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Parents' Guide to Babysitting

What is a Babysitter? (And Why Parents Love Them)

What is a Babysitter?

4 Mar 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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What is a babysitter, and what is this entire website about? That's what I'm going to discuss in this article.

What is a babysitter? A babysitter is a temporary childcare provider who typically watches children in the evenings or on weekends when parents are out. Babysitters range in experience levels, qualifications, and age, from young teenagers on their first job, up to retired school teachers making extra money on the side.

In this article, I'll talk about what a babysitter is, what kind of job duties they have, the hours they work, how much they typically charge, and more.

In Basic Terms – What Is A Babysitter?

A babysitter is a type of childcare provider. They're similar to a nanny or in-home daycare, although they typically work on a more temporary basis. This usually consists of a few hours at a time when parents need to go out for an evening or on a weekend every so often.

They don't have a regular schedule and are usually just on call whenever parents request their services.

Women or men of any age can be a babysitter, although it's most common among young teenage females. The job is very appealing to teenagers, especially when they're too young to get a traditional part-time job such as working retail or in a fast-food restaurant. Being a babysitter gives young teens an opportunity to earn some money and display responsibility.

Babysitting as a role emerged around the 1920s and really gained popularity in America in the 1950s and 1960s. It's unclear where the word “babysit” came from, but some theorize it's related to the way that hens sit on their eggs (source).

In some places, organizations such as the Red Cross or YMCA run training courses for young babysitters. These focus on first aid and safety for infants and young children and give babysitters the information needed to keep themselves and the kids they care for safe in various situations.

What Work Do Babysitters Perform?

At the core of the role, all babysitters supervise and ensure the safety of the children under their care. Ensuring the safety and wellbeing of the kids they're watching is their most important job above all else. Besides that, the role duties and expectations can vary significantly among babysitters in different settings.

At the most basic level, parents might just expect a babysitter to be around in the house, watching television or playing on their phone while the children are asleep in their beds. Other parents may require their babysitters to take on greater responsibilities.

For infants, babysitters will be required to change diapers, warm up bottles of milk or formula, hold, and feed the baby. Keeping a close eye on and taking care of a newborn is a lot more work and responsibility than what’s needed for older kids, so a more experienced and mature babysitter is usually preferred.

Babysitters may be asked to prepare meals for the children they're watching. It might be making a full meal from scratch, although more commonly, parents will leave leftovers or pre-made frozen dinners that just need to be reheated. Some parents will also give babysitters money to order pizza or other food deliveries for both themselves and the kids to enjoy.

Some babysitters will take a more active and engaging role, playing games and doing arts and crafts with the children they're watching. Others will help bathe kids, supervise them through their nighttime routine, and get them to bed. Babysitters may even be willing to do some light housekeeping or help with homework for some extra money.

Some babysitters will even be expected to drive if they're old enough. They might pick up kids after school, take them home, and watch them until their parents are done with work. If they are not yet old enough for school, the babysitter might take little ones to play dates or the playground.

What Kind Of Hours Do Babysitters Work?

Babysitting is usually a part-time job, and the pay is by the hour.

Babysitters most commonly work for one family once or twice a week, for about four hours at a time. They may also babysit for other families on their off days.

Some babysitters will watch kids for a couple of hours every day after school.

During the summer, it's not so uncommon for a babysitter to watch kids for an entire eight hour day or more while their parents are at work. It might still be less expensive for the parents than putting their kids into a summer camp or daycare.

Most teenage babysitters work evenings, such as from 6 pm to 10 pm, or on weekends. They might also cover holidays like New Year's Eve or Valentine’s Day, as well as anniversaries or any other special occasion when parents might want to leave their kids at home.

How Much Does A Babysitter Cost?

A babysitter's rate is largely determined by the number of children, what city they live in, and the cost of living there, more than other factors.

In the US, a babysitter's hourly rate can vary from $12 an hour in cities with a low cost of living, all the way up to more than $18 per hour in big cities like New York City (source).

Babysitters in Canada charge a bit less, usually $12 to $15 per hour (source). British babysitters charge anywhere from £8 to £10 per hour (source), and Australian babysitters average about $19 per hour.

Besides location, other things that impact a babysitter's rate include their education and experience, as well as the job duties that are expected of them. A babysitter with CPR or first aid training or who has a degree related to childcare can charge more than a less experienced babysitter.

To find out what a babysitter costs in your town, it's best to ask around to other parents to try and get some kind of consensus on the going rate for children of certain ages.

If you are using a full-time babysitter, they might qualify for what is called "nanny taxes" (source). If they earn a specific amount for working a certain number of hours (depending on where you live), you could be expected to pay employment taxes and benefits for them. A babysitter that watches your kids for a few hours every couple of weeks won't meet those requirements, but if you use a sitter more regularly, it's worth checking on what the tax laws in your area say about it.

Read our article The complete guide to babysitter pay for parents for more details on babysitter costs for your particular situation.

Related Questions

What's the difference between a babysitter and a nanny?

A babysitter watches kids part-time, usually only for a few hours per week for each family they work for. A nanny is more of a full-time role. They watch children all day, usually for 40 hours per week or more. They have more responsibilities, including preparing meals and house cleaning, and are much more involved with the overall care and development of the children in the family. A nanny might even live with the family they work for. They typically earn a higher wage than a babysitter because of their additional duties, experience, and qualifications.

Learn about the subtle differences between babysitters and nannies by reading our full article: Babysitter vs. Nanny (what's best for your family).

What's the difference between a babysitter and daycare?

Babysitters usually travel to a family's home to watch the children there. Daycare is either in-home at the daycare provider's house, or in an actual daycare or nursery facility where childcare is provided. Parents drop their kids off at a daycare in the morning on their way to work and pick them up at the end of the day.

A babysitter provides more one-on-one care, while a daycare center has multiple caregivers and watches larger numbers of kids. A daycare might watch anywhere from 5 kids to as many as 30 or more in a larger, licensed daycare center. Employees at daycare centers usually have more education and training in childhood development or education.

At what age do kids need babysitters?

Kids need the supervision of a babysitter to care for them, keep them in line, and make sure they're safe from the time they're born almost up until they become teenagers. It depends on the maturity level of your child, as well as your local laws. But many kids start to become ready to stay home alone around age 10 or 12 years. It is important for parents to start slow, only leaving their child alone for a couple of hours at first, and gradually building up their level of trust and responsibility over time (source).

Learn how to judge if your child is ready to stay home alone by reading our guide: What age does your child stop needing a babysitter?

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