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Parents' Guide to Babysitting

Babysitter Reference Checking (Ask the RIGHT Questions!)

Babysitter Reference Checking

4 Jun 2020

 Matthew James Taylor

Written & Illustrated by
Matthew James Taylor

 Renee Irving Lee, B.Ed.

Reviewed & Edited by
Renee Irving Lee, B.Ed.

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So you've just finished your interview with a new prospective babysitter. You feel like things went pretty well and they had great answers to all of your questions.

But before you offer them the job, it's important to take some time to check their references. If you do no other type of background check on potential sitters, you should at least check in with their past employers.

Here are the top questions to ask a babysitter's references:

  • How did you meet your babysitter?
  • How would you describe them?
  • How do they respond to feedback?
  • What are their worst and best qualities?
  • Did they ever arrive late or miss a babysitting job?
  • How long did they work for you?
  • Did they leave your house in a tidy state?
  • Why did the babysitter leave the job?
  • Would you recommend them for childcare work?
  • Is there anything else you'd like to add?

Why Should You Check Babysitter References?

Checking references is a great way to get a first-hand account of how a particular babysitter actually behaves on the job. During an interview, people can tell you whatever you want to hear and try to put their best foot forward. But when you speak to someone who has actually worked with them before, you're more likely to get an accurate idea of what you can expect.

Generally, you only want to check references who have worked with the babysitter in a professional setting. There is not much point speaking to someone's family or friends, who will almost always give them a glowing review.

If sitters are hesitant to provide you with a list of references you can contact, that should start setting off some alarms. The only exception to this is if they're a young babysitter looking for their first job. In that case, it's not reasonable to expect them to have references.

Checking references is especially crucial if you didn't find the babysitter through the recommendation of a friend, or someone whose opinion you already trust.

References are just one part of the background check you should be running on your babysitter. Learn more here - How to Run a Background Check on a Babysitter (The Complete Guide).

How To Contact Babysitter References

Babysitters will normally provide you with both a phone number and email address for their references. I think it's best to try phoning references first. I find that you tend to get more honest answers if you're just having a casual chat on the phone with another parent, as opposed to sending an email which seems more formal.

When you call a babysitting reference, you want to introduce yourself and let them know why you are calling right away. Try something like:

"Hi, this is Lisa Smith. I'm calling because Robert Jones listed you as a babysitting reference. I was wondering if you had a couple of minutes available so I can ask you some questions about your experience with them."

You want to put the references that you're speaking with at ease. Keep things informal and relaxed, so they don't feel like they're being interrogated.

Pay attention to subtle clues from the person you're speaking with, such as the tone of their voice. If they have a close relationship with the babysitter you're discussing, you'll likely notice their voice shift from a more skeptical tone when they answered the phone to an excited one.

If the reference seems uncomfortable or hesitant, that can be an immediate red flag. Perhaps they didn't have the best experience with the babysitter who listed them as a reference. Or perhaps they didn't agree to be a reference at all and this is totally unexpected!

Assuming the reference agrees to speak with you, then you want to ask some of the questions that we'll be discussing below. After you're done asking your questions, be sure to let them know that you appreciate their honesty and thank them for their time. You might want to also give them your phone number, in case they have anything else they'd like to tell you later on.

Questions To Ask Babysitter References

Here are some of my favorite babysitter questions that I'd recommend asking their references.

You definitely don't want to ask all of these questions! Pick three or four that you think most appeal to your situation. Maybe there is a certain quality like punctuality that you really look for in a sitter because you've had problems in the past. Or perhaps some concerns came up in the interview that you'd like to shed more light on.

1. How Did You Meet Your Babysitter?

This question can let you know if perhaps a reference doesn't really have an employment relationship with your babysitter. Someone who has hired the sitter before should be able to easily answer the question right away and say whether they found them through a family friend, on a babysitting website, or somewhere else.

If there's hesitation or their response seems nervous, you might actually be speaking to a family member or friend who is posing as a parent to help the babysitter out. Especially if they didn't have an answer to this question prepared in advance.

2. What Are Their Worst and Best Qualities?

This is a nice open-ended question that can let parents say some of the first things that come to mind about the babysitter.

This question will give you some clues as to where the babysitter excels and where they may fall behind when it comes to things like personality, punctuality, dealing with children, maturity, patience, and more.

3. How Would You Describe Them?

This is another open-ended question that will usually give similar responses to the last question. But instead of specifically phrasing things in terms of good or bad, it allows the reference to simply list off some of the first things that come to mind when they think of the babysitter.

