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10 ways to prepare kids for a new nanny or babysitter

A new babysitter can be scary for kids. Here's expert advice for making everyone as comfortable as possible while you're gone.

10 ways to prepare kids for a new nanny or babysitter

Leaving children with a new babysitter or nanny can be stressful for parents, but it’s also a big deal for kids. They don’t know what to expect. Will this new person make them eat broccoli? (Blech!) Will they know that Mister Fluffy needs to be in the left side of the pillow at bedtime? There are so many things to worry about!

Whether you hired a babysitter for a few hours while you go on a date night or a full-time nanny to watch your kids while you’re at work, a new caregiver doesn’t have to be a scary experience. If you and your child plan for it together and talk about key issues ahead of time, everything should go smoothly.

Adele Faber, co-author of the New York Times best-selling book, “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk” and Irene van der Zande, executive director and founder of Kidpower International, a global nonprofit focused on teaching positive, practical safety tips to children, share their suggestions about how to talk to kids before a new caregiver arrives.

1. Give kids advance notice

Don’t wait until the last moment to tell kids you’re leaving them with a new sitter — they need time to prepare too. (If you hired a last-minute sitter, give them as much warning as possible.) On the flip side, others may get anxious if you tell them too far in advance.

Get kids excited about having someone new; talk about how much fun they’re going to have. Arrange a meet-and-greet with the new sitter ahead of time, if you can, or have them arrive early so your kids can get acquainted with them while you’re there.

2. Help kids feel in control

Faber has found that kids are more receptive to change when they feel in control. “Make the child in charge of showing the new sitter around the house,” she says, “and if there is a younger sibling, let the child tell the sitter how to care for them.” She also suggests sparking enthusiasm by having kids make the sitter a gift or welcome sign.

3. Involve your kids

Accept that your children may be upset or anxious and explain it’s also a new situation for the sitter. Everyone is nervous at first and that’s OK. Seek your child’s recommendations on how to make the new sitter comfortable. They can ask the sitter what they like to do for fun or what their favorite food is. Again, it’s about allowing your child to feel “in charge,” Faber says.

These icebreaker activities can help everyone get to know one another too:

4. Go over the house rules

Clearly and simply communicate your expectations and set boundaries with your child about how they are expected to behave when the new nanny or sitter is there. They should understand that the rules don’t change just because you’re not home. There will be consequences for not minding the rules.

Faber suggests having your child explain the rules to the sitter while you’re present, so everyone has the same understanding of acceptable behavior.

Examples of things to discuss include:

  • Bedtime routine.
  • Rules for screen time.
  • How to get along with siblings.
  • Never opening the door to strangers.
  • When and where homework should be done.
  • Rewards and consequences for good or bad behavior.

5. Explain what to expect from the sitter or nanny

Make sure your babysitter or nanny understands your expectations, and then explain those rules to your children. For example, the sitter will play with them and keep close watch over them; they will not be on the computer or have visitors. That way, both the sitter and your child will understand what’s expected.

“The most dangerous safety issue is a lack of careful supervision, which can lead to terrible accidents in an instant,” van der Zande says.

If your child understands what the sitter’s job is, your child will know how they are supposed to behave and what’s expected from them.

6. Teach kids safety preparedness

“Children learn best if adults explain safety issues calmly, with a focus on how to be safe, rather than on potential dangers,” suggests van der Zande.

If your kids don’t already know about calling 911, this is the time to talk about it. Explain they most likely will never have to call 911, but it’s good to know how. Teach them the difference between emergency and non-emergency situations and which type requires a 911 call. Make them memorize your phone numbers and home address, and who to contact if they can’t reach you.

7. Plan activities

One of the main causes for kids misbehaving is boredom. You and/or the sitter should plan special and fun activities, like games, art projects and snacks to create.

Start with some of these fun ideas:

8. Offer reassurance

Your child will feel more secure knowing you’re only a phone call away, too. Let them know they can call you and leave the number near the phone, but try to discourage them from doing so unless it’s really important. Offer to call to check in. Be sure to tell them when you plan to return and that you’ll call if you’re running late.

9. Remind kids to talk to you about anything

Your kids should already know that they can tell you anything. Let them know that this holds true about their new sitter. If they don’t like the nanny, if they think they yell too much or if they ask kids to keep secrets from you — they should tell you. If the sitter does anything that makes your kids feel uncomfortable, they should come to you immediately.

10. Ask for a progress report on the new sitter or nanny

After the nanny leaves, tell your child you want to hear all about how it went. Ask them about what they did, what they liked or disliked and if the sitter should come back.

You and your child may have mixed feelings about having a new nanny or babysitter, but it will be a smoother transition if your child is well prepared and looking forward to the sitter’s arrival.