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How To Be an Excellent Babysitter (and How to Know If You Found One)

When most people think of babysitting, an image of a slightly awkward 16-year-old girl comes to mind. She may change a diaper or two while she’s watching the kids, but she spends most of the time on the phone with her friends.

In case you were wondering, that is not what excellent babysitters are made of.

Most babysitters, though, aren’t quite so terrible. Hundreds of thousands of parents entrust their precious children to such people every day.

But what goes into being an excellent babysitter? How can you be an awesome babysitter who deserves what you’re paid? How can you be sure the person watching your kids can be trusted?

An excellent babysitter loves kids.
This may seemingly disqualify those of you who aren’t sure if you love kids. If that’s the case, do what you can to find out if you love kids. Volunteer in the nursery at your church. If you find out that most kids drive you crazy, maybe you should find another source of income. If you find toddlers OK, but middle schoolers a pain, then only say yes to parents who have toddlers. Really loving to spend time with kids will ensure that most of your problems while babysitting are minor. And parents and their kids can tell if you hate kids (it’s like a sixth sense).

An excellent babysitter listens to what the parents say before they leave.
Some parents leave a detailed note that makes you wonder how long they’re planning to be gone. Others jot down a few things. Some don’t leave anything but their phone numbers. Regardless of what is written down, listen to what they say. And be thinking as they’re talking about anything that leaves you confused. One of the questions I now ask frequently before parents leave is, “Does your child have a special item he sleeps with?” and then (if yes) “Is the item already in the child’s bed?” I’ve had to call parents too many times asking where Susie’s “lovey” is, only to find it in the dryer or stuffed in the oven of a toy kitchen. It makes bedtime more complicated than it has to be.

An excellent babysitter is at least as consistent with the child as the parents are.
Some parents may not be very disciplined with their kids. There are a plethora of parenting techniques, and as you, the babysitter, are probably not a parent, it’s best not to have strict judgments on what’s right and what’s not. But say, for example, the parents are trying to teach their child to say, “Yes, ma’am.” If, once the parents are gone, the child keeps saying “Yeah” or “Uh-huh,” it’s safe to prompt the child with a kind “Yes, ma’am!” Not only does this help the parents out, but the child immediately learns that just because Mom and Dad are gone, doesn’t mean the rules have changed. A child who thinks the rules are different is a force to be reckoned with.

An excellent babysitter is creative and takes initiative.
Most children, if given the option, would watch television all day long. Some parents may let their kids watch TV while they get things done around the house, but they’re not getting paid to watch their kids. You are. If the parents say they can watch a particular show for a certain amount of time, then go ahead and let the kids watch it. But for the most part, you should be trying to entertain the child in other ways. Going for a walk, reading books, doing arts and crafts, playing with neighborhood friends and playing games outside are all activities most children will love. If they seem hesitant at first suggestion, don’t give up. Turn off the TV, say “That’s all for now” and immediately engage the child in whatever activity you’ve chosen. The child will be way better off developmentally, and the parents will be thrilled when their kids tell them about all the fun things you did with them.

An excellent babysitter goes beyond expectations.
The kids are in bed, the parents won’t be home for two more hours, and Top Chef is coming on next. The turn of events seems obvious. But before you watch gourmet cooks battle it out to the death, check the sink for dirty dishes and wash them. And then pick up any toys the kids left out. Most parents pay a flat rate per hour, so you’re getting paid just as much to play hide-and-seek as you are to watch TV. Do what you can to really earn those extra dollars.

Following these principles will most certainly make you an excellent babysitter, and you’ll reap plenty of benefits. Not only will the parents be more likely to call you next time, but they’ll also recommend you to their friends. Most of the babysitting jobs I have gotten over the last year have stemmed from one family who I babysat for the first time four years ago. I don’t babysit for that family much anymore, but if it weren’t for them, I’d hardly babysit at all.

And finally, while you should always be professional, don’t look at babysitting as just a job. You’re forming relationships with kids and setting an example for them. You’re also serving the parents when you do the best that you can. That yields eternal rewards, and it’s a responsibility that shouldn’t be taken lightly.

Feel free to share any babysitting horror stories, or any other tips you might have on how to be an excellent babysitter.

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