Babysitter search

What to Look For in a Babysitter

(12 Essential Qualities)

Picking the right babysitter for your child is a hard choice for any parent to make.

You want a sitter who is dependable and trustworthy. Someone who can keep your kid safe while you're gone.

There are qualities and characteristics that a person can have to make them more likely to be a great caregiver. That's what I'm going to discuss in this article.

If you're still looking to find the right sitter for your family, consider looking for someone with these 12 qualities listed below.

After going over the 12 qualities of a good babysitter, I'll talk about some other questions you'll want to ask yourself about your new potential babysitter.

12 Qualities Of A Good Babysitter

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

Here are some qualities that both you and your kids 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 kids, especially if they're still quite young. That's when they need the most supervision and attention from a sitter.

Other things besides direct babysitting experience still count for something. For example, if they often care for their own younger siblings at home, or if they've taken a babysitting course.

Ideally, they'll also have CPR and first aid certifications.

2. Extroverted

To build a bond with your kids and keep them engaged, your babysitter needs to be talkative and creative. A shy or awkward babysitter who isn't great at communicating with kids 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 kids 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 kids, but they need to also step up and be an authority figure or enforce rules when needed.

That means making unpopular decisions and standing up to your kids when it's needed. Ideally, your kids 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. Kids don't realize it, but they actually like routine and are happiest in a predictable environment. So 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 kids 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

Kids 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 kids come up with.

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

When kids 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.

Kids 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 kid, 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 kids 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 kids 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 kids, never at them. And your child shouldn't have to fear that their sitter will be critical of something they say or do.

Kids 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.

Kids 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.

Kids love to be challenged, and a smart babysitter can keep kids 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 kids to do, and what might be a risk of injury.

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

Your babysitter should make both you and your kids feel safe. Whether they're just doing things around the house or taking your kids out to the playground.

12. Fun

It can be a fine balance between trying to be the "cool" babysitter who lets kids 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 kids to channel their energy and enthusiasm, instead of letting them potentially get destructive.

They're doing it right when the kids are smiling and having fun while they're around, but as a parent, you're also smiling when you get home. Kids 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 Kids 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 kids 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've got a pool, they should know basic pool safety and how to rescue your kid if they accidentally fall in. You might even look for a sitter with lifeguard training if your kids will be outside around the pool a lot during the summer.

Do Your Kids Like Them?

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

If you've got a younger kid it can be hard to get their opinion, but you can ask older kids 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 up front.

Do you expect your babysitter to pick the kids 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 babystters are female and this is the preference of most families. However, for single-parent families it can be benefitial 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 Kids Outdoors?

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

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

Are They Artistic?

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 kids 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.

Some babysitters will be okay with timeouts or letting your kid cry it out when they don't get their way. Others will feel guilty and not be able to bring themselves to stick to the rules.

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 kids 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.

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

What's Their Rate?

You want the best babysitter you can get for your kids. 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 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 kids 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.

Most answers are fine. But some might creep you out or make you not want them to be around your kids, for example, if their other job is as a stripper or working with dead bodies at a morgue.

Do They Have Any Allergies?

This is especially important if you've got dogs, cats, or any other pets. If they're uncomfortable around certain kinds of pets or scared of them, that might be a dealbreaker for you too.

But also to consider what food you leave for your babysitter to prepare for your kids or 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 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 Kids?

Kids 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 kids, 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. Kids 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 kids 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 kids. 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 kid 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.

Related Questions

What's some more general advice when it comes to picking a babysitter?

Think about the characteristics and skills that are important to you and your kids. As well as any extras you'd like from a babysitter. But no matter what your list of requirements are, it's still critical that you communicate your expectations to the babysitter. What might seem obvious to you could be totally new and unexpected to them. Open lines of communication in both directions are key to having a healthy relationship with your babysitter.

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.

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Written by:

Matthew Taylor

Matthew Taylor

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

Published: 8 February 2019

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