Childcare: All Your Questions About Finding Babysitters

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How do I find a babysitter?

Check out my post here on this process!

I love, but remember, it is like online dating! You need to filter, weed through it thoroughly and interview well! My link above goes through the whole process of finding the gems on! .

How much do I pay my sitter?

The rate for sitters varies city/state. They also vary by age, experience/background and other standards (such as a requirement to drive or to have CPR training). Evaluate what other families are paying their sitters by ask your friends, neighbors, or using or a Facebook group for local parents.

In most places a sitter is somewhere between $10-$20/hour. In more expensive cities like New York, LA and San Francisco, you can expect $15-$30 depending on their age, experience and any expertise. Those who are a nurse, career nanny, or teacher by trade and who might be moonlighting for extra hours/cash are likely to be more expensive per hour. Asking a sitter for New Year’s Eve or any other special holiday might increase that one-time rate.

Can I pay my sitter less when the kids are asleep?

No. The hard answer is no and I vehemently disagree with anyone who says differently. If your sitter offers two rates – a rate for two kids or another for one child – perhaps you can negotiate with them to pay the lower rate of these when the kids are asleep (this should be discussed when hiring!). Though, is saving a few dollars a week really worth it in the end? You want to be good and fair (even generous!) to your sitters so they are good to you (such as filling in last minute and always going above and beyond!).

Asking your sitter if you can pay them something like half of their hourly rate once the kids are asleep is disrespectful and unfair. If you work in a retail store and no one shops while you are on duty, your manage doesn’t pay you less an hourly rate. If you are a customer service rep and no one calls your office while you are on-duty, your hourly rate doesn’t go down. A reception doesn’t get less because no one comes in. Hourly employees that are on-duty and on-call whether or not something is happening are still at work. They don’t have the freedom to do whatever they want or leave.

If there is an emergency situation at night when the sitter is there – you expect them to do their absolute best at handling it. You pay them to be there – to take time out of their lives to take care of your children and home – when you cannot. That role is both important and respectable. I do ask my sitters to do all the child-related chores once the kids go to sleep – like make formula, clean up the kid’s meals, fold the kid’s laundry, pick-up the kid’s toys, etc. Once those things are complete, they are free to sit on the couch and watch television. However, if my kid is cry from a bad dream, or there is any type of emergency – they are expected to give their best and do everything in their power to take great care of my children and home. For these reasons, their rate does not go down just because my kids are in bed.

The exception: The exception to this rule is if your sitters is doing a full “overnight shift”. The expectations and rate for this should be discussed ahead of time. From my experience, it is normally a flat rate from the time the ‘day job’ is done and until ‘it begins again’.

Example: If your children go to sleep at 7:00 p.m. but it will take the sitter an hour to clean-up from their dinner, put the toys back in order, and prep the kid’s breakfast and bottles for the morning, then her ‘night shift’ begins at 8:00 p.m. not 7:00 p.m. If you need to her wake-up 30-minutes before the kids normal wake to get herself ready for the morning to begin on time, her shift begins then, not when the kids actually wake-up.

A glitch in this set-up is if your children wake-up throughout the night and need the sitter’s attention. You should have a discussion with the sitter for extra pay for those instances as well.

Am I suppose to train my sitter?

Yes! If you expect more of your sitter than to sit on the couch and watch television while your kids are asleep – you need to set aside time to train him or her. Have a checklist to go through – showing them around the house, where you keeps things, baby proofing tools, guidelines and rules for the kids, and how things work (like the stroller or dishwasher for instance). I also go through how I talk to my kids and handle meltdowns, fighting or other challenges. We discuss how discipline is handled and even verbiage we use (or don’t use) to discuss things with the children (like sharing or not hitting).

You should expect to spend at least 1-hour (if not 2!) ‘training’ your sitter before they begin regularly with your family on their own. The first couple of times they help out might require some extra post-it notes and text message directions in addition, but they will get the hang of it.

