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Parents' Guide to Babysitting

Warning Signs of a Bad Babysitter (19 Red Flags to Avoid!)

Warning Signs of a Bad Babysitter

15 Jul 2020

 Matthew James Taylor

Written & illustrated by
Matthew James Taylor

 Gina Maria Jansheski, MD, FAAP

Medically Reviewed by
Gina Maria Jansheski, MD, FAAP

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Hiring a babysitter isn't an easy task. You try to ask for trusted recommendations from your family and friends and check references, but picking the best sitter for your kids is still a tough decision all around.

Warning signs of a bad babysitter:

  • Your child seems afraid of their babysitter
  • Your babysitter acts secretively
  • Too many accidents
  • They don't follow your instructions
  • Your child is dirty, unkempt, or hungry afterward
  • Your babysitter doesn't engage with you
  • A change In your child's behavior or sleeping
  • They invite people over without your permission
  • They spend too much time on the computer
  • You suspect they're stealing

A good babysitter is honest, responsible, trustworthy, and loves kids. In this article, we'll be looking at the opposite. Here are the signs that it might be time to find a new babysitter. One or two of these you may be able to write off as something else. But if you're experiencing many of the items on this list, it's time to terminate your sitter’s employment immediately.

1. Your Kid Seems Afraid Of Their Babysitter

If your child seems to be afraid of the babysitter or seems to get anxious and withdrawn around them or when they are coming over, that can be a bad sign.

It's normal for kids to need a bit of an adjustment period when they first get a new caregiver. They might throw a tantrum, pout, or cry when you go to leave at first. But if this behavior continues and doesn't seem to improve at all after the first few times they're with the babysitter, you might start to get a bit more suspicious and look into it.

A babysitter can never replace you as a parent, but your kid should feel comfortable spending time with them. It might be that your babysitter is just not providing your kid with the level of comfort and warmth they need, so the two haven't been able to really bond yet.

The chemistry between kids and their sitters is important too, and just like adults, sometimes the two just aren't a good match. And in rare cases, something more serious like child abuse could be going on.

2. Your Babysitter Acts Secretively

When you get home, you're usually excited to hear about what your child got up to during the day.

Your sitter doesn't really have a reason to be anything but open and honest with you. How your babysitter and kid spend their time shouldn't need to be any kind of a secret.

If they seem a bit secretive about their daily routine, or you just pick up on a feeling there is a hidden agenda, something might be wrong (source). This can be a concern, especially if they seem to be making up answers on the spot or the sitter always answers for your child, as opposed to your kid just naturally recalling how they spent the day.

Alternatively, it could just be that your babysitter isn't good at communicating with you, which is a whole separate issue. However, you probably would have picked up on that at some time during the initial interview. Even a caregiver who only has basic English skills should be able to share the major points of their day, seems happy to do so, and gets why it's important for you to know.

There's no reason to tolerate a babysitter who is secretive, or who is obviously lying or trying to deceive you. For the caregiver relationship to be healthy and work well, there needs to be a deep level of trust there.

There may be some evidence to tell when your babysitter is lying to you. An example might be if you expected them to feed your baby, and there are way too many bottles left in the fridge at the end of the day. But when it isn’t something obvious like that, they might be better at hiding their tracks when they're cutting corners or something shady is going on.

3. Too Many Accidents

Your child having some accidents here and there is normal. Kids are fast and always getting into things they shouldn't. Baby proofing can help prevent some injuries, but it's never completely avoidable unless you wanted to wrap every object in your house with bubble wrap!

For healthy and active kids, the occasional bump, scrape, or cut is totally normal and shouldn't cause any alarm. But if accidents are more frequent than usual or more severe, it can be a sign of trouble. They can signal that either your babysitter isn't supervising your child well enough, or they may be a sign of physical abuse (source).

Always try to be aware that the story fits the type of injury you are seeing. If the babysitter says the child ran into a door, but you are seeing a black eye, well, those two don’t usually fit together very well, as the mechanism would have to be pretty unusual. If you are unsure, ask them to demonstrate to you how it happened, and you will get a feel for how likely that explanation could be.

