Parenting Q & A

Ellen Barrett, a parent educator at Family Connections, fields questions from parents about the daily ups and downs of parenting. The same issues affect many parents. If you have questions for Barrett, e-mail her at

Q. My husband and I have two children and we need to start to build a good pool of reliable sitters. We have no idea how to start. Where do we find sitters? How do we choose one? And how can we determine whether a sitter is a good fit for our family? 

A.  Whether you have a dentist appointment in the middle of the day, a meeting at your child’s school or are trying to plan date night with your spouse, the task of finding a sitter can be a challenge. Here are a few tips to guide you:

  • The best place to begin the search for a sitter is in your own neighborhood: at the playground, at the librar or at your church. Word-of-mouth is the most useful and comfortable way to find a sitter who fits your family and will be interested in the job. Find out if local colleges have lists of potential baby sitters. John Carroll University, Notre Dame College and Ursuline College have services available to connect to students. Nanny agencies, such as Erin’s Nannies, provide part-time and full-time care options. (Family Connections does not endorse any particular agency or institution.)
  • Interview each prospective sitter. Ask for references to find out about the sitter's past experience, promptness, level of maturity and attitude toward kids. Has he or she taken a first aid class? If not, are they willing? There are baby-sitting classes available at the Heights Library that introduce young people to baby-sitting and provide training. Family Connections provides the library with a speaker for these sessions to help youngsters become successful baby sitters.
  • During the interview, ask why he or she wants to baby-sit. Most kids want to baby-sit for the money, but that shouldn’t be the only reason. You want them to like kids, or enjoy holding babies or something that indicates they’ll enjoy the work.
  • Once you have found a potential sitter, invest time to get to know him or her. Some of the best baby-sitting experiences come from beginning with a mother’s helper, a younger sitter who will be there only when you are home. Mother’s helpers can provide an extra pair of hands and eyes on your child while you pay bills, prepare dinner or even take a rest.
  • The benefits of starting with a helper often result in your being able to groom a sitter for future long-term jobs. He or she will have the benefit of getting to know your house rules, seeing how you interact with your child, bonding with your child and developing a vested interest in your family. The downside of this approach is that you won’t be able to rely on him or her right away for the appointments that will take you out of the house. But, before you know it, you’ll be able to run a quick errand or two as your helper grows into the job.
  • Be sure to give your sitter the information he will need to succeed. Provide information about your child, such as routines, allergies and food preferences. Leave clear rules about television watching, bedtime and other situations that might occur while you are gone. Be sure to provide contact information for yourself, close neighbors, your pediatrician, and instruct him or her to call 911 in an emergency. 
  • Have realistic expectations. Remember that sitters are not parents. Their job is to keep your children safe and happy. They should not be expected to discipline your child, prepare difficult meals or clean up anything that isn’t related to their tasks.
  • Sometimes, sitters can provide special fun. Set them up with play dough, finger paint or other messy projects. Let them eat ice cream together or order pizza for dinner. Make it special and exciting so both the sitter and your kids will have a positive experience and want to do it again.

Baby sitters can provide much needed respite from the daily tasks of parenting. Taking the time to choose a sitter carefully will go a long way toward a comfortable and beneficial relationship. Treat your sitter fairly and he or she will reciprocate. Like any other relationship, the more you put into it the more you’ll gain.

Read More on "Got kids?" Corner
Volume 4, Issue 2, Posted 2:54 PM, 01.18.2011