential babysitter because of safety concerns.
But you don’t have to give up on chasing down that rare unicorn non-parents call “date night” or ever holding down a job just because you can’t find someone you can trust to spend time with your kids. The right sitter is out there! Here’s how to find one.
How to Find a Babysitter: Where to Start
Before you can start scheduling sitter interviews (yup, they’re a thing), you need to figure out what you’re looking for!
Some questions to ask yourself:
How often will I need a babysitter?
A neighborhood teen may be able to pop over one night a month so you can sneak out for dinner with your partner. But if you need someone who can pick your kids up from school, help them with their homework, and get dinner started before you get home from work, you may want to look for a college student or someone who is retired and looking for something to do in the afternoons.
What do my kids need?
If you’ve got a small infant, you’ll likely want to steer clear of young teens and find a babysitter with experience caring for small children, such as a childhood development student at the local college or another parent who happens to stay at home. If your child is in elementary school and already able to make a PB&J sandwich and wipe their own heinie, a local teen may be the perfect person to hang out with them for a few hours on a Saturday afternoon.
What will I need a babysitter to do?
If you’ll need a sitter who can drive your kids home from school, you can automatically cross that 14-year-old across the street off your list!
Figuring out the what is a big first step in helping you find the who in your babysitting search.
If you’re hoping that your sitter will be up for teaching your child a skill such as swimming, you might decide to hit the local pool to see if the lifeguards are looking for extra work.
Figuring out the what is a big first step in helping you find the who in your babysitting search.
Where to Find a Babysitter
The Banks family had it made when Mary Poppins flew into town just when they needed a nanny. Unfortunately babysitters with magical umbrellas are in short supply these days, so you’ll have to stick to these tricks to find a babysitter.
Use a babysitting agency.
Whether it’s an online service such as SitterCity or Care.com or a more traditional agency that exists in a brick-and-mortar location, babysitter agencies are like matchmakers for parents. They recruit qualified babysitters and match them with parents who need their services.
They can be a quick way to find someone you love, but you should still do your own due diligence, says Florence Ann Romano, a former nanny and founder of The Windy City Nanny.
“Make sure you are doing your own research on whomever they are matching you with; in other words, stalk them on social media!” Romano says. “See what they have on their Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.”
You can also have a professional background check run on your potential sitter or ask the agency to provide details of how deep their checks went.
“Don’t rely just on the agency to do a background check that is surface level,” Romano advises. “Some of these agencies don’t dive deep enough, and I have seen it happen before that they won’t catch, for instance, a DUI on someone’s record but will clear them for service!”
Ask your friends about their babysitters.
They may be willing to share the numbers of trusted sitters who they’ve already vetted, or they may offer up names of their own kids (who you like and trust) who’ve taken babysitter certification courses.
If none of your friends have sitter names to offer up, they may be willing to do the job themselves. A local parent in your area might be able to use a little extra cash, making her the perfect choice. Or you could offer to set up a sitter swap situation: One parent or set of parents watches all the kids one night, and you return the favor a few days later so they can get their own night out. The kids get playdates and the parents get real dates—everyone wins!
Try a babysitting app.
Sitting Around, for example, can hook you up with other parents in your community who are interested in creating a babysitting co-op. Although there’s a fee for membership, the babysitting itself is free.
TaskRabbit, on the other hand, was designed as an app to connect folks with people who need help on a variety of errands, not just babysitting. That said, babysitting makes the list, and you may find your perfect sitter with a few swipes.
Kango, meanwhile, offers not just babysitting but ridesharing too, so you can find someone who will do that daycare or preschool drop-off.
Hit your local college campus.
Whether you go the old-fashioned flier route or call the childhood development department to see if they can suggest any students looking for jobs, a college in your area may be prime pickings for babysitters.
Ask coaches and teachers.
Your daughter’s karate sensei, your son’s hip hop teacher, their soccer coach—they all work with kids, and they’ve likely got a few good names up their sleeves. Whether it’s current or former students or maybe even someone on their staff, you get the added bonus of knowing that someone you already trust with your child has vouched for your potential babysitter.
What to Look for in a Babysitter
Once you’ve gotten a few names, it’s time for a job interview. Hey, you’re going to pay this person to babysit your kids, so why shouldn’t they have to undergo an interview process?
Romano suggests at least two in-person meetings, one that involves just you and the babysitter, then (if they pass muster) another with your kids involved.
“The first time, meet them for coffee outside your home and get to know them,” Romano suggests. “Then, if you like them, bring them into the home to meet your kids; do a trial morning/afternoon. Observe him or her with your kids.”
Sara Schaer, co-founder and CEO of Kango, suggests asking your potential sitter a round of questions, including:
- Do they have experience and affinity for a particular age group? If you have an infant or a toddler, make sure you specifically ask if they have experience with that age group, Schaer advises.