4. How Do They Respond To Feedback?

It's important that a babysitter can adapt to suit the needs of your family. This question will let you know if a sitter is open and receptive to changing how they do things or might show warning signs that they're a bit stuck in their ways and have a certain method for doing things.

Try to ask for a specific example of when the reference offered feedback to the babysitter, and how receptive they were to the suggestions or instructions.

5. Can You Speak About The Babysitter's Communication Skills?

Since you've interviewed your babysitter by now, you probably have quite a good idea of what their verbal communication skills are like in person. But this question might reveal other communication issues, like if they're notoriously bad at replying to text messages or voicemails.

Are you still stuck at the babysitter hiring process? Get some helpful tips here - The Best Ways to Hire a Babysitter (The Complete Guide).

6. Was The House Normally In The Same Shape You Left It?

Some babysitters are better at cleaning than others. While you might not expect them to vacuum or do the laundry while you're gone, there is some basic tidying and cleaning that you would probably expect from a babysitter.

You don't want to discover that your reference always returned home to a sink full of dishes and toys are strewn all over the house.

How clean should your babysitter be leaving your house exactly? Find out here - Do Babysitters Wash Dishes & Do Other Chores? (What to Expect).

7. Were There Any Emergency Situations While They Babysat Your Children?

Ideally, the answer to this will be no. Because emergencies are a sign the sitter might not have been watching the child as carefully as they should've been. But if there were any kind of emergencies on the babysitter's watch, you'll want to know they were able to handle them appropriately.

If the reference's child hit their head or cut themselves under the babysitter's watch, how did the sitter respond? Did they remain calm? Did they tell the reference about the incident while it was happening, or wait until they returned home? Did they overreact and call 911 for a scraped knee?

Depending on how closely you listen to the answer and provide follow-up questions, you might be able to get some great insight into how your babysitter behaves under pressure.

8. Did They Have A Specific Routine With Your Children?

Children need some form of structure and routine in their schedule. It lets them know what's expected of them and actually makes them feel more comfortable and secure.

Even if the sitter just followed the family's normal routine, that's still a win.

If the sitter doesn't believe in following a routine at all and just kind of got through the day on the whim of whatever they or the child wanted to do, they might not be able to provide the kind of structure you're looking for.

9. Did They Ever Arrive Late Or Miss A Babysitting Job?

In contrast to some of the other questions that leave things open-ended or dance around issues, this one will give you a specific answer as to whether your babysitter is punctual or not.

The perfect babysitter would never be late or miss a job. But if they did ever need to skip a day or show up late, you want to hear that they gave plenty of notice and didn't make a habit of it.

10. Did They Have Any Difficulties Carrying Out Their Responsibilities?

Most babysitters have some strengths and weaknesses. But ideally, none of their weaknesses should be so bad that it prevents them from doing their job well.

If they have difficulty emotionally connecting with the children they're babysitting or coming up with things to keep them busy, that's probably a babysitter worth passing on.

11. Did They Ever Babysit Overnight Or Drive Children On Special Trips?

If the answer is yes, that's an awesome sign. Any parent who is willing to let a babysitter watch their children overnight or take them to the zoo or beach shows a high level of trust in their abilities.

If the reference feels confident letting the babysitter take their child outside of the house, you're probably dealing with quite a mature and capable sitter. It lets you know that they're able to confidently care for your children for an extended period of time in an unsupervised setting.

12. In What Capacity Did They Work For You, and For How Long?

If your babysitter only worked for the reference for a brief stint, it could be the sign of a problem.

Now there are certainly valid reasons for a short working relationship. Maybe the babysitter had allergies and the reference had a dog or cat. Or perhaps the reference moved away to another city, or their child became too old for a babysitter. But a short employment record without a good reason should be seen as suspicious.

Maybe the reference is nice enough to give them a positive review. But if there were no issues with the sitter, they likely would have continued to work with them for longer.

The reference might also tell you that the babysitter got a job offer with better pay or more hours with another family. That means they're likely willing to abandon you if something better comes along too!

13. Did You Ever See Any Signs of A Drug or Alcohol Problem?

This one is kind of a bold question to put out there. So I wouldn't recommend you just ask it across the board regarding all babysitters. But if a babysitter gave off some warning signs of a substance problem but otherwise seemed like a great fit, you might want to ask to put your mind at rest.

Keep in mind that this question might get back to the babysitter through your reference, and they might be quite offended by it!