A good babysitter will usually be proactive in explaining any injuries while you're discussing the day. They'll probably have a good reason like they took your kid to the park, and they fell off the bottom of the slide. If they willingly point out your child's accidents, and the mechanism fits the injury, then you're probably fine. It's when they neglect to mention them or actively try to hide them that you might start to worry.

Your babysitter needs to be watching your child at all times to prevent them from getting injured and might be leaving them unattended while they play if they're always getting hurt.

Frequent injuries should be taken seriously. Today it might just be small cuts and scrapes. But if your babysitter is always watching TV or talking to their friends on the phone instead of supervising your child, tomorrow they might be sticking their finger into an electrical socket.

4. Babysitter Isn't Following Your Instructions

You ask your babysitter to do things, but you notice they aren't getting done, even if you leave a list of important things for them to do.

As a parent, you know best for your child, and your sitter should be working with you to make that happen. Your sitter shouldn't act like they know more about how to raise your kid than you.

Constructive suggestions from your babysitter should be welcomed, especially if they spend a lot of time with your child and get to know them really well. But they shouldn't seem critical of your parenting or refuse to do things that you ask.

You should also become suspicious if the babysitter seems to always come up with excuses for why things didn’t get done or why they didn’t follow the schedule you provided.

If you and your babysitter can't see eye to eye on basic things like sleep, safety, or nutrition, then maybe it's time to find a new caregiver.

5. They Always Show Up Late

Your babysitter is often showing up late. An unreliable babysitter will repeatedly leave you hanging until the last minute, without even calling or texting to explain that they're running a bit behind. Or even if they do have excuses for this tardiness, it just seems to happen way too often.

Sometimes unavoidable things like family emergencies happen. But if your babysitter is always late or canceling, it can be really inconvenient for you to have your plans destroyed at the last minute and equally difficult to trust your sitter.

Tardiness can be a sign that your babysitter might be unreliable in other areas too.

Find a sitter that is considerate of your time and committed to the job. If they don't care enough to get to your home on time and be sensitive to your needs, it's time to find another babysitter who will!

The same is true of changing the end time of their babysitting at the last minute. For example, if you're on your way out the door and they tell you at the last minute that they need to leave an hour earlier than previously agreed, this is a warning sign to pay attention to.

Ideally, your babysitter will show up five or ten minutes early to discuss any special arrangements or instructions for the day. Punctuality and commitment are critical qualities for your babysitter to have. You've got a busy enough schedule without needing to worry about whether your babysitting arrangements will fall through too.

Even if your babysitter has a sudden emergency and can't show up, it's common courtesy for them to at least call or text to inform you so that you can make alternate arrangements for your kid. Ideally, this should happen with as much advance notice as possible. Simply not showing up for a babysitting shift or being late without a call or explanation is unacceptable behavior.

6. Your Kid Looks Dirty, Unkempt, or Hungry Afterward

When you get home at the end of the day, does your kid look dirty and unkempt?

Like occasional accidents, it's normal for kids to get messy while they're playing and eating. But if you come home at the end of the day and your kids still have peanut butter on their fingers from the sandwich they had for lunch, or their diaper is always full and stinky when you get home, those are bad signs.

If your child is always tired, cranky, and can't keep their eyes open when you get home, that could be an indication that your babysitter is skipping your child's regular nap times.

A good babysitter will wash your baby's face and hands after they're done eating or playing. They will also change their diapers and clothes frequently, and even give them a proper bath, if needed.

If you've got a sitter who can't handle the basics like keeping your child clean and fed, then they aren't doing a satisfactory job. There's no point keeping a babysitter around who isn't capable of taking care of the most basic childcare tasks.

7. Your Babysitter Doesn't Engage With You

A little smile and some small talk aren't too much to expect from your babysitter when you return home.

They should speak to you enough to make you feel comfortable, both before you leave and after you get home. That includes things like asking about your kid and wishing you a good time when you leave, as well as a report on what your child did and how the day went.

If your babysitter can't even make that kind of effort with you, don't expect they're doing it with the kids either. That might show a general disconnect or major lack of all-around communication skills.

