The Babysitter Interview: What Questions to Ask?

Hiring a new babysitter can cause anxiety for both parents and children, whether it’s the first time you’re leaving your infant with a stranger or you have used sitters with your kids for years. The days of asking a next-door neighbor to watch your kids are long gone. Modern times have understandably made us all more wary about the people who care for our children and the treatment our children receive.

In order to find the best babysitter for your family, it is important that you screen a few candidates and compare them before deciding whom to hire. However, it can be hard to strike the right balance between an “anything goes” approach and an FBI interrogation! You want to give the impression that you are very involved and concerned, but you also don’t want to scare all potential sitters away. Preparing a list of standard questions will help you to stay focused yet relaxed and friendly during a babysitter interview. Here are a few suggestions on what to ask. Remember, the “right” and “wrong” answers are entirely up to you.

Fact Questions
The first questions you ask will probably be straightforward information-seeking questions.

  • Do you have a driver’s license? Do you have your own transportation?
  • Are you in school? Do you work? If yes, where?
  • When are you available to babysit? How much notice do you need before a job?
  • What do you charge?
  • How long have you been babysitting? What is your childcare experience?
  • Are you certified in CPR or first aid?
  • Do you know how to use a car seat/high chair/stroller/playpen?
  • Can you give me a list of references?

Opinion Questions
Asking the interviewee’s opinion on various subjects will give you an idea of the person’s general outlook and value system. Remember that no candidate is going to be perfect, so keep these questions within reason and applicable to a sitting job.

  • What do you like most about babysitting children? What do you dislike about it?
  • How would you discipline a child who was not behaving?
  • Do you feel comfortable driving the children in your vehicle? In one of our vehicles?
  • What ages do you enjoy working with?
  • Are you comfortable with caring for an infant, including feeding and diapering?

Situational Questions
It’s a good idea to ask one or two “What if?” questions of every babysitter candidate to give you some idea of the babysitter’s analytical thinking skills, knowledge base, life experience and common sense. Here are a few examples, but you should make up your own questions based on a specific situation in your household.

  • “If I tell you that we are going to be home by 10:00 p.m. and you find yourself still waiting at 10:15, what will you do?”
  • “So I’ve talked to you about Jesse’s severe allergy to bee stings… What steps would you take if Jesse were to be stung?”

When conducting an interview, try to do it in person or over the phone. While technology such as email, social networking, chatting, and texting is convenient in many situations, it’s not an ideal way to get a sense of a person’s true character. Facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice will round out your complete picture of a person. It’s almost impossible to get a vibe from written words alone, and sometimes those vibes are crucial input when making a final decision.



American Mothers and the Problem with Guilt

American ex-pat, Pamela Druckerman, caused quite a stir last month with the release of her book, Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting. In the book, Druckerman opines on the differences between — and merits of — French and American parenting styles.

One cultural difference that jumped out at me immediately is the relative relationship mothers have with guilt. In the US, we tend to fret and fuss over our children and feel anxiety when we spend time away. By contrast, notes Druckerman, French mothers “assume that even good parents aren’t at the constant service of their children, and that there is no need to feel guilty about this.”

To discuss why American mothers feel so much guilt when it comes to spending time on ourselves (and what we can do about it), I talked with writer and mother, Sarah Stankorb:

With such a busy schedule, how do you find the time for yourself?

I work full-time and do freelance on the side because writing is what I love to do. For me, “time for me” typically consists of working on freelance articles and essays. Because I’m on deadline and owe these things to someone else, that means I make time for it (early before my son wakes up, during my lunch break, after my husband gets home from work). I think I’m like many other women, in that I usually prioritize other people’s needs before my own–except that I’ve managed to make one of those outside needs something I’d really rather be doing.

Outside of that, (and a book that I’m slowly writing), I’ll have to admit that I’m pretty terrible at making “me time.” Before my son was born, I did yoga every morning. Now those early morning hours are spent either working through articles due later that day or trying to get a shower in before the chorus of “MOMMY!” begins.

It’s been noted that fathers take more true time for themselves (i.e. activities that don’t involve the kids or household) than mothers do. Why do you think this is?

My guess–given what I’ve seen within my friends’ families–is that women tend to become COO of the household once kids arrive on the scene. In particular managing schedules tends to fall under the mother’s domain, and maybe being entrenched in managing the juggle makes it all the more unreasonable seeming to squeeze in time for oneself.

