Leaving your kids with the neighborhood babysitter: a primer
Sandy shares her tips for working with the neighborhood babysitter:
I was the family- and neighborhood-sitter through my tween/teen years. These tips come from both my experience having been a sitter as well as being a parent looking to make sure we have a life! :) Our son is just over two years old.
1. If you are considering someone--a teen sitter in the neighborhood or a friend or relative, make sure you call first the teen and then the parent to check availability. During the winter chill, most 12+ year-olds are indoors and ready to babysit and earn a few bucks, but they may already have plans with friends or family. It's easier for them to say 'No' to you on the phone rather than in person. I usually ask on a Wednesday for the weekend and at least 24 hours in advance for a weeknight. Ask parents what the curfew is.
2. Ask the parents what they recommend for hourly pay. Then make your offer to the sitter. Usually $6 per hour has worked for me and I add on a $10 gift card to the book store or movie theater. The combination of gift cards with cash always pleases my 13 yo sitter and her mom does not mind as she does not have too much hard cash on hand. Although it seems steep, these are gift cards I redeem from credit card rewards, from breaking up birthday gift cards or from returns. [Many Coinstar machines turn loose change into gift cards for free. -- Ed.] Or I buy them at Safeway when purchasing groceries--there is so much choice and I do not feel the pinch as much!
3. Keep a change of clothes handy; favorite toys are laid out; favorite blanket or book or toy is stashed away in a drawer to produce when sorely needed.
4. Keep food accessible: Ziploc bags of crackers or cereal or a grilled cheese sandwich, cups with water and milk. I usually grab a Ziploc and fill it half full with 2 different types of crackers, Cheerios, a quartered grilled cheese or PBJ sandwich, and a few mints. I place them on a footstool a few feet away from the toy table. It is easier for my kid to get to and munch on rather than for the sitter to try to diffuse a hunger tantrum.
5. My kid has severe food allergies--lactose- and fructose-intolerant. I tell the sitter what he can eat rather than what not to give him. Plus with the snacks handy, my kid rarely asks for foods he cannot eat.
6. Make sure the sitter knows where the spare key is in case of a lock-out. My sitter knows which door/window is unlocked.
7. Before leaving, I write all the numbers that will be needed on a note card: our cell phones, where we are and what time we are expected back, neighbor's #, pediatrician, hospital, pharmacy, other family contact. Writing it every time ensures that they are all updated, and I reenforce my memory and check my cell phone directory for accuracy. I use the other side of the card to copy/re-write my son's food allergies. We place it by the telephone. If the sitter needs to leave the house, he/she takes the note card with; all the info is handy. If my neighbor has to watch my kid, then the card is handed over as well.
8. Diaper bag is always packed and set by the door. There is a recent picture and an ID card in the diaper bag. Quick medications such as Tylenol are always in there.
9. I make sure there is food and snacks for the sitter. Also, make sure that the sitter knows where the books and movies are in case he/she gets my kid to bed early.
10. I take a deep breath, hug my kid and walk out the door. (I tell my kid to "kick me out the door like a football" to make the leaving more fun and some how ease his frustration with me leaving him.) I do not look back, do not try to ease the goodbye if painful, and do not call the sitter, unless I am going to be late returning. And I tell the sitter that as well--but he/she can definitely call me if things get out of hand. This way, I force myself to trust the sitter and make sure the sitter knows I trust him/her.