Entrusting your child to the sole care of a stranger is one of the hardest things a parent can do. Obviously, you will have interviewed the babysitter and spent some time with them before you leave, but first impressions can be deceiving and sadly things can look very different once the door is closed and your car has left the driveway.
Here are some red flag behaviours to look out for with babysitters
1. They don’t reply to texts quickly
Obviously, you can’t expect the babysitter to be able to respond instantly all the time – they have a life, and may even be tied up babysitting other kids when you text – but responding within a few hours or at least a day is normal. If they take several days to respond, they probably don’t take the job seriously or can’t commit, which is another warning sign they’re not right for you.
2. They arrive later than you expected
It’s a good idea to always ask your caregiver to arrive at least 30 minutes before you need to leave, which leaves a buffer in case they’re a few minutes late, and means you’ve got time to get ready and not be rushed. Don’t underestimate the time it takes to acquaint a new sitter with your home and routine. Taking the time to go through your expectations with them will show them how important it is to be entrusted with the care of your children.
3. They don’t follow your requests
It’s important to pick your battles. If you have too many requests or come across as ‘micro-managing’ in your approach, the babysitter may start to resent you or feel you don’t trust them. Give them some leeway to choose activities and manage the time they are in charge to suit their style.
Dietary requests, screen time limits and nap/bedtimes should always be adhered to though, and if you find your children are being fed lots of junk food, having hours of screen time, or staying up way past their bedtime, it’s time for a conversation with the childminder to make your expectations clear.
4. Your child is hungry, grumpy and tired when you get home
Within reason, your child should be well rested and go to bed with a full tummy. That being said, young ones will have their moments and tantrums, which will mean they may initially refuse to eat and sleep in the babysitter’s care. Chat openly with your carer about their experience and find out what has happened, before assuming your hungry, tired child has been neglected. Then work through how the carer might handle tantrums in future.
5. They aren’t keen to provide you with character references
A caregiver who is reluctant to provide you with phone numbers or written references is an obvious red flag. What are they afraid you will find out?
6. They can’t set boundaries, or they use forceful discipline
Another conversation worth having with babysitters is asking what style of discipline they use. They may let the kids walk all over them and lack the assertiveness to set clear boundaries and rules. They might explode in anger or dissolve into panic when it gets too difficult or they feel overwhelmed.
Or they may be so strict that the kids have no fun at all and spend most of their time shut up in their rooms. If your children are old enough, ask them how they were treated and whether they felt the rules were clear and fair, and compare that to your chat with the babysitter.
7. The house is regularly left in a mess when you return
If your child will be sleeping while you’re out, it’s reasonable to expect that the caregiver can use that time to tidy up toys or clean the kitchen if required. A regularly messy house can be an indication that the babysitter doesn’t value your home or the safety of your child (e.g. leaving toys strewn everywhere that could be tripped on later).
8. They don’t provide adequate information about the ups and downs of the day
A sitter who is terse or uncommunicative when you ask about the day/night, and won’t go into detail might be hiding something. This could simply be from fear that you’ll be angry if you find out your vase broke or a child bumped their head, or it could be more suspicious. From day one, try to foster an environment of open communication with the babysitter, and tell them that you know (no matter how careful we are) accidents can happen and you’d prefer to know the ups and the downs.
9. They cancel with less than 24 hours notice (and no good reason)
Life is unexpected, and occasionally something unavoidable may come up and means your sitter will have to cancel last minute. But if they cancel within 24 hours regularly (particularly without a backup sitter to recommend), it’s a sign that they don’t take their caregiving commitment seriously.
10. They’re regularly on their phone while with the kids
Your babysitter needs to keep their phone close at hand in case you call or text, but they shouldn’t be ‘on it’ while the kids are awake, and should avoid being distracted by Snapchat and Instagram.
11. Your kids say negative things about them, or become anxious or withdrawn before or after they come
Anxiety and avoidance is a clear sign that something isn’t right. Make sure you let your child know they can tell you about their experiences with the babysitter in a safe, non-judgemental place. Perhaps invite your babysitter to spend some time with you as a family when you’re there to watch how they interact with your child. They may be able to fake it in front of you, but kids usually can’t hide their discomfort.
12. They don’t make an effort to get to know your child
Choosing a popular babysitter can mean they are often going from one house to the next, and may not really be getting to know your child as an individual. A good babysitter will remember small details like your child’s likes and dislikes, which school they attend, their sports or hobbies and possibly their birthday.
They will make an effort to be interested in what your kids are into. They’ll be friendly, but not your child’s best friend, which is an important distinction.
This post was first published on 4 February 2017