How to Find a Babysitter You and Your Kids Love and Trust
Working parents may need (or want) childcare assistance for numerous reasons, all of which are valid. Some parents may need help filling the gap in hours between after school and the end of the workday, while others may need a hand to attend a doctor's appointment or have a date night.
"Hiring a babysitter allows for time away from the kids, which can give partnered parents the opportunity to strengthen their relationship and single parents the chance to be present in aspects of their lives that wouldn't be possible for them to juggle without care, from last-minute events like work obligations to covering their after-school childcare gap, or simply sneaking in a bit of self-care," says Maressa Brown, the senior editor at Care.com, an online marketplace for childcare, senior care, pet care, and more.
But a new Care.com survey showed that parents say finding a babysitter is challenging, and the struggle has its share of consequences. Most parents, 84 percent, said the challenges of finding a babysitter made it hard to take time away from their children, with 40 percent saying they had to miss work obligations because of childcare issues. Sound familiar? Hopefully, these expert-backed tips for finding a babysitter, including how to make a choice you and your child(ren) feel comfortable with, will put your problems at ease.
How to Find a Babysitter
Finding the perfect babysitter can feel like such a daunting task. The good news? According to Reena B. Patel, a parenting expert and Gryt advisor, it's possible to work multiple avenues during a search. Patel says parents can find babysitters using:
- Online certified networks, such as care.com and babysitter.com
- Local parenting groups, such as those on Facebook
- Community platforms, like nextdoor.com
- In-person community and church groups
- Friends and family referrals
When looking for a babysitter, you're going to want to narrow down your options by age. Do you want a teen babysitter or an adult? Babysitting neighborhood kids may have been your first job growing up, and today's neighborhood teenagers, such as the ones your child enjoyed having as a summer camp counselor, still have their place in families in 2023. Some local libraries and the American Red Cross offer classes for tweens and teens hoping to become babysitters that cover basic child safety, typical behaviors, and age-appropriate activities.
"A teen babysitter is good for . . . when you go out on a date or an after-school," says Rebecah Freeling, a parenting coach with Wits' End Parenting. However, Freeling also says a veteran adult babysitter is preferable in specific situations.
"I wouldn't put a young child in a car with a teenager because they don't have experience driving," Freeling says. "If you are having them pick up multiple or spirited kids, I would definitely say you want an older person who has some experience, maybe with some experience in education."
Former teachers or teacher aids often have more experience with children with disabilities or neurodivergencies, too. Regardless of the babysitter's age, knowledge of safety is essential. "It's important for a babysitter to be aware of the differences in care of a child depending on the child's age," says Luke Prest, MD, a board-certified pediatrician.
For example, Dr. Prest says babysitters caring for infants should know the importance of placing them alone and on their backs in a crib to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDs), or that some foods, such as nuts, are choking hazards for children under 4 to 5.
Interview the Babysitter
Unlike hailing an Uber or Lyft ride, finding a babysitter requires more than a swipe and a tap. "You want to make sure they are a fit with your family, and you can see them as a big part of your family," Patel says. Like most forms of employment, an interview is an integral part of the babysitter hiring process. Patel suggests asking questions like:
- How long have you been babysitting?
- What credentials, like teaching or CPR, do you have?
- What classes, like babysitting preparedness, have you taken?
- Do you have experience caring for children who are my child's age?
- What additional duties did you perform in your previous babysitting jobs?
- Are you willing to work weekends or evenings occasionally?
- Are you ever available on short notice?
- Do you have reliable transportation, marks on your driving record, and a license?
- Can you cook for infants and children?
- What activities can you do with children of this age?
- How comfortable are you enforcing household rules, such as those regarding screen time, pets, and sugar intake?
Brown says some of the most important questions parents can ask a potential babysitter during the interview process surround situations likely to happen when caring for specific children. "Posing experiential questions can assess how they'd respond to certain situations, whether that be safety-related like, 'What would you do if my kid trips and hurt themselves at the park?' or a behavior-related question such as, 'What would you do if my child refuses to eat the dinner you made?'" Brown explains.
To that end, interviews are a two-way street. "Tell them about your child and the things your child loves," Freeling says. "That helps someone understand their personality. What makes this kid tick? Science? Math? Art? That lets the babysitter know . . . how they can connect with them.'"
