Since my husband and I don’t live near any family members, we rely on a few trusted babysitters to watch our kids when we take a rare night out for ourselves. For the most part, we’ve had good luck finding reliable sitters who take great care of our kids and seem to genuinely enjoy spending time with them.
Sure, there was the one who got locked out of our house while our son was sleeping inside and didn’t think to call us to let her back in. Instead, she spent the entire evening sitting in our backyard and couldn’t understand why we found that plan alarming.
Thankfully there was no emergency inside the house, but it occurred to me that parents can’t always rely on a babysitter to use common sense. Parents need to outline the rules and expectations for how their household should be run when they’re not home.
A few days ago, my opinion was reaffirmed when a good friend lamented that her teen son was stuck in a babysitting quandary. The kids he was watching had been cursing up a storm, and he didn’t know how to handle it. He wondered if he should discipline them himself, ignore their behavior assuming such choice language is okay with their parents, or tell the parents about the kids’ foul mouths.
Listening to the story, I was again reminded that babysitters need to know the how-tos of a household, everything from how or if they should discipline the kids to what they should do in the event of an emergency.
Here are some things I think every sitter should know:
1. That’s not a rock; that’s a spare key.
I always tell my babysitters where our spare key is (and no, I’m not telling here). So if they have to pop out to their car for something and end up locked out, they’re not left sitting in the yard while my kids are inside tearing up the place.
2. Is your food fair game?
Our babysitters are welcome to help themselves to anything we have in the kitchen. Sure, sometimes it feels like I’m being eaten out of house and home, but I’d rather our babysitter raid my snack cabinet than spend the evening hungry. I also understand not every house is the same, so if you have food rules make sure your sitter knows them.
3. What are the rules for disciplining the kids?
I’ve had babysitters who disciplined my kids too much, and babysitters who were way too lax and let my kids run wild. Now I tell my sitters what we consider appropriate discipline. Spanking, nope. Time-out, yes.
4. What time do the kids need to hit the hay, for real?
Every parent has an ideal bedtime for their kids, and then there’s the realistic time that the kids are actually in bed. It’s completely understandable that my sitter might not be able to run bedtime as smoothly as I do, so I give them the realistic time by which my kids need to be in bed and let them know that it’s something I consider a top-priority. That means bedtime is bedtime, no matter what the kids say.
5. What and when should the kids be fed?
My kids are pretty well-behaved (knock on wood!), but like many kids, they’ll work a babysitter over when I’m not around to keep tabs on them. That’s why I always give the babysitter a heads-up as to whether or not the kids have already had dinner or if they need to be fed. Likewise, I’ll tell the sitter if dessert is an option, because if I leave it up to the kids, they’ll load up on sweets. And who wants to come home to their kids bouncing off the walls?
6. What’s the family emergency plan?
I always tell my sitters, “If there’s an emergency, call 911, then call me.” Not the other way around. It’s so important to think of those worst-case scenarios (here in Los Angeles, ours are earthquakes) and give the sitter a plan in the event something goes down before we can make it back home.
7. Give them the skinny on your family’s screen time rules.
I’m not crazy about my kids watching tons of TV while the sitter is there. I’d prefer they play with her since that’s part of why they’re there. But the kids also want a little TV on a weekend night before bed, so I try to lay down the law for a new sitter. If my kids had their way, they’d be zoned out all night.
8. How clean should things be?
Because my kids are young, they have an early bedtime, which leaves my sitter with a couple kid-free hours. While I don’t expect them to do household chores and cleaning, I do ask that they tidy up the kitchen so I’m not left with a sink full of dishes in the morning. However, I do know parents who expect their sitter to clean, fold laundry, organize toys, or do other chores while the kids are asleep. Make sure your sitter knows what your expectations are; otherwise you’ll be steaming mad when you get home and all they’ve done is catch up on their Netflix queue.
9. Make sure they have important medical info.
While it’s highly unlikely a sitter will have to call the pediatrician or take one of your kids to the emergency room, it can happen. Make sure they’ve got the pediatrician’s number and leave a copy of your medical insurance info. You never know. Better safe than sorry.
10. Is it okay if the sitter is on their phone?
Personally, I’d prefer a babysitter not be talking or texting until after the kids are asleep, with the exception of an emergency of course. So I politely say that I’d like them to hang with the kids until bedtime, and then once the kids are tucked in, go ahead and text to their heart’s content. Just be clear with them. Otherwise, your kids may only see the top of your babysitter’s head for the duration of the evening.
This all sounds easy enough, right? Now you just have to figure out how much you should pay them.