what's hot around the web

BabySitter

How to Find a Great Babysitter (and What to Pay Them!)

It’s tough enough to find a sitter who’s available when you want them to be, but to find someone whom you trust with baby’s well-being and who’s dependable? Well, that can feel practically impossible -- as can figuring out how much money it should cost you.

Photo: Thinkstock / The Bump

Where to start

Personal recommendations
Arguably, the best place to start is with a personal recommendation, says Leah Clarkson, cofounder of NannyTrack. Ask friends, family members, coworkers and your postnatal yoga pals which sitters they’ve used and liked, and you’re already on the right track for weeding out those who wouldn’t work. Of course, just because someone recommended a sitter to you doesn’t mean they’re the right one for your family. For example, you might feel nervous about a 14-year-old caring for your preemie. So ask lots of questions about the potential sitter before you even call to scope them out. And don’t feel pressured to hire someone just because they were recommended by your mother-in-law.

Organizations you trust
Moms on The Bump message boards say they often hire their babies’ day care teachers or the people who care for the kids during services at their places of worship. Why? Well, a lot of the time those organizations do background checks and require specific training, such as infant CPR. (Of course, you’ll want to ask the organization to be sure.) And your child already knows those people, so it can be a smooth transition when you head out for date night.

Sitter websites and agencies
If you’re still not finding someone who’ll work, you might want to check out a sitter website such as Care.com or Sittercity.com. These sites connect parents to sitters, giving you the ability to browse online profiles to find potential picks. They also provide information about possible sitters, including specific experience such as having worked with special-needs children. Many of them also do basic background checks, if you’d like to have one performed. If you want to choose from a carefully vetted pool of sitters, another option is to hire a local nanny agency to do the legwork for you.

How to know they’d be a good sitter

Once you’ve found a few possible sitters, you’ll want to interview them to see who’s the best fit for your family’s needs. Check out our list of questions to ask a caregiver, which will help you figure out what to ask. During the interview (and after), look for these signs that a sitter would be a good hire:

They have good references
This is your child’s safety we’re talking about -- it's okay to be paranoid. So, yes, you should ask the sitter for references, says Clarkson. And actually call the references to see what feedback they have about the person and how good of a job they’ve done in the past.

They have training
“Anyone who has qualifications and knowledge about CPR and first aid -- that’s a bonus for a part-time sitter,” Clarkson says. After all, you want baby to be in the safest hands possible if there's an emergency. So what if they don’t know anything about CPR or first aid? You might want to suggest the sitter take a class or two -- even better, pay for the classes yourself or offer a slightly higher hourly rate if they take them.

They show up on time
“If somebody’s not on time, I think that’s a really big first sign that something’s wrong,” Clarkson says. Obviously, the last thing you want to do on date night is wait around for the sitter. But the lateness could also be a sign of irresponsibility or lack of interest.

They interact well with your kid
Some parents hire a babysitter after a short interview and maybe a brief meet and greet with baby, but if you have even a teeny bit of uncertainty, it’s worth the peace of mind to ask the sitter to do an “observation session.” This means having her over for a short sitting session, which you partially observe and are partially absent during (go run a quick errand). And yes, you should pay her for this, maybe her hourly wage or a large percentage of it (see info on pay rates below).

With an observation session, “the kids get used to the new person, and the babysitter also gets used to the kids and can ask you questions,” says Clarkson. While you’re there, see how well the sitter interacts with your kid. She should reach out to the child and seem engaged and at ease with them. This is where mom intuition comes in -- trust your instincts.

The kid likes them
After the session, ask your child (if he’s old enough) how he felt about the sitter, since he should feel comfortable in her care. Of course, asking, “Do you like the sitter?” might not elicit an honest response. Instead, “Ask them questions about what happened, like, ‘What books did you read with Mary’ or ‘What did you and Mary decide to play?’” Clarkson says. This will give you insight into how the sitter will spend time with your kids.

