Hiring a babysitter? Ask these questions first

When I was a teenager, good recommendations and up-to-date First Aid and CPR certifications were more than enough to get a babysitting job. But now? Not anymore.

Whether you're looking for a teenage "mother's helper" to play with the kids for an hour after school while you cook dinner, or you want an adult to help you with the kids while you're at the office, these days you need to do more than grab a scrap of paper pinned to a bulletin board at the supermarket. There are services like Care.com and SitterCity.com that screen caregivers and allow you to search for those in your area, but once you've found a few prospective babysitters, you still have to interview them yourself. Sittercity.com has a great checklist of questions to ask; here are the 20 we think are most important:

  1. Why do you want to babysit? "Because I need money" may be an honest answer, but it's not a good one. Ideally, the candidate will say that he or she enjoys working with children.

  2. What experience do you have? This can include experience as a camp counselor, as a teacher or a teacher's aide, as a big sibling or older cousin, as a nanny, or as a parent. If you're interviewing a tween for a "mother's helper" job, it's OK if they don't have much experience, since you'll be nearby to monitor and help.

  3. Can you provide references and may we conduct a background check? Make it clear that you will be calling any references the candidate provides.

  4. Is there an age-range with which you are most comfortable? If the babysitter has plenty of experience with 8-year-olds but has never dealt with a tantrumming toddler, she may not be the best person to watch your 3-year-old twins.

  5. Do you know first aid? The potential babysitter doesn't have to be a nurse or a former emergency medical technician, but he or she should have first aid and CPR training, be familiar with things like the Heimlich maneuver and using an Epi Pen, and have basic swimming skills.

  6. What are your interests? Ideally, the response will have something to do with children.

  7. What are your pet peeves? Ideally, the response will have nothing to do with children.

  8. Have you ever had to discipline a child? If the answer is yes, be sure to find out why, and ask for details on how the sitter handled the situation.

  9. What kinds of discipline do you use? Now's the time to set the ground rules: Do you allow spanking? Time-outs? No dessert? How much authority do you want your babysitter to have when you're not there?

  10. What is the most difficult situation you've ever been in with a child? The candidate may have only had great experiences, but chances are there are one or two incidents that stand out, even if they were mild. What was the outcome?

  11. Would you be willing take on a few extra responsibilities? Be clear about what your expectations are-it's not fair to be angry that the sitter didn't pick up after your kids if she doesn't know you expect her to pick up after your kids. If you want your babysitter to throw in a load of laundry or wash the dishes before you get home, say so-and be willing to pay her a little more.

  12. What would you do with a child on a rainy day? If you would prefer that your kids not spend time in front of the TV, you should be sure to say so.

  13. What would you do if a small child refuses to sleep? Is it OK if your 3-year-old waits up until you get home? What if you children are older (or younger)?

  14. What would you do in an emergency? List different scenarios-a kitchen fire, a power outage, a stopped-up toilet, a growling neighborhood dog at the playground, a flat tire.

  15. How will you get to and from my house? Will the sitter rely on you to pick her up and drop her off? How will she get there if you can't drive her?

  16. If you have your own car, would you be willing to pick my kids up from school or drop off them at a playdate? Be sure to verify that he has a valid driver's license, check his driving record, and ask whether he would be comfortable driving your kids to their activities if you provide car seats.

  17. What sort of a time commitment are you looking for? Are they willing to work day to day? Are they available on weekends? Or are they looking for a set, long-term commitment-six months to a year of steady work?

  18. What are your rates? How much does she charge per hour? (You can see what the average is in your area with Care.com's babysitter pay calculator) Is there an additional charge if you're late coming home? Are you expected to reimburse her for gas if she's driving to you, even if your kids aren't in the car? If you've made a long-term babysitting commitment, does she require that you pay her if you cancel during the week?

  19. Do you have any pet allergies or fears? Even if you don't have a pet yourself, your babysitter may encounter one while she's with your kids, especially if she'll be taking them to a playground, a park, or a friend's house.

  20. Are there any questions you have for me to answer? This open-ended question gives prospective sitters a chance to voice their concerns, clarify your expectations, or bring up issues you may not have considered (should you keep peanut butter in your kitchen if your sitter is allergic?). Even if they don't have questions for you, tell them that they can call or email you if they think of any after the interview is over.

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