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Parents' Guide to Babysitting

What to Look For in a Babysitter (12 Essential Qualities)

What to Look For in a Babysitter

18 Jun 2024

 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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Picking the right babysitter for your child is a hard choice for any parent to make but there are qualities and characteristics that a person can have to make them more likely to be a great caregiver.

Qualities to look for in a babysitter:

  • Experience
  • Friendly personality
  • Reliability
  • Ability to take charge
  • Energetic
  • Creative and open-minded
  • Attentive
  • Kind
  • Prepared
  • Responsible

There's actually plenty of overlap between what you want in a babysitter, and what your children look for in a sitter. An ideal babysitter is one that can balance both sides, keeping both children and parents happy and meeting the expectations of both.

Here are some qualities that both you and your family will appreciate in a babysitter:

1. Experience

The more experience a babysitter has, the more likely it is that they'll be prepared for any unusual or difficult situation they run into.

Every babysitter has to start somewhere, but you are better off getting someone experienced to look after your loved ones, especially if they're still quite young. That's when they need the most supervision and attention from a sitter.

There are many ways a babysitter can gain childcare experience, other than just babysitting alone. For example, if they often care for their own younger siblings at home, or if they've taken a babysitting course.

Always ensure they have CPR and first aid certifications.

2. Friendly Personality

To build a bond with your children and keep them engaged, your babysitter needs to be a confident communicator. A shy or awkward babysitter who isn't great at communicating with children makes it harder for your child to trust them and open up.

A bubbly, positive, and friendly attitude is the kind a babysitter needs to have if they hope to win your child's attention and keep it.

Just think about it as a grown-up. Would you rather hang out with someone happy and exciting, or boring and lethargic? Kids feel the same way, perhaps even more extreme.

3. Reliability

Your children might love their babysitter, but if they're frequently showing up late, they could be the best in the world and it wouldn't matter. A babysitter has to show up and be dependable!

A good babysitter respects your time and shows up when they're supposed to, or even a little early to discuss any plans or potential issues for the day.

4. Ability To Take Charge

There's a time to have fun, and there's a time to take charge. Your babysitter can be playful and friendly with your children, but they need to also step up and be an authority figure or enforce rules when needed.

That means making unpopular decisions and taking charge when necessary. Ideally, your children will see their babysitter as benevolent and fair, but also someone that needs to be respected and listened to.

A good babysitter can establish boundaries. Children don't realize it, but they actually like routine and are happiest in a predictable environment. Your sitter should help keep your household routine running like it always does, even when you aren't around.

5. Energetic

Kids are full of energy. They're always bouncing around and having fun, and they need a babysitter that can match that level of enthusiasm.

A babysitter should have enough energy to run around with your children, having pillow fights or playing hide-and-go-seek all day. Your sitter doesn't need to be an athlete, but they should be in decent physical shape if they hope to keep up with a couple of toddlers.

6. Creative and Open-Minded

Children love to play make-believe and use their imagination. Your sitter needs to be willing and able to play whatever goofy and silly idea of a game your children come up with.

Young ones enjoy being around people who are relaxed and not afraid to get a bit silly.

When children aren't coming up with their own games, a good babysitter should be creative enough to help do it for them. Sitters should always be coming up with fun new ideas, especially for toddlers with short attention spans.

Children get bored of one activity and want to move onto another pretty quickly, so it's important that your babysitter can think on their feet and have more games or activities lined up and ready to go.

7. Attentive

You need a loving and attentive babysitter who carefully monitors the wants and needs of your children. They should know right away when your child is bored or hungry. They should be there to console your child if they scrape their knee or bump their head.

Your sitter should always be listening and interacting with your child, instead of only keeping half an eye on them while surfing the internet on their phone or texting their friends.

8. Prepared

A good babysitter doesn't just show up and expect you to have all the activities planned out for the day. They should come to work with some ideas of what they plan to do with the kids. Whether that's specific games, arts and crafts, or something else.

Your children might want something else, so your sitter will need to adjust to the needs of your child. But they should always have a backup plan, and there's no reason for your children to ever be bored if they've properly prepared.

9. Kind

Your child wants to know that the person taking care of them is happy to spend time with them, likes them, and won't judge them. A babysitter should laugh with your children, never at them. And your child shouldn't have to fear that their sitter will be critical of something they say or do.

Children can be sensitive, so any bad news or behavior corrections need to be done in a kind and gentle way.

10. Smart

Your babysitter doesn't have to be a rocket scientist, but they should have their wits and common sense about them.

Children are naturally curious and ask all kinds of questions. Your babysitter should be educated enough to provide an answer for most of them. The more your sitter can say on a topic, the more engaged your child will be and the more lively discussions they can have together.

Children love to be challenged, and a smart babysitter can keep them learning and pushing their boundaries.

Your babysitter also needs to have enough basic know-how and experience to figure out stuff like the controls on your oven or microwave on their own.

11. Responsible

You should feel like you can trust your sitter's judgment. They should know what kinds of activities are safe for your children to do, and what might be a risk of injury.

They shouldn't let your children do obviously unsafe activities like jumping from heights, fighting with sticks, or attempting to do a backflip.