What to pay them

Once you find the right sitter, you'll need to figure out the right pay. Clarkson says the typical rate for a sitter can be about $10 to $15 an hour ($10 for a student and $15 for a highly experienced sitter or nanny), but prices vary based on your location, the sitter’s experience and, of course, your personal finances. Here’s a sampling of what some moms decided to pay:

“We pay a college student $10 per hour and a high school student $7 per hour.” -- jennicap, Connecticut

“We've used a 16-year-old sitter a couple of times from about 6 p.m. to midnight and have paid her $50 each time...$50 would've been more than enough to keep me coming back to babysit when I was in high school!” -- mrs_rodney, Wisconsin

“I pay my 15-year-old $5 an hour and nonfamily babysitters $9 an hour.” -- gimmietimmies, Alberta, Canada

“I'm paying a friend of mine (who has a college degree) $10 an hour to watch my daughter.” -- mooshagirl, Las Vegas

“I would pay a casual sitter probably $10 an hour.” -- murfygirl, Southern California

“We pay a college student $7.50 an hour and an adult (such as my daughter’s regular, daytime babysitter) $8. That seems to be the going rate here.” -- meg1974, Florida

“We paid a high school student $10 an hour this summer to watch my daughter a few hours a week and gave a little extra on top.” -- SrhA1984, Madison, Wisconsin

“It depends on the age and experience of the sitter, the distance she's traveling and whether baby will be awake or asleep. We usually pay $10 per hour in suburban Chicago, rounded up to the nearest $10.” -- Ainslie325, Chicago area

“We pay $7 for one kid, $10 for two kids. I think that we somewhat overpay our sitter, but it’s worth it because she always makes herself available.” -- gracier, Minneapolis area

“We pay $10 per hour for our 18-year-old sitter. We paid $12 per hour for a 23-year-old sitter and $15 per hour for a 28-year-old nanny. I pay $7 to $8 per hour for our younger teenage sitters (they're 14 and 15).” -- hikerbeth, Colorado

“$12 per hour for one kid. The sitter is a college student, 19 I think.” -- happ17, New York

“Our nanny is $15 per hour. This is typically who sits for us when we go out.” -- peeper72, San Francisco

“$10 to $15 is normal for here in eastern North Carolina. For a brand-new baby, I would pay $15.” -- brennarobbie, North Carolina

“I pay the 14-year-old who watches my daughter on occasion $10 per hour, but usually I only have her watch her for an hour or two. I think you should pay at least your state's minimum wage, and remember, you get what you pay for.” -- missmuffin87, Hudson, Massachusetts

“We have a college student babysitter, and we give her $10 an hour. Sometimes we'll round up too.” --rnbeth477, Orlando, Florida

You'll probably want to discuss typical local rates with other parents in your area. (Check out The Bump Local Boards to chat with moms near you.) Once you figure out an average rate range, Clarkson says to talk to the sitter about what they expect. “Then you can negotiate from there,” she explains. Keep in mind that if you have more than one child, or require the sitter to do extra duties (like cooking dinner), they'll likely expect higher pay.

What to prep for them

The ground rules
Before your sitter starts, be sure she knows your expectations, so everyone’s on the same page from the start. Popular ground rules include no guests in your home, no calling or texting friends on the job (there are, of course, reasonable exceptions) and no taking the kids away from home without your permission.

The routine
Make sure your sitter knows your child’s routine, especially if she’ll be putting him to bed. Clarkson says it’s a good idea to have the sitter drop by one evening to observe the routine, but if you don’t have time for that, set aside time for a walk-through before you leave home. Make sure the sitter knows when and how your baby is used to things being done, and where important items, like extra pacifiers and clean pajamas, are.

Food and a ride
Also, depending on the time your sitter works, Clarkson says parents should provide food and some sort of transportation home. When it comes to meals, she says you should either “leave money for them to order food or stock something for them to eat, like frozen pizza.” As for transportation, Clarkson says that unless the sitter has a car or lives around the corner, you should provide an extra $20 so they can pay for a cab ride home. Or plan to drive them home yourself.

Emergency numbers
At the very least, the sitter should definitely have your and your partner’s cell phone numbers, and know where you’ll be, in case of emergency. Fill out this emergency information checklist and set it out for her so she has all the important contacts all in one place. Now go enjoy a night out!

Plus, more from The Bump:

8 Date Night Ideas for New Parents

How to Find a Great Nanny

How Is Your Nanny Using Social Media?

*updated December 6, 2012

-- Leah Rocketto

See More: Baby Basics , Dads and Dads-to-Be , Mommy Life , Newborn Basics , Toddler Basics