Even the phrase “work-life balance” implies that mothers having time for themselves is an achievable proposition (one where a full work schedule, happy children, clean home, and personal fulfillment occur with happy equanimity if you can just plug responsibilities into the right slot in your day). Despite my friends having nice, feminist-minded husbands, once they had kids, like magic, meal planning and cooking became primarily the woman’s responsibility. That’s on top of work schedules comparable to their husbands’. I’m not sure why that happens. Maybe there is something latent about turning into our own parents. Maybe it’s societal pressure to at least look like we can (happily) manage it all. Maybe we’re just too polite. I have an older, male friend who told me it never occurred to him how little time his wife took for herself–and just how little he was really helping–until he overheard her women’s lib group raging about the same problem in their own homes.

Why is it so important that mothers carve out time for themselves? 

So we don’t go completely mental. There’s no prize for a burdensome schedule. When you are overbooked and not taking time for yourself, it’s easy to take stress out on the people closest to you–namely your partner and kids. That might be a trick for those who feel guilty taking time for themselves. Really, taking that time, in the end, also benefits your family, so it should become a priority. (Really, though, I’d hope there are enough strong moms out there that can just do it for their own good.)

I really enjoyed your recent Babble article on “Why I Want to Be a French Mom.” What do you think American mothers can learn from French mothers?

It’s not really that I want to be a French mom per se. I want to live in something like the French system where families are valued and women are not expected to process babies out of infancy on a collapsed timeline so they can rush back to cubicle life. A pal in Albania recently told me that there, women are given a year of maternity leave at 80 percent of pay. He said, “To think that American mothers (and fathers) aren’t given the opportunity to bond with their children, and a former communist dictatorship gives mothers a year of time to spend with their child is a shame!” I agree. Our system forces many women out of the workforce or pushes others to go back to work far before they are mentally and physically ready. What we can learn from French mothers–or parents anywhere who are treated fairly as workers and those raising the nation’s next generation–is that the sky will not fall if we fight for family and medical leave policies that make sense.

Sarah Stankorb is a contributing writer for CNN Money/Small Business. Her articles and essays have appeared in publications like Salon, GOOD, Babble, and The Morning News.

How to Be a Good Babysitter

Getting hired is one thing. Getting hired over and over again is quite another. What does it to be a great babysitter? What can you do to become a parent’s “go-to” babysitter?

We asked 6 moms what sets a great babysitter apart. Here’s what they had to say:

1. Positive reviews (from the critics who matter most!). “The real bottom line is the feedback from the boys,” says Kelli Cochran-West.  Moms are happy when their kids are happy. Yes, you’re there to make sure the house doesn’t burn down, but you’re also there to make sure the kids have a good time when their parents are away. Don’t know what to do? We’ve got a list of ten activities you can do with kids when you’re babysitting.

2. Enthusiasm. “My favorite babysitters are the ones who say, ‘I’m exhausted, it’s a lot of work to keep up with your son.’ That tells me she or he played with him and did their best to keep up with a 4 yr old,” shares Shari McGuire. “Our son knows who plays with him most and gets more excited for the active babysitters to come over than the not so active ones.”

3. Availability. If you’re never actually around to babysit, you’re probably not going to become someone’s regular babysitter.  “I have received referrals [for babysitters],” says Jeanine Sipple Dougherty, “but they all seem to be involved in so many school activities, that it leaves them practically unavailable.” Of course you’re going to be busy, but what’s important is that you clearly communicate when you’re generally available and when you’re not. (You can do this easily via your SittingAround babysitting calendar.)

4. Manners. “Show interest in not only our children but in holding a polite and adult conversation with us,” says Carrie E. Carroll. Being able to communicate well with the parents shows them your manners — manners which they hope you’ll model for their kids. Plus, it lets parents know you’re comfortable discussing issues or concerns they (or you) may have.

5. Punctuality. Be there when you say you’ll be there. They’re counting on you. Running late? It happens. Make sure you call and let the parents know you’ll be late — and don’t make it a habit. Also, don’t be late to the interview. “A prospective babysitter should report to the interview in a punctual manner. If a babysitter is late to an interview, [it tells me] she will be late to work as well,” says Candi Wingate.

6. Safety. Tracy Gibb says, “THE most important thing for me is that my son is safe. I look for babysitters with CPR training.” Beyond training, showing an awareness of and concern for safety is important, too. “I pay attention to babysitters that ask safety questions such as, ‘Where are your emergency phone numbers?’ and ‘How can I reach you in an emergency?’,” says Gibb.