Your babysitter should make both you and your children feel safe regardless of whether they're just doing things around the house or going on a trip to the playground.

12. Fun

It can be a fine balance between trying to be the "cool" babysitter who lets the children get away with anything in order to be fun, and being a wet blanket who is only there to enforce the rules.

A childcare provider needs to find acceptable and constructive ways for children to channel their energy and enthusiasm, instead of letting them potentially get destructive.

They're doing it right when the children are smiling and having fun while they're around, but as a parent, you're also smiling when you get home. Children can have fun in productive, parent-approved ways without getting crazy.

Questions To Ask Yourself When Meeting A Potential Babysitter

Do You Feel Comfortable Leaving Your Children With Them?

As a parent, it usually makes sense to go with your gut feeling. If you get a weird vibe from your sitter that makes you uncomfortable or nervous, they probably aren't a good fit for your family.

Making sure your children are safe is priority #1, so make sure your sitter is aware of that and takes their responsibilities seriously. A sitter that has CPR and first aid training can provide some peace of mind.

You might have specific things you need from your babysitter in order to feel safe. For example, if your child has severe allergies they'll need to know how to administer an EpiPen.

If you have a pool, they should know basic pool safety and how to rescue your child if they accidentally fall in. You might even look for a sitter with lifeguard training if your children will be outside around the pool a lot during the summer.

Do Your Children Like Them?

It's a lot easier to get your children to eat ice cream than broccoli. It's way easier to get them to listen to a babysitter if they actually like them too.

If you've got a younger child it can be hard to get their opinion, but you can ask older children what they thought of the sitter. If they say it wasn't fun or they had a boring day with the babysitter, then that's probably not a good sign.

Will They Help Out Around The House?

This one isn't mandatory, but it's nice to have a babysitter who will also do some light housework and keep your house tidy and clean for you. Or at least make it so you don't come home to a house that's more of a mess than how you left it.

Maybe cleaning isn't a priority for you though. If your sitter keeps your kids engaged and safe and meets all your other expectations, it might not be worth trying to push cleaning on to them as well.

Having a sitter that will do the laundry makes a big difference though, especially if you've got a newborn in cloth diapers that are going through 10 of them every day! Some sitters might be willing to only do your child's laundry and not the entire household's, which is fair.

Will They Run Errands?

This is another topic that most sitters probably wouldn't expect when they sign up. So if it's important to you, it's something you need to discuss upfront.

Do you expect your babysitter to pick the children up from school? Or take them to their gymnastics lessons every Wednesday night?

Getting them to pick up a few grocery items you need or drop off your dry cleaning might be a stretch, but some sitters are happy to do some child-related running around town.

Do you have a gender preference?

97% of all babysitters are female and this is the preference of most families. However, for single-parent families, it can be beneficial to hire a babysitter with the opposite gender as the parent. This can give children both male and female authority figures to look up to and learn from.

Read more about hiring male babysitters in our guide: Are male babysitters safe?

Will They Take Your Children Outdoors?

Some sitters are okay with taking your children out in public, while others feel safer just staying inside the house. I can understand why. Having the children you're babysitting run away would be a nightmare!

But if you can find a babysitter willing to take your children out and do all the associated work like putting on sunscreen and packing some snacks, everyone can go enjoy a day in the sun. As an added benefit, your children will tire themselves out and have less energy when you get home!

Are They Artistic or Creative?

Having an artsy babysitter comes in handy if your kids love doing arts and crafts. Or if you love coming home to find new artwork that your little ones have created.

Some sitters are really into arts and crafts and will even bring their own project ideas and supplies, but it's a good idea to pay them extra to account for the cost of anything your children use.

Are They Okay With Discipline?

Some sitters are better with discipline than others. The more strict your rules are, the harder it might be for them to follow. It’s best to find a babysitter who has a similar leadership style and believes in the same kind of disciplinary measures that you do.

Do They Have An Attention To Detail?

If you've got a Type A personality, then you like things done a certain way and it probably stresses you out when instructions aren't followed the exact way you want them to be.

You might want outside doors to the house to be locked at all times, or it might be smaller things like not putting wooden cutting boards in the dishwasher. Whatever little details and rules you have, you want to make sure your babysitter can follow instructions and sees eye to eye with you.

Can They Bake Or Cook?

If you want your children to have more than just microwave dinners when your babysitter is watching them, then you'll want to make sure your sitter has some basic cooking skills at least.

It's nice, however if they can spoil your children occasionally by making a treat like rice crispy squares or brownies. It makes a fun activity for your children to do with them too.

What's Their Rate?

You want the best babysitter you can get for your children. But maybe $30 per hour is outside your range, even if they're the best babysitter in the world.

Babysitters charge based largely on their experience though. So don't expect to get a sitter with 5 years of experience for the price of a brand new sitter.

Read our Complete guide to babysitter pay to learn how various duties and experience can impact pay per hour.

Do They Have A Criminal Record?

There's no tactful way to flat-out ask a potential babysitter this without seeming untrusting.