I find it useful to have some ‘house rules’ (i.e. no sweets or t.v. time for the kids) posted on the fridge along with the kid’s daily schedule and all our emergency info.

As things change in your household, keep them up-to-speed! Setting your sitter up for success helps everyone.

How do I lay out other expectations for my sitter?

Your expectations for your sitter should be presented upfront when you are first hiring them. When I am interviewing my sitters I usually say something like “the primary responsibility is the care of the children and all their related chores, though I do expect you to be willing to wear a few hats. Sometimes I might be coming home late from work and ask you to start cooking our Blue Apron Meal, or to fold the laundry after the kids have gone to sleep. Sometimes I might ask you to help organize the kid’s closets or other small house projects relevant to the daily management of the house. Does that sound good to you?” or “are you comfortable with all of that? Do you have any concerns?”

I make sure they know that the job doesn’t start and end with just playing dress-up and running around the house singing Baby Shark (though that is on the list too!). In our house, all kid-related chores (like washing bottles or prepping their lunch, sometimes bathing the kids and then cleaning up the bathroom) fall in their realm when they are on-duty and there is time for those extras. Sometimes there is not time, of course.

I would never ask my sitters to do something like clean my toilets or wash my car! I would never think of taking advantage of the situation or surprising anyone with new asks. My requests are presented upfront and very relevant to the day-to-day of running a house with young kids and working parents.

Making sure my sitters know this is a real job, with real expectations is important to me. I want them to know I value the role and who is it in it. I don’t just hire anyone. I expect them to take it seriously, as well.

Sure, there are sitters whose job is to come over and talk on the phone and watch television when the kids are sleeping just so you can get a date night in or attend a work event. But if you are hiring regular sitters that are going to help you week-to-week and long term, who are deeply tied into your family and your children’s lives, expect more of them!

Should I allow my sitter to watch t.v. or talk on the phone while they are working?

Set your expectations and rules upfront when you are hiring them and again on their first day. Post the expectations clearly on your fridge as house rules. My sitters are absolutely allowed to talk on the phone or watch television…once the kids are asleep and all the kid-related chores are done.

Otherwise, I ask that personal phone use (including emailing, texting or social media) be kept to an absolute minimum or emergency situation. I ask that mobile usage is reserved for contacting me – like sending me photos or videos or texting me for any updates, questions or concerns throughout the day.

Babysitting is a real job. I expect my caregivers to perceive it that way! Caring for the health, safety and happiness of my children is number one. They can socialize and relax on their own time or after the day is completely done and the kids are asleep! I pay my sitters good money and want them to understand the importance of their role in our house and lives.

How do I pay my sitter?

Make sure to understand how your sitter needs to be paid before they begin. Ask them straight out. Use Paypal or Venmo if that is easy for both of you! Otherwise be sure to have cash or check available at the end of the day or end of the week. Be sure to set expectations on when you pay them – if they come multiple times a week – perhaps ‘payday’ is Friday instead of every evening.

Do I need to feed my sitter?

I always let my sitters know that they are welcome to snacks and (non-alcoholic) drinks in our house. I try to have some good snacks available also – like trail mix, popcorn, fresh fruit, etc. However, I do always let them know up front that if they are going to be babysitting over a mealtime to please plan to bring their own lunch or dinner. They often do.

If I have something in the fridge to offer them – I am happy to do so – but they shouldn’t expect it. Mostly because meal time is hard enough in my house and I cannot take on someone else’s meal as my responsibility. I have enough on my to-do list, as we all do! Normal jobs do not offer you all your meals – it should be no real surprise.

If our sitter if helping when we are ordering pizza or serving up family style, they are always, always welcome to join in on that! If we ask them to accompany us somewhere special like a party or out to dinner with the kids, they are welcome to a meal on us there and then!

My babysitter is young, trendy and super cute! However, her clothing choices are ‘inappropriate’ attire for babysitting in my eyes. How do I address this?

