Meeting the Kids: How Babysitters Can Make a Great First Impression
Here are my tips for what babysitters can do to make a great first impression with the interviewers who matter most: the children.
When you’re interviewing with new families for your next babysitting gig -- whether it's part-time , full-time or just for the summer -- the most important impression you make isn’t with the parents: it’s with the children.
How you end up meeting the kids will vary from family to family. I've worked for some families who preferred to have me meet the children during our in-person interview. I've also worked for families who had me do a babysitting "trial run" to see if I was a good fit. Whichever option your prospective employers go with, remember that this first meeting will set the tenor for all of your future interactions with them if they choose to hire you. Needless to say, it's important to start off on the right foot.
That doesn’t mean, however, that you need to be absolutely, flawlessly perfect in this first meeting. You don’t need to channel Mary Poppins and pull a hat stand out of your bag -- but you may want to keep a few tricks up your sleeve.
Here are a few of my tips for handling meeting the kids for the first time:
As with any other kind of job interview, the key to success is showing up prepared. And don't assume that just because you're meeting the kids means that they won't throw a few curveballs your way. (They're kids; that's what they do!) In fact, you should count on it.
The best defense is always a good offense, so plan out what you'll wear and what you'll bring to the meeting ahead of time. That way, you'll be less likely to be caught off-guard if an unexpected incident occurs -- and more likely to impress the parents.
Here are some things I like to do when I'm getting ready for a meeting with kids.
What You'll Wear
High-level overview: Don't overthink it.
- Be casual: Unless you're meeting the kids during your in-person interview, you probably won't be expected to show up dressed to the nines. (Not only is it probably not expected, but it's also not practical.) So, ditch the high heels and business-casual dress and go for a more casual look: maybe a nice button-down shirt and pair of pants or dark jeans -- whatever you feel most comfortable with.
That being said, you should dress casually within reason. Your outfits won’t make or break a babysitting job, but, at the end of the day, you're still applying to a job. This means that you need to show the parents that you take this job -- and them -- seriously. So, if you're reaching for your favorite pair of sweatpants, or that SUPER comfy, yet super ratty old T-shirt with a massive old stain on the front, stop right there. Instead, think about the outfit you'd wear if you were going out to lunch with your grandparents. (A random thought, but it works!)
- Be comfortable: This part is key. If you're feeling comfortable and relaxed during the meeting, that will make it easier for the kids to feel comfortable and relaxed, too. As you probably already know, kids have this uncanny ability to pick up on any "disturbances in the force," so pick an outfit that will increase your comfort, and decrease your tension.
And, as I said earlier, make sure you're dressing comfortably within reason. When you're meeting with the kids for the first time, these are a few clothing items that you should NOT wear: sweatpants; sweatshirts (unless told otherwise by the parents); any clothes that are stained, ripped or torn; any clothes that have language or imagery that would be considered inappropriate for kids; and any clothes that would be considered "too revealing." Personally, I usually dress on the more modest end of my spectrum, especially when I'm babysitting tweens and teenagers.
Again, think about going to lunch with your grandparents.
- Be practical: You're meeting with kids, so plan on being an active participant. Consider wearing any clothing that you can run around in, that will allow you to sit on the floor AND that you don't mind getting a little dirty or messy.
What You'll Bring
As promised, here are some tips for things you should consider bringing to the meeting:
Lists of activities and crafts: It's always a good idea to come prepared with a list of activities and crafts that the kids might enjoy doing with you.
This list of
12 Ways to Break the Ice with Kids
is a great place to start if you need help coming up with ideas. Just don't forget to ensure that all of your ideas are age-appropriate before you add them to your final list.
Personally, I think the best and easiest way to make a great, no-fail list is by talking to the parents ahead of the meeting. Contact them by whatever method they prefer (e.g., email, phone) and ask them a few questions about their kids' preferences. Here's a sample list of questions to ask:
- Do they enjoy arts and crafts? If so, what kinds of materials do they like the most? What kinds of materials are on the parents' no-no list?
- Do they prefer indoor or outdoor activities?
- What kinds of sports do they like to do?
- Books to read: If the parents have mentioned that their kids are little bookworms, consider bringing a book or two to read to -- or along -- with them. Ask the parents for some suggestions of specific books or genres that their kids enjoy. Once you have a general idea of their book preferences, you can swing by your local library to pick them up! You could also consider bringing a couple of your favorite childhood books from when you were little, too.
And, as before, just make sure you take into account the kids' ages before you make your final selections.
Game Day: The Face-to-Face Meeting
Everyone has their own way of interacting with other people, especially when it comes to children. My main piece of advice is to remember that children, although little, are still people. Therefore, it's always recommended that you greet children with the same level of respect that you would pay to their parents. Don't overthink it, though. Your basic “Hi, [their name]. I’m [your name]” is a great place to start with a child of any age.
Once you've met the children, it's usually pretty easy to tell whether they're outgoing or shy. This is very useful to figure out because it'll help you determine how to go about interacting with them on their level. Some children love meeting new people and will take the lead immediately. They'll tell you everything about their interests and their lives. In this case, you should be good to go!
If your child seems to be more outgoing, you can try asking them about:
- Any nannies and babysitters they've had in the past;
- Any arts and crafts projects that they like to do, or ones that they've wanted to do;
- Any sports or after-school activities that they currently do, or ones that they really want to do;
- (If old enough) Which subjects they enjoy the most in school, and which they enjoy the least.
- If you're well-versed in one of their least-favorite subjects, you could also offer the parents your services as a tutor, too!
Other children are more standoffish, and that’s fine too. Strangers are scary! Here are a few tips to help you adjust your approach:
- Take a walk in her shoes: It helps to look at the situation from the child’s perspective. You're a stranger who is now responsible for their well-being. You have to earn their trust first.
- Stay calm and relaxed: As I mentioned before, kids pick up on both verbal and nonverbal cues pretty quickly. If you're ill at ease, they will be too -- especially if they're already a little hesitant to begin with. The more you can relaxed you can be, the more comfortable they will eventually become.
- Give them space: It's incredibly counterproductive to try to force a shy child to talk or play a game with you when they don't want to. So, rather than pushing them outside of their comfort zone, give them some space to figure you out. Do some kind of activity that you think the child might be interested in -- whether it's building a block tower, drawing a picture or shooting some hoops -- but do it on your own. Gradually, they may end up wandering over to you and try to get involved. The key is to not force an interaction if they're not ready to.
Keep in mind that there's always a chance that the children just won't want to interact with you at all; don’t be discouraged. Some children take a while to feel comfortable in a stranger's presence. Others are especially challenging on the first meeting -- they may be testing you to see what they can get away with. You can always ask the parents for advice:
- Is there anything you can do to make the children feel more comfortable?
- Are there discipline techniques that work at home?
- Is there a game or activity you can set up that might win the child over?
Again, the key here is to make sure you don't lose your cool or get discouraged easily. As long as you're firm and calm, your first interaction will set a solid expectation for how future interactions will go if you're hired.