Ask the sitter to arrive early on the day she’ll watch your child so you can give her instructions. If you hire a teenager, keep in mind that they need strong guidance and limits, so be prepared to tell your sitter in detail what your expectations are.
Describe how you want her to handle feeding, playtime, television, the computer, toilet use, and bedtime, and write down your instructions so she can refer to them later. Make it clear if you don’t want her to talk on the phone, text her friends, or take your child outside.
Before you leave, let your sitter know how you can be reached, and leave emergency phone numbers. You might also want to write down a list of activities your child enjoys and another list of things to do (take out play dough, put on a show, read books) if he gets silly or hard to handle. A four-or five-year-old may spend time testing a new sitter and feel a sense of power: “This is my house, my food, my TV.” Let your child know ahead of time that you expect him to behave appropriately, and let your sitter know that it may take time for your child to feel comfortable with her.
If your child has a difficult time separating from you, you might feel tempted to leave without warning him or saying goodbye. But if you do this, you’ll probably increase your child’s anxiety. It’s better to tell your child that you’re going and have the sitter comfort him as you leave. If he’ll be asleep when you go, tell him before bedtime, “While you’re sleeping, Kim will come and babysit for you.” You can also take time before the babysitter arrives to tell your child about the fun he’ll have. If you let the sitter do special things with him, give an extra dessert, play a new game, he may be less anxious about your leaving.
If you want to check on a relatively new sitter, come home earlier than you said you would. And always ask how the afternoon or evening went. Since some sitters are reluctant to tell about difficulties or minor accidents, ask, “Any problems, scrapes, or bruises?”
Trust your instincts. If you feel that something happened while you were away, try to find out about it. If your child seems unhappy with a sitter, try to learn why. You can ask a three-to five-year-old, “What do you like about Michelle? What don’t you like?” Although you may hear some exaggerated stories, take him seriously when he says, “She yells too much,” or “She tries to scare us.” If you’re unsure about a sitter, ask a neighbor or relative to come by, and check next time the sitter’s at your house.
And if you feel that a sitter is not responsible, stop using her and look for someone else. In order to enjoy your time away from home, you have to feel good about the person watching your child.