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.

Related: How to find a good nanny or babysitter? Talk amongst yourselves.

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  1. says

    #5 is a great tip — my kid has a ton of food allergies too. I’d also suggest finding a babysitter who’s comfortable dealing with severe allergies. My preferred neighbourhood babysitter shares a lot of allergies with my older son (dairy, nuts), and carries her own epipen, so I’m confident that she’ll be able to react and not panic if an emergency did happen.

  2. says

    Great tips! We keep a Babysitter Info sheet on the fridge all the time. We keep it in a clear plastic cover so it stays legible. On it I have our cell numbers, the home and cell numbers of friends who know my daughter well, our insurance info and doctors names including our pediatric dentist, directions to our house, drug allergies, and the number for poison control.

    I also have a file on my computer labeled Bedtime Routine that I update as my daughter grows and we do things a little differently. I print out a copy when we are having a sitter put her to bed.

  3. Suzanne says

    6 dollars an hour is pretty low. Everyone in my area does $10 an hour, but not the gift cards.

  4. Ian says

    Suzanne, I shudder to think what area you’re in that babysitting is that expensive. We’re in a reasonably affluent part of the suburbs, and they’re pretty happy with 6 or 7, although if the kids are little turds, I’ll bump it up a few bucks. For daytime babysitting we’ve got a lady across the street that does it for $4/hr each, and we *know* we’re getting a deal.

  5. Kris says

    Sounds obvious, but do make sure that the babysitter is actually interested in the job. As a teenager, I wound up roped into a lot of babysitting jobs because of the bizarre assumption that of course all teenage girls want to babysit for you. At fourteen or fifteen, it can be hard to know how to gracefully decline a favor that an adult assumes you’ll be thrilled to do for them. Make sure you ask a teenager if they’re willing to take the job (don’t ask their parents to accept for them!) and let them know that it’s fine if they don’t. You’ll get much better babysitting for your kids if the help is there willingly.

  6. says

    Have at least one complete change of clothes clean for the kid! More if the kid is potty training.

    Make sure your sitter knows CPR/first aid. A lot of places will have cheaper CPR classes for children – when I was 12ish, I took one at the hospital, specifically for teen babysitters, called TotSavers. It taught both CPR and first aid for infants, toddlers, and older children. If your sitter’s family can’t afford it, and you know you’ll be using her a lot, it might be a good idea to pay for her CPR class.

  7. none says

    $6 an hour? The going rate here is $10 for the first kid. If 2 kids, $12.50. Minimum. It depends on the area, of course, and perhaps the age of the babysitter.

    CPR could help, but don’t count on it. Make sure the babysitter has access to a phone to call 911, and tell them if there’s any doubt (i.e. kid appears to be choking), call it. And, give the the name, number, and address of the closest adult neighbor. You can’t except all kids to actually be able to save a kid.

    If your kid has any weird behavioral problems or allergies, tell the babysitter BEFORE they are supposed to come and babysit. Not all babysitters are comfortable with hooking a kid up to a resporator, or dealing with a kid with behavioral or severe mental problems, etc.

    And, yes, ask the teenager before asking the parents if they want to/can babysit.

  8. says

    We keep a running list of the evening/bedtime routine on our laptops, too, ready to print.

    Don’t forget to mention any bedtime loveys by name. The poor sitter might pull her/his hair out trying to figure out what “dah” or, in our case, “Hops” means–and the lovey or blankie is so key to getting the child to bed.

    We also pay $10 per hour, but that’s to either an experienced nanny or an older woman who’s just wonderful with Baby A–and we want to keep her happy so she’ll indulge our last-minute desperation for a margarita on a Friday evening.

    – L

  9. says

    Congratulations this post has been nominated for a Hot Stuff Award at GNMParents.com.

    Voting has begun and will close on thursday morning. Good Luck

  10. ikate says

    I babysat my way through high school and many college summers. I worked other part-time jobs but always made sure I was open when my “regular” families needed me. And this is because they treated me so well. One family (whom I sat for over 7 years) paid me $12/hour (this was 15+ years ago in a small, OH town!) and got me gifts for birthdays/christmas, etc. That’s twice what I made at my part-time job so I would actually call off work to baby-sit. Their kids were great, I adored them, they loved me. The parents were fantastic – they always had my favorite snacks on hand, were respectful of my time, etc. In return, I became CPR certified for them, got the kids birthdays/christmas gifts too, I would willingly get up at 5:00 AM on a Saturday to drive over to babysit all day when the parents went out of town for the day, etc. I guess what I’m saying is if you find a sitter whom you love and loves your kids, do whatever it takes to keep them! I never demanded a pay-rate or anything, they offered and I accepted. The kids are in high school now and I still keep in touch with them.

  11. craig says

    i am a 12 year old baby sitter and my going rate is 7.50 for 1 child. 10.00 for 2. 12.00 for three. i like the gift card idea try i tunes gift cards. kids lov em. i know i do.

  12. craig says

    i am a 12 year old baby sitter and my going rate is 7.50 for 1 child. 10.00 for 2. 12.00 for three. i like the gift card idea try i tunes gift cards. kids lov em. i know i do.