- Get a trusted friend or family member if possible.
- Get recommendations from friends.
- Trade childcare with friends who have kids.
- Do not hire a sitter under age 12.
- Watch your child’s reaction when you tell them a sitter they know is coming, and listen to what your child says about the sitter afterward.
- Meet the sitter in advance, and check references.
- Make sure he or she knows CPR and first aid.
- Ask whether young sitters have taken the American Red Cross babysitter class. If not, encourage them to take it. If you have a sitter aged 12 to 15 that you like, offer to pay for them to take the class.
- Have them spend time with you and your kids, and see how they interact with the kids. A good strategy is to hire them first as a “mother’s or father’s helper,” and have them watch the kids while you are home getting something done.
What do I need to tell the babysitter before I leave?
Your sitter will need lots of information from you before you leave. Allow enough time to go over the information with them, show them the house, and answer any questions. You can start with this handy fillable pdf form and add additional instructions and information, as suggested in the following list:
- Parents’ names
- Children’s names, ages, birth dates, height, weight, hair and eye color (in case children get lost)
- Address of the house
- Nearest intersections/directions to the house (in case it is necessary to give directions to emergency services)
- Phone numbers at the house
- Name and phone of family doctor or pediatrician
- Emergency services number (usually 911)
- Nationwide poison control hotline: 1-800-222-1222
- Location of exits
- Location of first aid supplies/first aid chart
- Location of fire extinguisher, flashlights
- Cell phone/pager number for parents
- Name and phone for neighbors and for close relatives -include a few, in case some contacts are not at home
- Food and drug allergies
- Special medical information, such as asthma, etc.
- Where you will be—name, address and phone number
- What you are wearing or other identifiers
- Time you will be home
- Children’s bedtimes and bedtime routine
- Any food or drink to be given to the children
- Medications—name, time last given, time next dose due, amount to give (dose)
- Never to shake a baby or young child
- How to calm the baby if crying or colicky
- How to handle misbehavior
- Any other special instructions
- Before you accept a job, make sure you find out what is expected of you and that you are comfortable with it.
- Learn first aid and CPR. Find a CPR course near you.
- Take the American Red Cross babysitter class if you are aged 12-15.
- Allow time before the parents leave to get all the instructions and information you need.
- Make sure you have all the emergency information you need—you could even bring your own checklist (see the list for parents above).
- Meet the family pets.
- Put babies to sleep on their backs in a crib—not on their sides or tummies—to lower the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
- Sitters need to know safe sleep guidelines: Never put anything in the crib with an infant—no toys, pillows, stuffed animals, or quilts. Babies should sleep in a sleep sack or have a thin blanket only up to their chest with arms free, tucked securely on the mattress. Find out more about safe sleep for babies.
- Never shake a baby or young child. Even children as old as five can be seriously injured by shaking. Find out from the parents what to do if the baby won’t stop crying.
- Don’t give the kids medicine, food or drink unless instructed to by the parents.
- If you are instructed to feed the children, make sure you are familiar with food safety guidelines. You need to know how to prevent choking and food poisoning.
- Always ask about food allergies.
- Keep doors and windows locked—lock the door after the parents leave.
- Turn on outside lights in the evening.
- If the kids are asleep, check on them every 15 minutes.
- Don’t leave the house with the kids unless you have permission.
- Keep doors locked while you are outside.
- If something looks strange or out of place when you return, do not go inside. Instead, go to a neighbor’s house and call the police.
- Don’t let anyone in the house unless you personally know him or her, AND the parents said it’s okay.
- If someone comes to the door and you are suspicious, or if you suspect a prowler, stay inside and call the police at 911.
- Never identify yourself as the sitter on the phone, instead, say the parent can’t come to the phone and take a message to have them call back.
- Don’t tie up the phone, in case the parents are trying to call.
- Don’t have friends over while you are working.
- Be alert for potentially dangerous items or situations in the home.
- Never leave a child alone in the bathtub, not even for just a second.
- Be prepared for a fire: know all the ways out of the house. Get the kids out immediately, staying close to the floor, and do not open a door if it is hot. Once you are out of the burning house, call for help from a neighbor's, and do not go back in for any reason. Want to learn more about sitter fire safety?
- Make sure you have safe escort home.
- If your employer seems drunk or is acting strange, don’t let them take you home. Instead, call home and have someone come and get you—trust your instincts on this.
- The American Red Cross website has babysitter safety tips and printable materials to use on the job.
- Check out these Spanish language babysitting safety tips!
Sitters who know and follow these guidelines will be highly respected by parents, and always in demand.
- Here is a link to a great site for sitters called: A Guide to the Business of Babysitting. It's also in Spanish!
Parents may want to refer their sitter to this web page, or print this information and give it to their sitter ahead of time, so the sitter is aware of the level of professionalism expected by the parents. Sitters who know and follow these guidelines will be highly respected by parents, and always in demand. A child who will be home alone should also be familiar with all the babysitting safety information.
Does my child need a sitter?
Most states do not have laws about the age at which children are allowed to stay home alone or to babysit other kids. There is no set age at which all kids are ready to stay home alone. You know your child best. Consider factors like:
- Can your child make good decisions?
- Do they know how to handle an emergency?
- Will they make good use of their time?
- How mature are they?
- Does your child know and follow house rules?
- Are they familiar with safety guidelines, such as what to do in case of fire?
- Are they comfortable using the phone and cell phone?
Moving your child to this level of independence is a process. Start by reading this: Is your tween prepared to stay home alone this summer? If you think your child is ready, you can make sure they know all the important safety and house rules. You can use the babysitter resources above as a starting point. Talk to your child about their feelings about being home alone. Start small, with short periods away, and gradually increase the time you are away if everyone is comfortable with it.
For more information on Children Home Alone and Babysitter Age Guidelines, this page from the National Child Care Information Center is useful. It lists some local community guidelines as examples of appropriate ages for being home alone. Basically, if your child is age seven or younger, they should never be left alone. Kids ages 8-10 can be alone briefly, and ages 10-13 for longer periods, provided there is back-up supervision. Babysitters should be at least 12-13 years old, and can babysit for longer periods as they grow older. Again, this is a very individual decision, and these ages are only general guidelines. You need to decide if your child is mature enough.
What do I need to know about having an older sibling sit for
my younger kids?
If you plan to have your older child babysit for your younger children, it would be a good idea for them to take the American Red Cross babysitter class and become familiar with all the information above.
- Please note: Giving your older child too much responsibility for their siblings can lead to problems with rivalry and sibling abuse.
How can I find out about other forms of child care?
Visit YourChild: Child Care
Written and compiled by Kyla Boyse, RN. Reviewed by Leena Dev, MD.
Updated june 2011
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