The real question is — is it really inappropriate or do you just not relate or like it? The clothing trends for younger generations are unalike ours, of course! Just because we don’t understand or “like” the current style doesn’t mean we can dictate our preferences to them.

So, before you say anything, ask yourself if it is really something that effects the sitters ability to do his/her job or the safety of your kids?

Attire can be something you address in advance, before it comes a problem. Ask that your sitter wear clothing that makes it easy to run, jump, play and can get dirty in the sandbox! Suggest that comfortable yoga pants, jean, sweatshirts or gym clothes might be the easiest options. Avoid heels or shoes that are otherwise limiting in terms of running after busy toddlers or playing soccer in the backyard! Avoid wearing favorite or expensive ‘going out clothing’ that might get ruined with a messy baby hands full of raspberries, or chunky jewelry that could pose a choking hazard.

Simply remind them that they are with kids and their clothing options should reflect that role rather than pointing out exactly what you don’t like, as needed.

I have cameras in my house. Can I watch my sitters?

Yes. And also no.

You should always inform your sitters that there are ‘nanny cams’ in the house. Quite frankly, I would much, much, much rather tell them that there is a chance they are being watched or recorded and deter anything weird/bad to happen than catch it! Dear god – I do not want to catch something that makes my stomach turn – I just want to prevent it from happening!

Tell your sitter “we have cameras in and around our house for safety purposes, including the kid’s bedrooms. There are no cameras in the bathrooms, of course.” If you have a live-in nanny or sitter you should note “there are no cameras in your private bedroom/space.”

Having cameras visible is a good measure to remind them to be on their best behavior, even if you are’t watching it or they aren’t even on!

You should definitely glance through some of the footage when your sitter first begins. Especially if there are any doubts or uneasy feelings (hopefully not…). However, don’t get addicted. Remember, you aren’t there. The situation from far away always is very different than in the moment. Once your babysitter is practiced, up to speed and you feel comfortable, don’t watch it unless something goes wrong. It will weigh on you too much.

If you have a good/awesome sitter – they might even say send you a text like “Johnny took his first steps in the kitchen! Quick, watch your camera, he is at it again!!” A sitter/nanny who knows there are cameras and is comfortable/confidence with all of their language and behavior by following all the rules and making smart decisions, etc. should really have no problem with it anyway.

What if my sitter does something wrong I don’t like?

Address it or fire them.

If you walk in the house to catch your sitter watching television while the kids are awake and that is against the house rules, bring it up and correct it. If the sitter talks to your children in a way you don’t like, address it as a practiced manager and give them the chance to improve. Explain your whys and whens, how it impacts your kids or family and what your expectations are of them. “Jane, I really don’t like the television being on when the kid’s are awake and you are on-duty. In fact, it is one of the house rules I discussed when hiring you and have posted on our fridge. The reason behind it is…. XYZ…. I’d really rather you keep the t.v.s off when you are working. If this is a guideline you can’t get behind, please let me know now. I don’t think we’d be a good match for you if you prefer a household with a different standard of screen time.”

However, if there is ever anything that effects the healthy, safety or well-being of your child – like your babysitter putting them into any danger (like leaving a baby alone in the bathtub or a toddler playing outside by themselves) or unacceptable physical behavior with your kids (like a spanking), fire them immediately. It is hard to recover from something like that on both sides, you won’t trust them (whether it was malicious or just bad judgement) and your children may be truly affected if it continues on.

My sitter is always late. How do I deal?

You should address this situation head on and right away. If your sitter is late more than twice, without a reasonable excuse or heads up (and this occurrence is otherwise rare), talk about it.

You can say something like “Hey Jane, I schedule you to start at a particular time because I need to get out on-time as well. If you could plan to be on-time, or even a minute or two early, that is really helpful to us. If you there is a problem with the time you are scheduled to start, please let me know ahead of time so I can figure out how to handle it.”