It's fair to expect a little feedback from your caregiver about things like what your child ate or how they slept, and have them go over what they did with your child while you were out.

A great babysitter will tell you exactly how the day went, sometimes even bordering on a minute by minute recount of what they did with your kid. They might also mention anything that concerned them. They should be able to at least share the basic ups and downs of the day with you. If they don't have much information to share or seem to be withholding something, that can be a red flag that things are not right.

8. They Don't Respect or Care About Your Instructions or Parenting Style

A good babysitter will take note of the specific instructions you provide, acknowledge them, and actually act upon them. A quality babysitter is one who is a good listener. They can also adapt to your values and parenting style. They don't try to impose their own beliefs about caregiving onto your baby.

If you tell your babysitter that your kids need to eat or that they need to be in bed at a certain time and they're rolling their eyes, they probably aren't going to follow through and stick to your plans as you've laid them out.

For some babysitters, even a written list will be neglected. They might just assume they know kids well enough to wing it, and that they know best, or they get busy with something else (like talking to their friends on the phone) and they just don’t care.

You might warn such a babysitter once or twice, but if they still aren't doing things the way you want them to, it's time to let them go. Don't put up with a highly critical babysitter, one who doesn’t seem to care, or one who thinks they know better than you when it comes to basic things like bathing, dressing, or feeding your child.

9. Your Babysitter Tries To Be Too Chummy With Your Child

A babysitter needs to take on a supervisory role with the children they babysit in order to control their behavior and earn their respect. In this way, they have to be more like a parent and not try to win them over by acting like a kid.

Babysitters that are young or inexperienced can struggle with this issue sometimes, and you might need to have a discussion to set them straight.

However, a mature, experienced babysitter that displays too close and chummy a rapport with your child should be watched carefully. This can be a warning sign when the babysitter tries to be too cool, always works to get your child’s attention, gives inappropriate or too many gifts, wants to spend extra time with your child, or even jokes about you and gangs up with your child against you.

This combination of characteristics is called “grooming,” meaning an adult is attempting to coerce your child into trusting them so they can manipulate and abuse them. It might seem innocent at first, but these behaviors are very surreptitious, and they can escalate over time until you hardly know how they could have been there all along.

So look out for these “predatory” behaviors, and don’t be afraid to take quick action if you feel that something is wrong (source).

10. Kids Are Upset About Being Left Alone With Them

It's normal for kids to be a bit upset when mom or dad is leaving. But if they have a total emotional meltdown every time you are about to leave, especially when it’s only with one particular babysitter, you should take pause and wonder if it's maybe related to that particular person.

It might be just separation anxiety, or it could be a sign of something more serious. If you use multiple babysitters and find your kid only freaks out when they're left with one of them, it’s probably time to cut that sitter out of your rotation.

What about for babies? They aren't old enough to tell you when something is wrong with words, but their behavior can often indicate when something is making them unhappy.

If your baby seems scared of the sitter or cries when they see them even after they know them well, that could be a bad sign. Although it’s important to keep in mind that regular anxiety whenever you leave might mask this. After you've been using a babysitter for a while and your baby still seems upset to be left with them, they might be scared for a legitimate reason.

See our Guide to minimizing separation anxiety to learn how to leave your child with a babysitter without them getting stressed out.

11. A Change In Your Child's Behavior or Sleeping Pattern

Behavior changes from a bad babysitter don't only have to be when the sitter is around.

If your kid is normally independent and really outgoing, and all of a sudden becomes really withdrawn and clingy, see if those changes line up with when you started using a new babysitter.

Other behavior changes that might be red flags would be if your child regresses to things they had grown out of, like toileting, babytalk, or thumbsucking. Also, if your child starts asking questions or talking about sexually related topics out of the blue, it could be a warning sign for some form of sexual abuse. It’s important to look at these things in context if they occur but to keep in the back of your mind that they can mean something is not right (source).

Waking up in the middle of the night with nightmares or night terrors when it is not part of a normal developmental stage, along with other sleep issues like suddenly starting to wet the bed, can also be cause for concern.