For example, if your child loves space, the babysitter can tell them a story about astronauts at bedtime. Another thing: be honest about your child's struggles. "Is the child going to try to find video games that you've hidden? Run away?" Freeling posits. "Parents sometimes try to pull back on that stuff because they don't want to scare the babysitter." But being upfront can ensure the sitter is a good fit and prepared for (almost) anything.
Evaluate the Candidate
Based on the interview, Brown says you want to assess whether the babysitter is a fit based on three Ps:
- Preparedness: Credentials, hands-on training, and safety certifications like CPR and water safety show how prepared a sitter is to work with children of a certain age or handle an emergency, Brown says.
- Professionalism: Brown notes that being on time and attentively answering questions are positive signs that a sitter is professional and reliable.
- Personality: "The sitter will spend a lot of time with the child, so a personality match can make or break a winning sitter-kid relationship," Brown says. "When talking about playtime and caring for kids, parents can assess the sitter's enthusiasm and overall attitude." Common interests like art, music, or playing a sport can enhance a bond between sitters and kids.
Patel says that red flags a sitter isn't a good fit include:
- Cancelling an interview multiple times
- Showing up late to an interview
- Lack of reliable transportation
- Inability to furnish references
Check References and Background
Before starting a trial run with a babysitter, experts stress the importance of calling two to three references, preferably ones who have used the babysitter in the past, and having a detailed conversation. Teens may not have babysitting references, but they should have others who can speak to their maturity and reliability.
"The goal of the conversation is to verify the sitter's employment history and to confirm that the reference recommends the sitter," Brown says.
Brown suggests asking questions like:
- How did the sitter handle any urgent situations?
- How well did the sitter click with your child?
- How well did the sitter enforce and follow your family's rules?
Many of these questions are similar to those you asked the potential sitter — ensuring the answers sync up is essential. Freeling says references may give vague answers, but it's OK to dig deeper politely. "They don't want to wreck this person's opportunity," Freeling says. "If they say, 'It just wasn't a good fit,' you want to drill down into that because the reason the sitter is not a good fit for them may be a reason it's not a good fit for yours."
For example, the reference may say that their kids didn't like the sitter. Ask why. You may consider that a positive if the sitter didn't allow them to eat ice cream for dinner. Were they consistently coming home to 1,000 LEGOs on the floor with the kids in bed? That may matter to you if you don't want to follow work or date night with clean-up duty.
One last piece of homework: adult babysitters can undergo background checks. Sites like Care.com take care of those for prospective sitters. Private companies like the Professional Background Screening Association can help families find partners. Costs vary, but Freeling says they can start at around $45 and go up. She suggests families cover the cost.
Do a Test Run
All the interviewing and reference checking in the world can't thoroughly prepare a sitter and family for the actual caretaking job. For this reason, Brown suggests a paid sitter trial. "We recommend parents find a time when the sitter can stop by while they're still at home to get to know them and their child," Brown says. "This is beneficial for the parent, as well as the sitter, to figure out if the sitter clicks with their child."
From there, Brown suggests observing without hovering like a fly on the wall. "[Parents] can watch out for how well the sitter follows their instructions, responds to situations, and engages with their child during playtime," Brown says.
She also suggests introducing a sitter and an older verbal child via video conference if a trial isn't possible. For nonverbal and younger children, asking a sitter to show up a few minutes early for a supervised meet-and-greet can help get things started on the right foot.
"At least for the first job, it can be beneficial for parents to shorten the time period they're gone," Brown says.
How Much Do Babysitters Cost?
Brown says the average base rate on Care.com is $17, but it varies based on the area's cost of living, children's ages, and number of kids. Care.com has a calculator to help parents ascertain the going rate in the area. Brown says that "sitter sharing" can help parents cut costs.
"Chances are, if parents are itching for a date night or in need of childcare coverage, other parents in their circle are too," she says. "By divvying up the cost, sitter sharing may lower the expense for both sets of parents. It may present the sitter with a favorable situation in which they'll earn a higher rate per hour by watching multiple kids."
Another option? "Parents could see if another parent or family will swap sitting days, meaning, instead of hiring a sitter, each parent or family takes turns watching all the kids," Brown says.
And remember: "The people doing this job, anyone taking care of children, is doing the most important job on the planet," Freeling says. "Anything they do that's extra, like if they need to stay 30 minutes more, be sure to pay them for it . . . show them you value them."