Family Weekend Guide: Baby-Sitting

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It's so important for parents to get out -- with each other or with other adults -- to refresh yourself, to revitalize your relationship, and to nurture your social life. Your child needs healthy parents, and it's good for them to see you in a strong, loving relationship.

With that in mind, the "Family Weekend Guide" on The Saturday Early Show focuses on baby-sitting, with the help of Judsen Culbreth, vice president of Scholastic Family Publishing. (She also raised two children of her own!)

ASIDE FROM ASKING OTHER PARENTS FOR RECOMMENDATIONS, HOW CAN YOU GO ABOUT FINDING A SITTER?
  • Look early. Don't wait 'til the last minute.
  • Give preference to people who already work with kids. Check colleges or high schools in your area. They may have an early childhood development program, and students might be glad to get more experience with young children and earn some money. The Red Cross offers baby-sitting classes, and maybe you can find someone who's taken a course by asking the instructor.
  • Start a baby-sitting co-op. A lot of parents who live in apartment buildings do this. You trade off watching one another's kids so that no one pays. If you have four couples, each can go out once a month. If you can turn it into a sleepover, so much the better; it can be like a second honeymoon for mom and dad.
WHAT QUALITIES SHOULD YOU LOOK FOR IN A SITTER?
Look for someone who is mature, self-confident, and has a business-like attitude, as well as good manners. Make sure they're healthy; don't hire someone who has a cough or cold. Pick someone who can deal with your child's special needs, i.e. separation anxiety, medication, etc. Depending on your child's needs, it might be better to hire an adult instead of a teen-ager.

HOW CAN YOU MAKE SURE THE SITTER IS UP TO THE JOB?
  • Interview them, even if it's a teen-ager. Ask for references from other parents. Ask how she would handle certain situations. Allow her to ask you questions. Explain how you'd like her to handle behavior problems. Introduce your child to the sitter and observe.
  • Train the sitter by hiring them as a mother's helper while you're at home doing chores. This gives you a chance to observe the sitter with your kids, and gives the sitter a chance to get to know your children and your household.
  • Start off slowly. Let them baby-sit while you run local errands during the day.
  • Kids are kids. Don't expect a teen-age sitter to have a medical degree.
WHAT ABOUT SETTING GROUND RULES? THINGS HAVE CHANGED SINCE WE WERE KIDS. SHOULD YOU ALLOW YOUR SITTER TO WATCH MTV OR PAY-PER-VIEW OR SURF THE WEB?
  • It depends on whether the kids are up. You probably have different rules for what your 6-year-old can watch versus what your 12-year-old can watch. So you can tell the sitter, "These are the types of shows that we like when the children are awake, and after they go to bed, it's up to you and your parents what you do."
  • Rent a video that everyone will like. This guarantees there will be something appropriate to watch.
  • Review the rules on meals, pets, playtime indoors and out, whether your child can have a friend come over.
SHOULD YOU ALLOW YOUR SITTER TO BRING A FRIEND?
Only if you know the friend well.

WHAT ABOUT A BOYFRIEND?
No, because where will her attention be focused?

MOST PARENTS LEAVE EMERGENCY NUMBERS FOR THE SITTER, THEN SPEND HALF THE NIGHT WORRYING THAT THEY'VE FORGOTTEN SOMETHING. WHAT'S THE BEST WAY TO MAKE SURE YOU'RE COVERED?
  • Have a standard list that you can photocopy and fill in the blanks:
    Where we'll be:
    How to reach us:
    No peanut butter for Bobby…etc.

    And go over the list with your sitter.

  • Tour the home with your sitter, and point out locks and alarms. Make sure she knows how to turn them on and off and where to find a flashlight.
  • Make sure you have your cell phone and/or pager turned on, and instruct the sitter how to leave a page. Make sure your sitter knows that you want to be called, even if it's not a dire emergency. Let's say your kids are fighting. A teen-age sitter shouldn't try to mediate. Sometimes the ability to say, "Let's call your parents" is enough to quiet things down. Your sitter needs to know that she can exercise some form of discipline; nothing chills a sitter like kids who don't respect her authority.
HOW MUCH SHOULD YOU PAY? A LOT OF SITTERS (AND PARENTS) FIND IT AWKWARD TO DISCUSS THIS.
  • This will vary by region. Ask other mothers. But the key is to ask the ones who seem to have a social life. They'll tell you the going rate.
  • Pay more than the federal minimum wage (currently $5.15 per hour) because you are competing with Pizza Hut and Burger King. Your sitter is a valuable employee.
  • Discuss the rate ahead of time with your sitter, and you can tip them for extra effort.
ONCE YOU'VE FOUND A GOOD SITTER, HOW DO YOU KEEP HER HAPPY?
  • Don't leave dirty dishes or laundry. She's not there to do housework.
  • Ask ahead of time what she likes to eat and what her favorite soft drink is.
  • Phone if you're going to be late so that she won't worry and neither will her parents.
Have the children bathed and in pajamas before she arrives, so that they can be ready to read or play a game or watch a movie. This will make the evening go a lot better right from the start.
  • Ellen Crean

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