A child's behavior can change naturally as they age, sometimes in pretty dramatic ways. But you shouldn't ignore these as potential warning signs. Take action quickly to see if these things might warrant further investigation.

If your child is old enough to communicate, get as much information from them firsthand as possible. When the babysitter isn't around, casually ask your kid to talk about how they spent time with the babysitter and the events of the day (don’t interrogate them or let them feel that you are worried). Just talking naturally to your child about their day can give some insight into what's going on when you're not around.

If something is wrong, many children won't want to talk about it initially out of fear of repercussions. It's important to give your child the freedom and confidence to talk about what they did and how they feel. If they express any concerns, let them know that it's okay to tell you that they are afraid, and that you'll help keep them safe if anything bad is going on.

12. They Invite People Over Without Your Permission

Babysitters who have worked for your family for a long time might start to gain confidence and begin to feel entitled. For example, they might invite their friends or even a date over while you're gone.

Some parents are okay letting a babysitter have a friend over to help and keep them company since it can get a bit spooky watching kids alone in a strange house at night. But babysitters should never assume that they can invite people over to your home whenever they want.

When your babysitter has someone else over, there's a good chance your kids are getting less interaction and attention than they would without an extra person present.

Having people over without your knowledge isn't being respectful of you or your home. It's a sufficient reason to stop using that babysitter, although you may feel you’d like to give them a warning first.

Avoid this situation altogether by making it clear to your babysitter when you hire them that they need to get your permission to have a guest over. And it's best not to let them have their boyfriend or girlfriend over because you don't know what's going to happen on your couch!

13. Your Babysitter Always Seems Exhausted or Lethargic

You want a babysitter that can make sure your kids have a good time and stay comfortable and entertained while you're gone. If your babysitter is always showing up looking totally exhausted, they aren't going to be able to provide the kind of care you should expect.

A tired babysitter is more likely to just sit your kids down in front of the TV while they go relax in another room. They may have things going on in their personal lives that affect how they will take care of your child. This is definitely something to be concerned about and monitored very closely.

14. Physical Signs On Your Child

Some bumps and bruises on a baby or toddler are normal once they start moving around. But an infant who hasn't started to crawl yet shouldn't have any bruises on their legs or arms.

As already discussed, if your child has bruises appearing even a day or two after babysitting from injuries that your sitter didn't tell you about, that might be a warning sign of abuse (source). The babysitter might not be causing the injuries themselves, but they might not be watching your child closely enough, and they can get into situations where they can frequently hurt themselves.

It doesn't just have to be bruising either. If your child is suddenly getting a lot more severe diaper rashes than normal, they might not be changed enough. If it looks like your child has been spending too long in soiled or wet clothes, it's time to get a new babysitter. If your child is not gaining weight as well as before or getting sick much more frequently, it’s important to query your babysitter to see what might be going on. There are stories where sitters mistakenly mixed the formula improperly or misunderstood the instructions for how often to give it, and that a thorough discussion might have picked up on sooner.

It's your responsibility to make sure that your kid is safe and not being neglected or abused. If you suspect something is going wrong but aren't completely sure, you might want to consider installing a nanny cam in your home.

Learn more about nanny cams and how to use them legally in our article: Is it legal to record a babysitter.

15. You Suspect They're Stealing

It’s a bad feeling as a parent to suspect that your babysitter is stealing from you.

It might be something as small as some spare change going missing, all the way up to suddenly not being able to find a piece of jewelry.

Babysitters who steal are frequently shady in other ways too and might be telling lies about other things. It's less common to have an otherwise amazing babysitter who steals from you. There are usually deficiencies in more than one area. So you'll probably notice other things, like your sitter lying about how often they are changing the baby or about how much time they are spending with your child.

Just coming out and asking your babysitter if they know what happened to the jewelry is pointless because they'll just lie and tell you that they have no idea.

If valuable things are going missing from your home every time your babysitter is over, it's time to stop letting them into your house immediately before they take anything else or can do any more damage.

16. They Spend Too Much Time On The Computer

You may have explicitly given your babysitter permission to use your family computer to type out their homework or check their email. But they might also be using your computer without your permission.

