Babysitter and child with separation anxiety

How To Prepare Your Child For A Babysitter

(9 Separation Anxiety Tips)

Getting a new babysitter can be a stressful time for everyone involved.

You're probably worried about trusting your baby in the care of someone else. Your new babysitter has to learn how your family operates and adapt their strategies to suit your needs. And worst of all, your child may get stressed out when left alone with someone brand new to them. Thankfully there are some things you can do to help get your child used to a new sitter.

How do I help my child get used to a babysitter? Start with gradual exposure, let your child meet the babysitter first then leave them alone in a room together, finally leave the house for progressively longer periods of time. Stay positive and explain what’s happening to your child. Always say goodbye and never look back when you’re leaving.

In this article, you'll learn some ways to help your child get used to a new babysitter. Not all of these suggestions will work for all kids. And you'll need to decide which one best suits your needs. But trying anything to get your child used to a babysitter before leaving them alone is better than trying nothing at all.

Why Do I Need To Get My Child Used To A New Babysitter?

It's not all that uncommon for kids to scream for their parents as they're being left alone with the babysitter. Some kids will adapt better than others, and some may not have any problems at all. But for other young children, being left with a brand new babysitter without warning can make them feel like they're being abandoned, and potentially break the trust between you and your child.

Start Exposing Them Early

A great way to get your child comfortable with their new babysitter is to start exposing them to each other as early as possible.

This is easiest if the babysitter is a friend or family member. In that case, you can just have them over to your home to visit in advance.

If you don't have any previous relationship with the babysitter, you might pay them to do a couple of babysitting shifts while you're still at home. Or you may even want to offer to pay for their dinner and take them out to a restaurant with yourself and your child. Any shared exposure where you're still with your child but the sitter is present will help get your child used to them. That way they'll start to understand that the sitter is now a part of their life and that you approve of them.

For babies, it's especially helpful to get a new babysitter to help with feedings and get them changing your child while you're still present.

Make sure your child is safe by running background checks on your babysitter. Read our complete guide - How to Run a Background Check on a Babysitter.

Just Go To Another Room At First

Once you've got your child comfortable being around both you and your babysitter together, you can start to try and leave them together for shorter periods of time.

At first, you don't want to leave the house. Simply go to another room and leave your child with the babysitter, but still be within a range that you'll be able to hear them if they start to cry for you. Let your child know that you'll be right back and you just need to go into the other room for a minute.

Start by only leaving the room for a short period of time, like five minutes. You can start with an even shorter interval of time if needed. You want to slowly build up the time your child is comfortable being with the babysitter and not having you around, but you still want to respond to reassure them if they start to cry.

If your child gets upset at you being gone, you want to return to them and reassure them, and then wait for at least 30 minutes before you try to leave them with the sitter again.

In addition to increasing the amount of time you leave the room, you also want to increase the time before you return if your child starts crying. The first few times you want to come back right away until your child learns that you will return. But after that, you can start to wait a few minutes before returning if they cry, to give the babysitter a chance to try and soothe them first.

Understand that there might not be a linear progression in how long your child can go for. Expect some ups and downs during this process. For example, one day your child may go 15 minutes without getting upset that you've left. Then the next day they might get upset after only 5 minutes. This doesn't necessarily mean that they aren't making progress.

If it's possible, you ideally want to try multiple sessions of gradually leaving the room for longer and longer. But some parents may not want to pay a sitter multiple times to do this exercise. I'd recommend doing it at least once, and if your child is fine being alone with the sitter without making a fuss, then you can move on to the next step.

Leave The House

Once your child seems comfortable being alone with your new babysitter while you're inside for half an hour, you can start leaving the house. This is a big step since it means you may not be able to return and comfort your child right away if they get upset!

You might simply go out in the yard to do some gardening or mow the grass. Or you can take the opportunity to go to the grocery store to get a quick shop in. But either way, you want to have your phone on you so that the babysitter can reach you if your child becomes inconsolable. Even though you can't immediately go into the next room and soothe your child, you want to be somewhere that you can return relatively quickly if needed.

Once your child seems fine with the sitter alone in your home for 30 minutes or more, then you can start extending the time you leave to a few hours, or even half a day or more. At this point, you have the option to start using your babysitter to cover for you while you go out for dinner or do an activity for a few hours. At first, you still want to remain reachable at all times, and try to stay within about ten minutes of your house or so, just in case you need to return home in a hurry if your child becomes hysterical.

The first few times you leave your child alone with the babysitter for an extended period of time, you'll want to avoid things like going to a movie theatre or for a massage where you won't be reachable if something happens.

Isn't This A Bit Excessive?

As I mentioned briefly earlier, going through this extended process to help get your child used to their new babysitter isn't going to be practical or possible for everyone. You simply might not have the time or money to devote to it. But if you really want to build a sense of security and trust between your child and babysitter and it's possible for you, it's best to make the transition as gradually and smoothly as possible.

It might feel a bit silly to spend multiple days helping get your child accustomed to the babysitter. But most caregivers will totally understand and do whatever they can to help both you and the baby to become comfortable with being apart. Taking a bit of extra time to get your child feeling secure and confident with their new caregiver is worth it.

