Babysitter Battles

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Find more about babysitters, safety, inspired ideas

"A dad tried to pick up our sitter right under my nose yesterday!" blurts my friend Leslie the second I pick up the phone. It takes me a minute to understand that the father didn't ask Leslie's babysitter for a date — it was an even greater faux-pas — he tried to hire her away.

"Doesn't he know how bad that is?" I hissed.

The rules around sitter-poaching vary from neighborhood to neighborhood, but typically it's a huge no-no to hire another family's sitter unless you've asked, begged, or somehow bribed them first.

Of course this season — filled with back-to-school nights and holiday parties — can bring out the worst in any parent. And having already asked everyone from grandparents to neighborhood teens to sit, some parents have been known to resort to extreme measures to lock in a reliable sitter.

Like Leslie, I'm not very good at letting someone in on a good sitter for fear of losing them. But I'm always happy to refer people to the source of our best babysitters — www.sittercity.com

Despite having helpful family around, we still encounter sitter shortages. But through Sitter City, I've found some terrific and reliable people. If sittercity.com doesn't service your area, you can place an advertisement to hire a sitter on another national Web site, like www.craigslist.com or www.care.com.

After doing this for a few years, I've come up with a few tips for screening and hiring the right person:

  • Pay the going rate. You don't have to pay more than anyone else, but do some research (ask other parents, read other ads) to determine a fair wage for a sitter in your area.

  • Choose candidates who have been around or worked with children before. People who have past involvement with children (camp counselors, babysitters, preschool helpers) or have shown consistent interest in working with kids are ideal.

  • Interview the person first. Set a precise date and time for casual and friendly face-to-face interview to discuss their past sitting experience and the kind of job (frequency, etc.) they're seeking. Candidates should arrive on time and be dressed appropriately.

  • Request three references and devote time to calling them and discussing the candidate. When you speak to a sitter reference, describe the job and ask about reliability, promptness, trustworthiness, length of time they've known the candidate, and what activities the sitter has done with their children. Listen carefully to the reference's answers, keeping in mind that parents who love their sitters typically gush about them. If there's any hesitation or reservation from the reference, move on to another candidate.

  • Now the next time someone's eyeing your sitter, you can smile sweetly and deflect their advances by sharing your online resources. It's much nicer than saying, "Get your own!"

    Have you had to battle babysitter-poaching? How do you find good childcare? Click the comments link below to find and share ideas.

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