If you feel like you aren't getting the level of care you expect from your babysitter, it's worth taking a second to check the browser history of your computer. Are there a bunch of websites in your browser history that you don't recognize, like Facebook pages of people you don't know, strange websites visited, or Youtube videos that no one in the house has watched? Your babysitter is probably the reason.

Whether you give your sitter permission to use your computer and internet or not, they shouldn't be misusing those privileges at the expense of taking care of your child.

If you're worried the babysitter is using your computer without your permission, it's best to require a password to log in.

If you do let your sitter use your computer, you should sign out of all your commonly used websites before you leave them alone in your home. Otherwise, they might go looking through your personal emails, Facebook messages, and even your financial information, which can pose some serious security concerns.

17. Your Friends Tell You Something's Going On

Are you friends with other parents who take their kids to the playground? Or maybe your neighbors are keeping an eye on your kids and the babysitter for you.

Either can give you some insight into how your babysitter is doing when they're outside of the home. They might let you know that the babysitter always seems distracted, is on the phone, or isn't paying attention to your kids while they're playing at the playground or in your yard.

If you always go to the playground with your kids at a certain time and ask your sitter to do the same, you can check with parents there. If they don't recall ever seeing your children or sitter at the park during those days, or they report seeing some unusual patterns, your babysitter might be lying and not taking them outside much at all.

18. Sudden Changes In Babysitter's Behavior

It's not only the quality of new babysitters that you hire that you need to worry about. A good babysitter can start to go bad at any time without warning, even after several years of great service.

There could be many underlying reasons for it. Maybe they're just sick of babysitting. Sometimes babysitters prefer only children in certain age ranges (like infants), and when your child gets older than that, the babysitter is no longer happy taking care of them (source). Or perhaps they're going through a breakup or divorce, the death of a close family member, or it could even be the sign of a developing drug or alcohol problem.

If your babysitter seems less engaged, starts frequently showing up late, or otherwise performing worse at their job, you should confront them about it and give them a warning instead of explaining it away and letting it continue to get worse.

19. Just A Gut Feeling

As a parent, you usually have pretty good intuition when it comes to your kids. If you have a bad feeling about a particular babysitter, find another one. When in doubt, trust your gut. Sometimes the unconscious mind can pick up on little clues about things that we aren't consciously aware of.

If you suspect something is wrong or don't feel great about leaving your kid with a certain sitter, it's probably your parental instincts telling you to steer clear of them.

You need to be able to feel completely comfortable with the person you're putting in charge of your baby. If you can't trust them, then it's time to look for someone else that you can trust. Most of the time, it won't be ambiguous; there will be easily explainable reasons for why you feel the way you do.

What should I do if I suspect I've got a bad babysitter?

It will depend on exactly what's happening and the severity of the situation. If you suspect something is going on but don't have any clear proof, you might be okay to wait a short time and see if things clear up. Maybe your child did honestly just slip and scrape their knee.

You might want to consider installing hidden cameras to monitor your babysitter, depending on the laws where you live and your ethical feelings about using such tools. Installing them and letting your sitter know can act as a preventative measure, if nothing else.

See our guide on nanny cams before you do this: Is it legal to record a babysitter?

If you're seeing obvious signs of neglect or abuse, it's time to report your babysitter to the police or other proper authorities. It might seem harsh, but remember, it could very possibly prevent other children from also becoming victims of your sitter's abuse or negligence.

It's also time to let them go. See our guide to firing a babysitter (politely) for help with this difficult task.

Should I include my kids in the decision to replace their babysitter?

It's generally a better idea to keep kids out of this decision. It's too much extra responsibility for them, and it's really more of an adult decision. You can definitely ask your children for feedback in a more indirect way, though, like asking about how they like the babysitter and what types of activities they do together. But be very careful when you do this. Most parents are not professional actors, and they have a really hard time hiding their worry when asking these questions.

Need help finding a new babysitter? Read these articles: How to find a reliable babysitter, and Essential babysitter qualities to look for.

Babysitter rules all parents should enforce.

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