14. What Is The Sitter's Discipline Style? Does It Agree With Your Philosophy?

If you have a totally different idea of what constitutes discipline from the babysitter, that might be a dealbreaker. Ideally, babysitters can adapt to whatever style of discipline a particular family wants them to use.

At Kidsit, we strongly discourage spanking and we do our best to promote positive discipline techniques as an alternative.

If a sitter can't follow directions when it comes to discipline, they might not be able to properly enforce your house rules. They might think that their way is the best way, without regard to how you normally deal with rule breaking and consequences in your home.

This is also a good question to ask during the interview process. Learn more here - How To Interview A Babysitter (Essential Tips & Trusted Techniques).

15. Why Did The Babysitter Leave The Job?

You want to be sure that the answer your reference gives you matches up with what the babysitter told you.

You want to know that the reference and sitter parted ways respectfully, and not because your reference caught your babysitter with their boyfriend over or violating some other rule.

It's also good to ask the reference if they'd be willing to rehire the babysitter again in the future. And if not, why not?

16. How Much Direction Did You Give The Sitter, And How Independent Were They?

With a young and inexperienced babysitter, it's only natural that they will need a bit more guidance and direction. But if you're interviewing a babysitter that supposedly has 5+ years of experience and shows signs of needing to be micromanaged or constantly needing direction, that should be a warning sign for you.

With everything, there's a balance. You want to lay some basic ground rules of what you expect from your babysitter and not just give them free rein. But you want them to be independent enough to make some smaller decisions on their own, without constantly needing to check in with you first.

17. Would You Recommend Them For Childcare Work?

Anything here except a yes should make you definitely reconsider hiring that particular babysitter. Their references should have a positive opinion of them. So if they don't think the sitter is well suited for working with children, something is seriously wrong.

18. What Advice Can You Give To Make Sure My Relationship With The Babysitter Goes Smoothly?

Everyone has their own little quirks and preferences on how they like things to be done. That includes both parents and babysitters alike.

It's good if you can find out things to make dealing with your new babysitter easy from their references, instead of having to learn the hard way yourself.

For example, your sitter may be much more receptive to ideas in face-to-face conversations than over text or phone calls. Or there may be particular touchy subjects that you should avoid talking about with them.

19. If You Could Change One Thing About The Babysitter, What Would It Be?

This question will help bring out any sticking points or pet peeves that may have really annoyed the reference about dealing with the babysitter.

20. Is There Anything Else You'd Like To Add?

I like to add this catch-all question to the end of the conversation. It gives references an opportunity to share anything they might have been thinking while you were talking, but didn't feel like there was a right time to bring it up.

Don't Be Afraid To Ask References About Pay

It's totally fine to ask a reference how much they paid the babysitter. Although some people might be hesitant to give you an answer, so respect that if it's the case. Some people consider pay to be more private than others.

But if a babysitter's reference does tell you how much they paid the sitter themselves, it can be really helpful for setting your own rate. You'll want to adjust for your number of children, their ages, and other factors. But at least you'll know a number that the babysitter will definitely work for.

(There are a few exceptions to this. It's now illegal to ask about salary history in a few states such as California and Oregon. As well as in specific cities like New York, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh. Be sure to check your local laws)

Questions To Avoid

Depending on where you live, there are some questions that you legally can't ask during an interview or when speaking to a reference.

They typically include anything that could be considered discriminatory. As a general rule, don't ask about the babysitter's age, religion, disabilities, sexuality, if they're pregnant, or similar topics that normally wouldn't be okay in the workplace.

Questions to ask babysitter references (checklist)

Babysitter Reference Questions (Checklist)

When choosing a new babysitter it's important to thoroughly vet candidates to make sure you get the best sitter possible for your family.

Download our checklist of the top 20 questions to ask babysitter references so you know exactly what to ask.

Free Download

(babysitter-reference-questions.pdf 48kb)


Now you've gone through a bunch of resumes, shortlisted some babysitters for interviews, and finished checking up on their references. Now it's decision time.

If there weren't any major red flags and you had multiple babysitters with great references, it's probably going to come down to a gut decision on which sitter you feel the most comfortable with.

But you're not done yet! Even after a successful interview and checking with references, you should still run a background check on your babysitter to make sure they're safe to work with your children. To learn how to do that, check out my article - How To Run A Background Check On A Babysitter (The Complete Guide).

Have you been asked to write a reference for a babysitter? See my Guide to Writing Babysitter References and look through my Sample Babysitter References for inspiration.

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