You want to avoid taking your child too far out of their comfort zone or creating a traumatic experience if at all possible. Some kids will adapt to being left with a babysitter right away, and you might find you're even able to skip most of these steps! But always let your child's comfort level dictate what your next step should be. If they're throwing a tantrum every time you leave the room, that's their way of telling you that they don't feel comfortable with you leaving for extended periods of time just yet. It will just take some more practice and reassuring.

Tips For Easing Your Child's Separation Anxiety

Even if you've practiced leaving your child with the sitter, they might still become upset whenever you try to leave. Here are nine tips to try and remove as much stress and anxiety from being separated as possible.

1. Stay Positive

Your child can read your emotions better than you think! If you show signs of being stressed or upset about leaving them alone with the babysitter, they'll pick up on it and it can definitely affect their mood as well.

So even if you are feeling some hesitation about leaving your child alone with a babysitter for the first time, try your best not to let it show. Put on a calm, positive, happy face for them until you get out the door.

2. Explain Where You Are Going

Even if your child is too young to understand, it's still good to explain where you're going and when you'll return home. You never know what parts they might pick up and understand, and it's better than not trying to explain at all. Plus it will set up the habit of communicating with them for later on when they do start to become capable of understanding what you're saying.

3. Distract Them

You can help soothe your child a bit by engaging them with an activity or toy before you leave. You can try their favorite pacifier or blanket, but be aware as some kids may develop a dependence on objects to calm them when you leave.

Your child might still cry when you go, but having their favorite toy will likely distract them again shortly afterward and lessen the impact.

4. Ask Your Babysitter To Come Early

If it's possible, get your babysitter to show up 30 minutes before you need to leave. Of course, you'll be paying them for this extra time. But it will give them plenty of opportunities to settle in with your child before you have to go. Rather than them arriving and you leaving within a few minutes of each other.

5. Always Say Goodbye

Some parents might try to sneak out of the house to make the handoff to the babysitter more seamless. While quietly leaving out the back door might cause less immediate stress for your child, it can actually cause more anxiety once they inevitably realize that you're gone.

You don't want to set your baby up thinking that you can simply disappear at any time without warning. So make sure to always properly say goodbye, wave to them, or give them a kiss when you're leaving. And reassure them that you'll be back soon.

6. Don't Look Back

During the initial transition period that we discussed above, you want to be receptive to your child's needs and quickly return if they show any signs of distress.

But once you've gradually worked with the babysitter and know your child is comfortable being left alone for longer periods of time, don't be dismayed by setbacks or intermittent anxiety when you go to leave.

Resist the urge to go back to your child to give them one more hug or kiss if they start crying. You definitely don't want to teach them that crying will get you to come back or stay for longer, as it will be a hard habit to break.

7. Involve Your Kid In The Babysitter Selection Process

Obviously this isn't really an option with a newborn or toddler. But if your child is a bit older, you can make a point to include them during the interview process and ask them for their opinion on each potential babysitter as well. Kids actually have great intuition and are pretty good at judging an adult’s character. So if there's a babysitter that they really don't think they'd get along with, it's better to find someone they like better.

For more detail on how to conduct a babysitter interview, see my article - How To Interview A Babysitter (Essential Tips & Trusted Techniques).

8. Talk To Your Babysitter

Open communication with your sitter is super important, but especially at the beginning of the relationship when you're still working to set expectations from both sides.

Let your babysitter know that it's okay if your child is a bit fussy, and tell them an amount of time that you're comfortable with letting them cry it out before they should contact you for help.

It's also crucial to let your babysitter know that you're on their side, and it's okay if they're feeling overwhelmed and need to give you a call.

Discuss a detailed plan with your sitter including any toys or transition objects you'll use, whether they should be holding your child when you leave or not, how you'll leave the house, and other points that might not be immediately apparent.

There may be specific things that could trigger your baby's anxiety that you might want to let them know to avoid. For example, they might want to avoid talking about mommy or daddy while you're gone.

9. Watch For Separation Anxiety Disorder

Some separation anxiety when you leave your child is normal. It's not just people! Children of most mammals need to have a bond with their parents as a survival mechanism in nature, and that instinct can be hard to overcome!

However, there is a condition known as Separation Anxiety Disorder which is much more severe than regular separation anxiety. If you leave your child with the babysitter and their anxiety doesn't get any better, or only seems to be getting worse, you should speak with your family doctor right away.

Watch for signs of panic attacks such as shortness of breath, nausea, or vomiting. As well as extreme fear of sleeping or worry about getting kidnapped or lost.

Conclusion

No matter how much preparation you do to get your child (and yourself!) prepared for leaving them with a babysitter, it's never easy the first time. But it certainly makes it easier than doing no prep work at all, and simply leaving your child alone with a new babysitter without warning one day.

Using the tips above, you can help your child get used to their babysitter to create a smoother transition. Most importantly, try to set up a day or two where the babysitter can come in while you're still home and get to know the baby. Any little bit of a bond that you can help to create between your child and the babysitter will really make the whole process much easier.

Your babysitter is a valuable resource that can help to overcome some of the separation anxiety that both you and your child might be feeling. So it's a good idea to have a chat with them before they have to babysit to ensure that everyone is feeling comfortable and on the same page.

Written and Illustrated by:

Matthew Taylor

Matthew Taylor

Kidsit Founder, Editor, Illustrator, Web Developer, and father of three beautiful kids in Sydney, Australia.

Published: 10 September 2019

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