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How to find a great babysitter

Finding a babysitter can be a nerve wracking experience - we explain how to find a great babysitter without the stress.
Children really make Christmas special however sometimes even the most doting parents need time out away from being Mum and Dad. As a new parent the thought of leaving your bundle of joy in someone else's care can be quite daunting. That's why it's so important to choose a babysitter that you're completely comfortable to leave your children with so that you can relax and focus on having a good time. We explain how....

Where to look

Ideally the best place to look for a babysitter is to ask family, friends and work colleagues whether they can recommend anyone. This has the advantage of giving you added reassurance as personal recommendations are the best referrals possible.

Alternatively, you could put a note up in your local shop or community hall or run an add in your local newspaper, this can work well if you're looking for a regular sitter. There are a number of specialist babysitting agencies around so if you're stuck for options it may be worth investigating whether any cover your local area.

Who?

The NSPCC recommends that you choose a babysitter over the age of 16 so they're mature enough to take responsibility for their own and your child's actions. There are no official regulations to back this up so ultimately the choice is down to you. If you've found a sitter you feel comfortable with, who appears responsible, but who is a little shy of 16 it's up to you whether you feel happy leaving your child in their care.

Ideally you should go with a babysitter who has previous experience looking after small children. Ask 'potential candidates' for references and follow them up; 2 to 3 should suffice and will help give you confidence in the babysitters abilities. Basic first aid knowledge is important too, just in case.

An ideal babysitter will be someone who gets on well with your children and is able to entertain them with fun and games but who is also able to follow your household rules and keep your little ones safe and happy. You should only ever leave your children with someone you trust, if you feel that something is not quite right you should follow your instincts - it's important that both you and your children are relaxed around them.

Payment

Looking after your children is a big responsibility and you should pay your babysitter well for his or her time. If you use an experienced sitter you may find they specify an hourly rate, let them know if you're happy with this so you both know where you stand. Alternatively, ask friends and family what they usually pay for baby sitting services so that you get an idea of what constitutes a reasonable hourly rate. Generally, you should pay your sitter a little more if they work after midnight or on bank holidays.

The introduction

It's a good idea to introduce your children to their new babysitter before you leave them in his or her care as this will help to make everyone feel more comfortable about the situation. The best way to do this is either to invite the sitter around early so your children get used to them before you go out or to pay them to look after your children one afternoon when you are busy doing something else at home. Whatever you decide, an initial 'introduction' with your children will help to give you peace of mind that your babysitter can do a good job.

The big trip out

When your babysitter arrives for his or her first night 'on the job' there are certain things you can do to make the evening run smoothly for everyone....
  • Show your babysitter around your home, pointing out where the keys, exits and phones are as well as the more obvious things such as the bathroom, kitchen and your child's room.

  • Leave the address and phone number details of where you're planning to spend the evening as well as your mobile number so the babysitter is able to get hold of you should the need arise.

  • Inform the babysitter of any allergies your child has and any medications they are taking.

  • Talk to the babysitter about your child's usual routine, mentioning their usual bedtime, whether they should be given anything to eat or drink and if the babysitter is allowed to take them out of the house for any reason.

  • Agree 'house rules' with the sitter including whether it's ok for them to have friends over, to watch tv while your children are around and to talk on the phone etc.

  • Discuss how the babysitter will get home; if they don't have their own transport it will be your responsibility to either drive them or arrange a taxi back.

  • Leave them some suitable refreshments so that they feel comfortable - tea and biscuits will usually be fine unless they're looking after your children all day.

  • Let the babysitter know in advance what time you plan to be home and keep to it. If you are going to be late home for any reason, call the sitter and ask if they are able to stay later.

Choosing a babysitter that both you and your children feel happy with enables you to go out and have a good time without the need to phone home every 5 minutes to 'check up'. Treat your sitter well and they are more than likely to want to come back and babysit for your children again providing invaluable assistance when you have plans.

Do you have any tips for choosing a baby sitter or are you worried about leaving your child in someone else's care? Share your thoughts with others on the AskBaby Forums.

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