It's best to say that you run criminal background checks on all the babysitters you interview and that it's just a formality.

Most parents are immediately cautious of a sitter who has been convicted of a crime or arrested. You might be able to overlook one shoplifting incident or a speeding ticket, but if your sitter has been convicted of assault or anything else that shows a tendency for violent or untrustworthy behavior, it's best to find someone else and save yourself from any potential trouble.

Do They Live Nearby?

The best case is a babysitter who lives in your neighborhood or on your street and can walk over to your house in a couple of minutes notice.

That way they're always on call unless they're busy with something. If you need to take your husband to the emergency room because he's cut himself, your babysitter can be there to watch your children in a matter of minutes.

If your babysitter doesn't live within walking distance, they'll need a car or some other dependable form of transportation. You don't want your sitter to have to cancel because they can't find a ride. Or spend 30 minutes of your own time picking them up and dropping them off every time you go out.

What Is Their Course Of Study In School Or Full-Time Job?

Bonus points if your babysitter works at a daycare or is studying to become a teacher or anything childcare related.

Do They Have Any Allergies?

This is especially important if you have dogs, cats, or any other pets. If they are allergic to any pets that you have, then things may not work out.

But also to consider what food you leave for your babysitter to prepare for your children or for them to eat themselves. You don't want your babysitter going into anaphylactic shock on the job because you failed to mention that your homemade cookies had peanuts in them.

Are They Okay If You're A Bit Late Sometimes?

Is your babysitter fine with staying a couple of hours later than planned if needed, or do they usually have somewhere they need to be right after their babysitting time is over?

If you often get asked to work late at the last minute or traffic is unpredictable, it's good to know your babysitter is fine with working a bit longer than expected. Just make sure to pay them for their extra time!

Do They Have Good References?

A babysitter with lots of solid references is more likely to be trustworthy, knowledgeable, and experienced. That's why you should approach hiring a babysitter like you'd expect to hire an employee for any other business.

See our list of excellent questions to ask a babysitters references and print out our checklist to you have them all handy while on the phone.

One of the best ways to ensure you get a quality babysitter is by asking for recommendations among your family, friends, and coworkers.

A good babysitter is usually in high demand and doing repeat jobs for the same families over and over.

Where should you look and who should you ask? The best place to begin your babysitter search is within your own community. Your workplace, your neighbors, your church, or your local schools. References might be other families, youth group leaders, or teachers who have experience with certain babysitters.

Are They Mature?

Age is usually a big factor in maturity, but not always. A young babysitter can be good if they're responsible and mature for their age.

It might be better to hire a 13-year-old who regularly cares for multiple younger siblings, instead of a 17-year-old who has never changed a diaper or held a baby before.

Can You See Them Bonding With Your Family?

Sometimes you just know when someone will be a good fit and have a connection to you and your family. Other times it can take work and won't happen instantly. But after talking to potential babysitters for just a few minutes each, you should already be able to pick up on which is likely the best fit for your family. Finding a babysitter with a similar belief system and values to your own can be a big help when you're not around.

Do They Love Children?

Children can pick up on subtle cues better than you think, and they'll figure out if an adult likes them or not pretty quickly. A good babysitter loves children, understands them, and is great at communicating with them.

Are They Confident?

Children can also be like a pack of wolves when it comes to identifying and exploiting a weakness in a person. They judge babysitters by how they act and look just as much as the words they say. A quiet, shy, or awkward babysitter might have a harder time keeping children under control than a confident one.

Do They Have Good Manners?

Does your babysitter have respect for you and show good manners? If they aren't acting in a courteous and pleasant manner when they're trying to impress you and get a job, what makes you think they'll be any better once they're babysitting for you?

A babysitter with good manners is less likely to be late, or go snooping through your drawers and personal belongings when you aren't home.

A good sitter knows how to act in a professional manner and has a business-like attitude toward the job.

Are They Adaptable?

Your sitter might have only babysat for one family before you, and other households can do things very differently. Will your sitter be able to adapt to your routines and patterns?

Your sitter needs to be the one adapting to fit into your life and requirements, not the other way around. If they don't feel comfortable with your parenting style or house rules, maybe it's not a good fit.

Are They Safety Conscious?

An experienced babysitter has a sixth sense when it comes to things that present safety hazards or a danger to your children. Your house is probably already baby-proofed to some degree, but your sitter will still need to have their safety at the forefront of their mind.

They should be alert at all times and proactive at preventing accidents and mishaps, rather than reactive after they happen.

A good babysitter won't feel safe letting a child play at the top of the stairs wander near a hot oven or other actions where your child has a good chance of getting hurt.

They're constantly evaluating potential safety risks and will swoop in to redirect a child's attention when they're at risk.

How do I know if a babysitter is certified?

Babysitters aren't legally required to have any kind of certification in most places, but you can ask your sitter if they have a babysitting license from the Red Cross or YMCA. Those are the two most common organizations that provide babysitting classes and certification.

Unsure how to find the right babysitter? see our article on exactly that, How to find a reliable babysitter for some helpful tricks.

Can a sibling babysit a younger child? Learn about the age and maturity requirements of siblings here.


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