- What is their motivation for babysitting? Some babysitters are just in it for the cash, but you’ll want to find someone who genuinely likes spending time with kids.
- What is their safety training? Ask if your sitter is CPR certified and if they’ve taken any other babysitting courses, such as those offered by the American Red Cross.
- How would they handle an emergency? Schaer recommends that you provide an example of an emergency that might crop up and ask them to provide a solution on the fly.
- Do they have a clean criminal record, and are they willing to be background checked (including fingerprinting)? “Candidates who have an issue on their record will often remove themselves from consideration if they know this is a potential requirement,” Schaer says.
- Do they drive, and if so do they have a clean driving record? This may not apply to all sitters, such as a young teen, but it’s a must if you’re hoping to find a babysitter who will drive your kids around town.
- Do you have any references? It’s not enough to just ask for references; you need to follow up! Checking references is a must, Schaer says.
What to Pay a Babysitter
Once you’ve lined up the perfect sitter, let’s face it, you’re going to have to figure out how much to pay the babysitter who’s spending time with your kids.
You certainly want to pay them enough to make the job worthwhile (and keep them coming back), but how do you know if you’re underpaying or overpaying?
According to the American Red Cross survey, about half (51 percent) of Americans rely on unpaid babysitters, and nearly a quarter (24 percent) pay between $6 and $10 an hour for someone to watch their children. Ten percent pay between $11 and $15 an hour, while 4 percent pay between $16 and $20 an hour.
Babysitting Pay Rates Around the Country
When HealthyWay asked parents across the country to share just how much they’re laying out every time a babysitter shows up on their doorstep, the numbers were just as varied…but so were family situations. Some folks pay teenagers significantly less than they do adults, while others paid teens more than they would the grandmotherly lady down the street.
Stamford, Connecticut: $20 per hour to watch a 3½-year-old, including school pickups.
Atlanta, Georgia: $12 to $14 per hour to watch four kids ages 3 to 7.
Cleveland, Ohio: $10 an hour to watch a 9-year-old.
Chicago, Illinois: $15 an hour for an older lady to watch two kids, ages 2½ and 6 months. $12 an hour for a teenager to watch the same kids.
North Charleston, South Carolina: $10 per hour to watch one 4-year-old.
Western Washington State: $10 to $15 an hour for a preschool teacher who babysits on the side.
Los Angeles, California: $22 an hour for an experienced nanny to watch one kid regardless of age.
Still struggling to come up with a good rate? Care.com offers a babysitting rate guide based on zip code and experience of the sitter.
How to Help Your Babysitter
Of course, you want to find a babysitter who can help you with your kids, but if you want to really make sure your kids have a good experience, it’s on you to help your sitter.
Part of that is how you greet your sitter when they walk in the door, says Rachel Charlupski, founder of The Babysitting Company.
“Parents should also not expect their children to warm up to the sitter if the parent is cold and not friendly with the sitter,” she says. “We always recommend parents being very animated and welcoming to the sitter.”
Sitters also need to be prepped, Charlupski says. You can’t expect them to come into your house and know the rules of your home or read your mind about your expectations.
Schaer suggests being up front with your babysitter about what you expect out of them, and be aware of what’s not considered “normal” duties for a sitter.
“Predictability and familiarity are reassuring to kids … so parents should make every effort to ensure that.”
“Quality, engaging, and age-appropriate childcare; safety; courtesy; compliance with parent instructions and household rules; good judgment; and honest, proactive, and professional communication with parents can all be expected,” Schaer says.
But any of the following are not considered typical “job expectations” of a babysitter, and you’ll need to make a deal with your sitter if you want them done as well:
- Stand-alone extensive housecleaning beyond tidying up and cleaning any areas used during the sitter job
- Caring for a different number of children than originally stated or an unreasonably large group of unattended kids
- Babysitting for a completely different duration than requested (e.g., several hours past the initially stated end time)
- Excessive medical responsibility (parents/guardians need to authorize medical treatment)
- Tutoring or academic work if not explicitly included and agreed on first
- Pet care if not explicitly mentioned and agreed on in advance
Before leaving your children alone with a sitter, you’ll also need to write out a complete list of information that they might need during their time with your kids, including:
- Guidelines and limits for outings, screen time, and homework
- Meal information
- Bedtime rules
- Allergy information and/or other medical conditions
- Behavioral triggers or routines
- Likes and dislikes
- Contact numbers for parents, as well as pediatrician and other emergency numbers
“Predictability and familiarity are reassuring to kids (in addition to quality care and safety), so parents should make every effort to ensure that,” Schaer notes.
Romano offers up this final piece of advice: “Don’t compete with the sitter. Remember that they are another person to love and guide your child. It’s another person to shape them and inspire them. Choose wisely! If you do, it will be a beautiful thing.”