From Mary Poppins to Supernanny, parents have seen a few too many miracle-working child caregivers to be 100 percent sure what to expect from an everyday babysitter. And sitters want to do a great job caring for your kids, but how do they know what falls under their job description? Unfortunately, there is no standard blueprint for babysitting. It depends entirely on the family and the sitter. Realistic babysitter responsibilities usually vary by the age and experience of the sitter, how often the sitter is spending time with your family and the needs of your children.
A babysitter's responsibilities can include things like:
- Performing light housekeeping
- Doing laundry
- Changing diapers
- Preparing bottles
- Transporting kids (bringing them to soccer practice, picking them up from school, etc.)
- Helping with homework
- Making snacks
- Getting kids ready for bed
- Playtime/lessons (reading to them, doing crafts, etc.)
But how do you know what to ask of your sitter -- and how does a sitter know what to expect? Here are some helpful tips for determining responsibilities for your babysitter.
According to Richard Bromfield, a psychologist at Harvard Medical School and author of "How to Unspoil Your Child Fast" and "Embracing Asperger's", the best thing to do is be direct. "Parents should keep their focus and their caretaker's focus on the child and her needs," says Bromfield. "Some caretakers are willing to take on assorted household duties and other sorts of tasks. Make it clear that your primary concern as a parent is that your child is well cared for. And make sure, too, that your caretaker does not feel unfairly burdened or distracted by other kinds of chores that were not explicitly negotiated as part of her responsibilities and job." If you give your sitter additional tasks, you should also give her additional pay.
This means putting your child's safety and comfort first as well. For example, a 15-year-old, first-time babysitter may not know how to perform CPR, but a 45-year-old former-nurse should not hesitate. Your expectations may likewise differ if you're hiring a one-time babysitter for a few hours versus a full-time nanny. It's realistic to ask that a nanny or long-term sitter be CPR and first-aid certified, but if they're not and you love the sitter, it's okay to offer to pay for classes.
When you're hiring a babysitter, also think about what additional qualifications could benefit your child. Is your son struggling in math? Look for a sitter who is acing her high school calculus class and can help with homework. Is your daughter taking piano lessons? Find a sitter with a musical ear who can help her practice. These above-and-beyond qualities are not typical babysitter responsibilities, but are specialties that can help your family. Just don't expect to hire a tutor/babysitter and only compensate her for simply her babysitting role.
It's reasonable to assume a babysitter will engage with your child rather than act as a bystander. This means she's not watching kids from the corner of her eyes while reading a magazine, or plopping them in front of the television for hours. She is, after all, your partner in raising those precious, tiny people -- if only for a night.
Entertainment is a huge responsibility to consider. The world of play is a child's life, so you should expect creative indoor and outdoor playtime, in addition to any educational work you've asked the sitter to oversee. More experienced or long-term sitters should expect tasks like this.
A teenage sitter working for a few hours should do the basics, says Tracey Black, a San Diego mother of three and founder of parenting blog Don't Mess With Mama. "I just expect my kids to be entertained, given light snacks and put to bed on time," she says. "If I have a more experienced sitter or nanny, I'd expect help with homework, meal preparation, planned outings to the park, light cleaning, such as washing dishes from meals and tidying up after the kids, and possibly carpooling."
It's always realistic to expect someone who tidies up after herself and the kids while she's watching them, and respects the ground rules and routines. Whether it's brushing teeth, washing hands, changing diapers or assisting with toilet training, ensuring your kids stay clean is a given for any sitter. If you're potty training or have special needs, don't forget to walk the sitter through the routines that work for your kid. The same is true of mealtime with specific food requests or allergies, and bedtime routines. Rules don't go out the door just because you're going out for the night, from eating veggies before dessert to brushing teeth before bed.
That said, discuss discipline for when house rules are broken. It's not realistic to ask a babysitter to spank your child, but discuss time outs, loss of privileges and grounding.
Past that, encourage your babysitter to call you with any urgent questions or concerns. Also make sure she knows it is okay to call the police in an emergency. Setting these expectations in advance is the easiest way to alleviate most issues. Bromfield recommends continuous communication, even if it's just regular chats between sitters and parents. And print out this emergency checklist to leave for every babysitter: Child Care Safety Checklist
"Early in the interviewing and hiring process, parents should make clear to the prospective caretaker that they will be an engaged parent, meaning a parent who will be asking about their child's day, their activities and so forth," Bromfield says.
Parents ride a fine line between being involved versus snagging the helicopter-parent title, but they do have a right to set ground rules and know what's going on.
"By being clear upfront, they can avoid feelings of resentment and intrusion down the road by a caretaker who did not expect or welcome their involved stance," says Bromfield. "While parents can surely be unreasonable and too demanding of child caregivers, a parent should never feel afraid or reluctant or as if they are walking on eggshells when they wish to ask or know something about their child and the caretaking experience."
Maria Adcock, proud first-time mom, is a marketer and freelance writer in Long Island, New York. Maria has worked for publications such as InStyle, Real Simple, Entertainment Weekly, Southern Living, Cooking Light, and Health. Her work can be found here.