Hiring a babysitter for your toddler can be daunting. Especially since your child probably has some pretty specific ideas about who he wants to be with at any given moment. (Namely Mom. All the time.) In spite of (or maybe because of) your toddler’s clinginess, you’ve got to leave the house sometimes. Which means, if you haven’t found one already, you’re going to need a babysitter.
But leaving your child alone with a stranger can be scary. How are you supposed to know in advance if someone is a good match for your family? Sure, you’ll ask them about their level of experience, their past jobs, ages of the children they worked with, etc. But how will you really know?
Some of that is just intuition. You’re a mom. You’ve got plenty. But, there are a few things you can ask potential babysitters (beyond the basic stuff) that might help. Here are five questions to choose from.
1. Why childcare, as opposed to a different kind of work?
Most people aren’t babysitting because it’s what they always wanted to do when they grew up. They’re looking for extra cash while they pursue whatever it is they actually want to be doing. And that’s fine. But you want to make sure that they’re not just doing this because it seems easiest. They should at least like kids. And they should be able to come up with an answer to this question. So, something like, “I really love being around children and enjoy coming up with fun projects to do with them,” is great. Something like, “It seemed like the easiest way to make some extra money,” is not.
2. What are some activities you like to do with toddlers?
If they can’t give you a few different specific examples, they might not be the right person for the job. It’s not that they need to invent, on the spot, some new, amazing activity no one’s ever heard of before. But they should be able to call immediately to mind some basic toddler-friendly things to do. (Think reading, art projects, making ramps for toy cars, that sort of thing.) If they can’t, they’ve probably not spent a whole lot of time around toddlers. And/or they’ve never really taken the initiative to come up with fun activities to do. This question allows you to learn a little more about their level of experience.
3. Can you describe a challenging situation you had with a toddler and how you resolved it?
The first thing the answer to this question will tell you is how much time they’ve actually spent around toddlers. Because, as moms of toddlers, we know that if you spend any significant amount of time around them, you’re going to encounter a challenging situation. The next thing it will tell you is what this particular person sees as “challenging.” If they’re flustered by a one-time refusal to put on a hat outside, they’re probably not up for the job. If they launch into a story about a toddler who repeatedly threw off all his clothes in the middle of a busy intersection (for example), you know you’re dealing with someone who’s been around the block a time or two. And, of course, the way they handled the situation will tell you a lot about how they will handle your own tricky situation … I mean, child.
4. What methods of limit-setting/discipline do you think are appropriate for toddlers?
Different moms will approve of different answers, which is totally fine. But it’s really important for you to know how your babysitter will handle limit-setting. If she says a child should stand in a corner until he apologizes and you think that’s excessive, that’s good to know. Or if she says all children are little angels and they’re only misbehaving because they need love and attention and you think that’s a bit much, that’s good to know. The point is, there are lots of different discipline methods that are within the range of acceptable, but not all of them jive with your family’s philosophy. So it’s good to know what her go-to strategies are, to see if they mesh with yours.
5. What do you like to do in your free time?
This may seem like a space-filler or a sort of random thing to ask someone who’s going to be taking care of your kid. I mean, what does it matter what they do in their spare time? They’re not going to have any spare time while they’re with your toddler. And ultimately, it doesn’t matter per se. But, it’s a good gauge of who the babysitter is as a person. Which is important. You’re inviting her to become a part of your toddler’s life. It makes sense to try to get an idea of who she is. What are her interests? Her hobbies? Her passions? Will she fit in with your family? Not to mention the fact that you’re going to have to spend a fair amount of time with her yourself, so it would help if you actually like her!
The babysitter you hire doesn’t have to be Marry Poppins. But she should be someone you feel completely comfortable leaving your child with (so that you can go have a lovely time, without worrying too much about what’s going on at home). Whether you ask these questions or others, be sure to come up with questions in advance that get at the heart of what’s important to you. Then it’s just a matter of seeing how she interacts with your child, speaking to her references, and using your intuition. You’ve got this. Go out and have fun!