10 Activities to Do with Kids While You’re Babysitting

Babysitting is a lot easier when you’ve got fun activities planned! Here are ten activities that you can adapt to your babysitting needs:

  1. Start the day (or evening) off by passing out pre-made “fun” bags. In the bag you can have many things that you will use during your time together: movies, music, coloring pages, small toys, the materials for crafts and some games.
  2. Games are great and don’t require much preparation. There are the traditional “Simon Says” or “123 Red Light” which are best played outside. As for inside favorites, besides board games there’s the “Do Not Laugh” game. All sit in a semi-circle and make silly faces; the one who laughs last is the winner and should be awarded a small prize. Tried and true “Hide and Seek” is usually very popular, too.
  3. Go to a nearby park or playground. Assuming it’s okay with the parents, taking kids to a playground is a fun and easy way to let them burn off energy. No park nearby? Grab a soccer ball and head out to the backyard for some fresh air.
  4. Crafts are always a wonderful way to spend babysitting hours. For younger children, activities like finger-painting using edible materials such as vanilla yogurt and food coloring are a big hit. Older children will love cutting shapes out of cookie dough and baking their fantasy creations.
  5. Reading aloud is always an option for babysitters and nothing enhances the experience more than if you take blankets and pillows and make a reading tent. If you pop some popcorn that will make the time shared feel even more special.
  6. Speaking of popcorn, watching a movie together can be a tremendously fun experience. Give out “tickets” before the show and collect them at the “door”. Then, turn off the lights and prepare to have a wonderful time in the land of imagination!
  7. Small children love to do things by themselves. Let them “help” you by stirring their own drinks or making their own sandwiches.
  8. Reverse the roles and play pretend. Let the kids “be” the babysitter. Permit them to give you a prepared snack, like fruit roll-ups and a boxed juice.
  9. Put on some music and dance! Download some great music on your iPod and then, like Snoopy and the Peanuts crowd, make merry! Teach them a dance or encourage them to choreograph their own.
  10. Do a puzzle together. Not only will this keep kids busy for a while, it keeps their energy at a controllable level — which makes it a great activity for before bedtime.

Regardless of what you plan to do, check with the parents first and make sure you have their approval. Be sure to be a responsible babysitter so that all have an enjoyable but safe time during activities. Above all, maintain a positive attitude and have fun! Your energy and smile will enhance any activity and make your time with the children you are caring for memorable indeed.

How to Find Babysitting Jobs on SittingAround

Looking for babysitting jobs, but tired of how disorganized the whole process is? SittingAround makes finding babysitting jobs easy! This overview will help you get set up quickly, and you’ll soon be on your way to great babysitting jobs whenever you want them.

My Account. After you’ve registered for a sitter account, the first page you will see is the My Account tab, which features the Dashboard, your Settings, and Billing information. The Dashboard is where you can keep up with all of your sitting activity. It’s your online personal planner! We keep everything in one place for you. You can check on upcoming jobs as well as review previous jobs.

My Profile. The Profile Summary is what parents will see when they are considering hiring you, so make it as thorough as possible! You can click on “See sitter profile” in the upper right to see your profile as clients will see it.

We highly recommend that you go ahead and get your free background check as well. This is a great value, as many people pay $100 or more to get these checks done. It’s easy, takes less than 5 minutes, and will make you much more likely to find a babysitting job. Just click on the link to our partner, TalentShield, and select their free option.

My Availability. You’re going to love this feature! Our simple drag-and-drop calendar lets you easily flag those times when you are usually available for sitting jobs and those times when you’re not. We recommend filling in the calendar as completely as possible for the maximum benefit. Parents may hesitate to contact you if they see too many white spaces, so fill in those blocks. Made a mistake or changing your schedule? No problem! Just drag the Available or Busy block over to the Delete can.

Messages. You have your own personal mailbox with SittingAround to maintain privacy. While you can opt to be notified by email when you receive messages, the messages themselves (and your identity) are secure on our site.

Finding Jobs. Once you’ve got everything set up the way you want it, it’s time to look for jobs! Just click on the Clients tab at the top and then “Find babysitting jobs near you.”  Enter your ZIP code and click on the Search button. You will be brought to a convenient map showing you available jobs and their locations.

No jobs listed in your area? As you’ll see at the bottom of the page, you can include your Sitting Around profile link anywhere. Include your personal URL on your social networking sites, in emails, even in church bulletins or on community bulletin boards when advertising your services. Clients will appreciate your professionalism and will be much more likely to contact you for potential jobs! Let them know that they can set up a parent profile on SittingAround to make it convenient for them to contact you. Once you have clients through SittingAround, they will display on the Clients tab for quick reference.

Want more information? You can always click on the Help tab at the top of the screen at any time. Read through our FAQs for Sitters to find answers to your most common questions on SittingAround. We’re so glad you have joined us!