If that doesn’t do it, bring it up again. “Hey Jane, I know we talked about this briefly the other day, but I need you to be on-time. I cannot be late to my commitments and need the time you are scheduled to realistic. If you are having trouble getting here on time, we should discuss you starting 15-minutes earlier than I need for a lower ‘transition rate’ period. That way I know you can be here when I need to go.”

Transition Rate Time: A 15-minute increment of time for your sitter to arrive early. You can slowly switch off during this period as they won’t yet have full responsibility of the kids/house. It gives the sitter time to arrive and settle in, you to give directions or other information they might need for the day.

If their pay is $15/hour, divide that by 50%, then by the 15 minutes you need them (15/2 – 7.30, 7.50/4 = $1.88). Adding $1.88 to their paycheck is worth it for you! Start the clock when they actually show up. If your ‘perpetually late’ sitter only ends up showing up 5-minutes early, that 5 minutes of extra pay is what they get. If being late continues to be a true problem and effects your stress level and ability to go to work on time, etc., find someone new.

My sitter wants to have a friend over, or her boyfriend over, while she is watching the kids. How do I handle this?

It depends!

When I was a young high school/college babysitter, I regularly had my bestie tag along! However, there are steps to this one:

1. You should ask to meet the friend first so that you can get to know them a little bit.

2. You need to make it clear in conversation with your sitter that the focus/attention still needs to be on the children. The job with the kids/house come first and foremost. The friend will need to follow all the house rules and also understand that this is a real job and with real expectations (and consequences).

3. On the day the friend is coming, give a brief reminder of how you expect things to go while they are taking care of the kids.

4. Make rules: You should know when the friend is coming and going. They shouldn’t be able to stop by whenever they want, unexpectedly. The friend is not in charge of the kids on their own at any time.

#4 might change as you get to know the friend! When I showed up at my friend’s babysitting job, I was welcomed in and helped out a ton. The family was grateful to have extra (*free*) hands around. They got to know me individually as well – to the point that I was welcome to come and go without a heads up when my friend was sitting and also ended up being the family’s back-up sitter.

If you meet the friend and don’t feel comfortable, pull out of the arrangement with zero-guilt. Your kids and household is your only priority here.

Say something like “Jane, I’m sorry. I know I said it would be okay for your friend to come along if I met them first but I have had second thoughts about it all. The kids are a lot of work and you do a really amazing job with them when you are on your own and focused on them and their needs. I’d really like to keep things the way they are and prefer another person not come into the mix. I think having someone else might change the dynamics between you and the kids. I hope you understand, I am sorry for the change of heart.”

The boyfriend thing is a different beast. It varies so greatly by person, age, maturity and other factors. My college boyfriend often babysat with me – he loved kids and was super fun with little ones. The kids I babysat for then lived near campus and the family got to know him well in an organic way before he began accompanying me. We were both mature enough by that point and there were zero issues of trust and reliability, etc. He even babysat for the family a couple times when they were in a pitch and I wasn’t available!

However, not in a million years would I even have asked for a High School boyfriend to babysit with me! Nonetheless, I wasn’t even supposed to be “alone in a house with a boy” for much of that period of time.

I think now, broadly I would say ‘no’ to a boyfriend coming along unless it was an exception and not a regular occurrence. I would also evaluate the babysitter and the boyfriend on a few factors before letting that exception happen. The reasoning behind this thought is a few fold – mostly the focus it takes off the kids/house/job at hand, but also the dynamics change, and the secondary level of trust it requires. Although babysitting can be a fun and relaxed job in some aspects, it is still a job. Very few jobs would allow a boyfriend to come over so you can make-out on the office couch.

What should I do if I need to cancel last-minute on my sitter?

Cancelling last-minute on a sitter happens! However, be sure not to make it a regular occurrence.

