1. If you are new to an area or just do not know anyone who babysits start by asking around. Find out from friends and neighbours who they get to look after their children. If you draw a blank here try advertising. Put a notice in your local shop/library or in the small ads section of this newspaper.
2. Choose the sitter on positive recommendations from someone you trust. Ask about their childcare experience. This is especially important if your child is a baby. Ask prospective sitters if they are experienced in nappy changing, feeding and dealing with the unexpected, such as sudden illness in an infant or a child having a nightmare or getting upset over the absence of their parents, or a fire or break-in.
3. If your children are older ask how she plans to entertain them while you are out. If they are not asleep will the sitter read to them, play games or join them as they watch their favourite cartoons?
4. Find out what she considers unacceptable behaviour and how she plans to discipline your children if they misbehave. It is particularly important to establish this before you hire someone as your views may not be compatible with theirs on this issue.
5. Be wary of hiring sitters who are very young because they may not be able to deal with a crisis.
6. The person you choose should be experienced in dealing with children. Be sure to get references and check these out. Follow your instinct, too. If you are meeting her initially in your home watch how your children react to her and how she behaves.
7. Discuss fees, including overnight stays, should these occur. Check out the hourly rates that others pay beforehand.
8. Draw up some ground rules. These will eliminate a lot of future disagreements, especially if your babysitter is young. Is she allowed bring friends around? What food is available? Should she answer the door or phone? Will you leave her home afterwards or organise a taxi for her? Will you pay her more money if you arrive home later? Will you require her services regularly on set nights or are you seeking a more flexible arrangement? What notice does she need to give you if she has to cancel the arrangement for some reason?
9. When you have chosen your babysitter it might be a good idea to invite her to meet the children in advance of beginning her babysitting duties. In relaxing surroundings they can get to know each other and you can show her round. If this is not possible ask her to call over an hour earlier on the night she is looking after the children.
10. Do not commit yourself to a long term babysitting arrangement until you are satisfied that the person you have chosen is right for you and your children. Avoid rushing into decisions and be alert to potential problems. Get your children’s view of the sitter and be observant yourself. If you are not happy with the arrangement say so diplomatically. This is particularly important if the babysitter is a family friend or relative and you could sour relations by being overly direct. You can always point out any concerns you have in a tactful way and suggest other ways of dealing with situations.
Go through your usual evening routine with the babysitter. This should include your children’s pre-bedtime ritual, such as a snack, bedtime story, which nightwear they wear, do they have soothers, special blankets or toys (if so, what are their names? It is very important that the babysitter knows cuddly toys, especially night-time favourites, on a first name basis because it will help at 3am when there is a frantic search under way for an errant furry bunny called Speckles!).
Explain the house rules, such as how much television is allowed (what programmes you consider unsuitable for your children), their bedtime and what they eat for supper. Also, go over their toilet routines. Let the babysitter know if the children sleep with the light on or off.
If you have a baby make sure to prepare babyfood and a drink before you leave. Have nappies, wipes and barrier cream at hand.
If you have a fire extinguisher explain how it works. In addition, point out emergency exits and smoke detectors. Demonstrate how to enable and disable security systems and alarms if you have them.
Show the sitter where you keep the inside door keys in case a child locks himself or herself inside a room.
Leave your own contact details as well as those of your family doctor and a trusted neighbour or friend (be sure to ask their permission first).
Be sure to tell your children you are going out so they will not wake up frightened when they discover you are not there. Avoid sneaking out without telling them, it may backfire.
Leave some food for the babysitter or tell her where everything is kept so she can help herself.
Let the sitter know of any special medical problems your child may have, such as an allergy to bee stings, certain foods, or household products or the need for medication at a particular time (explain and write down the directions). Review your first-aid kit with the sitter as well. Let her know if your child tends to have nightmares or sleeps badly, too.
Explain what she should do in the event of an emergency or if someone calls to the door or telephones while you are out.
Tell her what time you will return home and mention that you will call her if you are delayed.
Remember the key to a good relationship with your babysitter is respect, appreciation and good communication. By being clear about any major issues of concern at the beginning of the arrangement you will avoid any misunderstandings.