7 Things to Discuss with your Summer Sitter
How to make sure you and your sitter are on the same page this summer
Summer break often means a new babysitter. Whether it's someone who can ensure a few weekend date nights, the person shuttling the kids to and from camp, or a full-time nanny, this summer helper can maintain both your sanity and your schedule.
Once you've found a quality sitter, it's time to lay the ground rules. For the more serious stuff, like salary, overtime and sick days, you'll want to have a nanny contract drafted. But to make sure you are on the same page about discipline, house rules and general expectations, make sure you go over these discussion points:
1. Your daily routine. Of course, no two days are alike when it comes to our kids' activities, but it's always helpful to establish a baseline routine so that the kids are comfortable with the transition from school to a summertime sitter. Next to the contact numbers, create a calendar with a basic schedule. You can include meal, nap or activity times so the rhythm of his or her day is not disturbed and nobody misses a ballet class or soccer game. Along with the toys and craft items in your child's collection, put reading on the summer to-do list. Activity books come in handy, too, to keep skills sharp over the long break. Meanwhile, establish any rules or time limits you have in mind when it comes to TV viewing or video games. There's also bound to be a few evenings where you just can't make it home to tuck them in at night, so clue your sitter on nightly rituals like bath time, favorite bedtime stories and lullabies to make going to sleep less stressful for everyone.
2. Out-of-house play. As everyone who's ever dealt with a restless child at night knows, it's important for the kids to get some outdoor playtime during the summer months. Provide directions to nearby playgrounds and encourage their use to ensure lots of unstructured fun, exercise and, with any luck, a smooth transition into nap or bedtime. If possible, set out a sprinkler or garden hose for some stay-cool entertainment, and show the sitter where he or she can find equipment for summer activities such as soccer or Wiffle ball. Set up play dates with the kids' friends, and list some activity ideas for rainy days, including directions to the closest movie theater (if you're OK with shelling out some money for movie tickets), or instructions on where to find the kids' favorite DVDs. You'll also want to communicate any off-limit activities, like biking in certain areas of the neighborhood, so that the sitter is clear on where she or he can take the kids.
3. Safety precautions. When it comes to outdoor play, safety is first, so show the sitter where to find helmets and any knee or elbow pads for bike riding, roller blading or scooter scurrying. Ask to be notified in case of a fall, as signs of a concussion are not always readily apparent. Provide a take-along bag filled with essentials like sun protection, bug spray, antibiotic cream and bandages. It's also a good idea to stock it with bottled water (to prevent dehydration) and some of the kids' favorite snacks (to prevent whining). Be sure to insist that the sitter provides his or her undivided attention and caution against cell phone use while the kids are running around or swimming. If your kids will be doing a lot of swimming this summer and you're losing sleep over their safety, find a nanny who is certified in life-saving techniques and CPR to provide you with some peace of mind. Or, make it a nanny no-no.
4. The emergency plan. Kids will be kids, and even the most cautious and safety-minded sitter won't be able to prevent the occasional spill or tumble, so it's best to be prepared for any emergencies that might occur. Display all contact information in an easy-to-locate, permanent spot in a highly trafficked area of your home, like the kitchen. Include both work and cell numbers, along with those of an alternate, go-to person such as a nearby neighbor or relative and ask the sitter to save these in his or her cell phone. Set out a first aid kit filled with various-sized bandages and gauze, tweezers (we all know kids are magnets for summertime splinters), antibiotic creams and any boo-boo healers you think might come in handy. If your child has severe allergies, show the nanny where you keep the epinephrine pen and make sure she's clear on how to use it. Warmer weather means an abundance of pesky bugs, so also clue the sitter in on any bee, pollen or insect allergies and go over what to do if your child is stung or eats something he or she is allergic to. Lastly, be sure to keep a hideaway key stored in a discreet location or give a copy to a neighbor so that your sitter can get into the house in case he or she gets locked out (it happens to the best of us!).
5. Discipline strategies. There's no one-size-fits-all formula for handling misbehavior, so have a dialogue with your sitter. Let her know how you usually mediate situations and get an idea of what she's comfortable enforcing. If you feel strongly about time outs, go over how they should be handled and how long and where they are usually taken so that your kids aren't caught off guard with a disciplinary style they're not accustomed to.
6. Driving and car rules. If your child's daily routine involves swim lessons, play dates and baseball practice, it's likely your sitter will be driving your child around quite a bit over the summer. If this is not something you're comfortable with, establish activities that are in walking distance to get everyone out of the house and into the sunshine--think trips to the local park, bike rides around the block and basketball games in the driveway. If your sitter will be driving the kids around, you'll want to first check that he or she has a valid driver's license and a clean driving history, then, establish some policies. Most know that cell phones and driving don't mix, but a reminder can never hurt. And if lending your car to the sitter, check first with your insurance company to make sure she's covered. Discuss seat belts and safety seat functions before your child ventures out in the car with a sitter.
7. Vacation plans. Let sitters know when the family plans to vacation, if he or she will be invited, and discuss related payment issues. Find out, too, about the sitter's vacation plans, so that you can make alternate arrangements for any time she will be away.
8. Compensation. Discussing money matters with your sitter before he or she starts for the summer is a must. Of course, hourly rates must be agreed on, but also be sure you are both clear on things like frequency of pay (weekly or bi-weekly), overtime rates, if she would be paid more for drop-off play dates at your home and any paid vacation she will be allowed to take.
Carol Josel, a Blue Bell, PA resident, is a learning specialist, author of three books, and examiner.com contributor. Her work can be found here.
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