Your sitter is carving out time in their life to help you out – whether that is turning down plans of their own with friends or family or actually declining other work to be there for your family. They are likely depending on you for that bit of cash that week!

So, if you have to cancel on your sitter, give them a heads up as soon as possible! If you truly feel horrible about it (such as canceling at 7:00am for an 8:00 am start time and they were due to make a handful of money) you can find another time in that week or month to offer them those makeup hours. You can also offer them a cancellation penalty pay, like 15-20% of what they were going to earn. This might make them feel as though you respect their time, are a fair employer, and you go out of your way for them! This will lend to them returning that same favor of treatment!

Remember, your sitter might have other babysitting jobs – you cancelling on them when they might have declined other work for you is literally taking money out of their wallet. If you start regularly cancelling on your sitters, they will be just as unfair to you in the long run – perhaps cancelling on you with short notice, showing up late, or not being available to you when you need them.

My sitter depends on me for hours but I don’t want/need to use her much anymore.

Be upfront and fair about this. You need to tell your sitter so they can expect this pay decrease and potentially find another job.

You can simply say something like “Jane, I know originally we talked about you helping us every Friday afternoon but I am finding that I actually need less hours covered for childcare each week. I think every other Friday is going to work better for us. I realize you might have been depending on those hours and I’d like to be a reference for you if you want to look for another family to sit for to make-up those hours” or “Jane, I realize I promise you every Saturday night each month, but realize that set-up isn’t working out well for us. Our plans are always changing over the weekends! I want to talk to you about being more of an ‘on call’ or ‘occasional’ sitter for us and how that would fit into your schedule as needed.”

What if my sitter asks me for a reference and I don’t have a good one to give?

If things ended badly with your sitter, I think it would be fair to say something like “I don’t think I would be the best option for a reference” or “I think you should explore giving other references for your next job.”

The last thing you want to do is get a call to be a reference and give a bad one – that sets you up from some unpleasant legal entanglement if your sitter thinks you are hindering her search for work. You also don’t want to give a reference you don’t stand behind.

I know it is not transparent or upfront in anyway, but I did have a sitter email me for a reference letter. I couldn’t get behind it. I didn’t think she was that great a sitter and had slowly stopped using her for many reasons. Instead of giving a reason to not give her a reference, I simply ignored the e-mail. She never called or emailed again. Although I don’t think it was the mature or fair route for me to go – it did solve the problem at hand. I couldn’t give a reference for a sitter I don’t feel good about. I also don’t want to put myself in jeopardy by giving a bad one. Silence is sometimes the best option.

Should I check in regularly with my sitter?

Yes! If you are going to be gone for more than 3+ hours at a time, expect a check-in with your sitter. With text messages, the world is so much easier! A quick “hello, how are things going?” is great, casual way to connect.

You can also ask for picture or videos of the kids if it is going to be a longer period of time. Having the sitter understand that they should give you a brief update or that you will check-in with them for one, is a good level set at the beginning.

I suggest not micromanaging, especially over text, unless you need to. Setting your sitter up with all the tools they need (and instructions to get through the day) at the beginning is best. Helping them along the way is great as they require it (or as things change), but try to avoid managing them step-by-step from afar. That is both hard on you and on them!

How do I let my sitter go?

If your sitter is not working out, simply stop using them. If it is something more specific and drastic, you should address it with them and let them know why you won’t be scheduling them in the future. Feedback is not always a gift and can get you into hot water in certain situations so if you don’t need to explain your reasoning, don’t.

The trickiest situations are the ongoing sitters – like every other Friday night for instance. For those who are just not working out well/you don’t feel like are the best fit – let them know your needs will be changing and just keep it high-level. “Jane, I know we have been using you every other Friday night for date night coverage but our needs are changing a bit. I think we should change to an on-call basis moving forward, based on our needs and your availability.” After that, you can put them on the back burner or retire them off your list altogether.

Your family is first and foremost. If you don’t think someone is the right fit, move on.