Finding someone you trust enough to watch your kids when you’re not home is no easy feat. You want to be confident your little ones are in good hands so you can actually enjoy that date night, work event or dinner with friends — not spend it anxiously worrying about your kids.
Hiring a sitter who is caring, attentive, responsible and trustworthy can give you some much-needed peace of mind. And part of finding the right person is knowing how to spot the wrong one.
We asked child care experts to reveal some of the warning signs parents shouldn’t ignore during the interview process. Here’s what they told us:
1. They reschedule their interview several times.
Life happens: Something comes up unexpectedly and plans need to be changed. But if a potential sitter cancels and reschedules your interviews again and again, it shows a lack of reliability, said child care expert Cady Henry, who is also a former nanny and babysitter.
“You want a responsible babysitter who knows the importance of managing their time and priorities. If they aren’t doing that for the interview, there’s a high likelihood they won’t be doing it once they’re hired,” she told HuffPost.
2. Their communication is spotty.
Strong communication is key in any partnership — including the one you have with your child care provider. If they are flaky or unresponsive during the interview process, it could be a sign of communication issues moving forward.
“You’re bestowing your trust in an individual to care for your child while you are away,” child care expert Hassanatou Barry, founder of The Babysitter Guru and a former babysitter herself, told HuffPost. “Therefore, the communication must be consistent from the start.”
During the outreach stage, she recommends paying attention to things like how fast the candidate responds to your inquiry about their availability, what their preferred mode of communication is (e.g. email, phone or text) and whether or not they follow up with you after the initial interview.
“You can tell a lot from a candidate’s work style based on their communication,” Barry said. “If they lack the above and you have an odd pit in your stomach that this may lead to a bigger issue down the line, be cordial and politely inform the candidate you will not continue with their application.”
3. They seem checked out during the interview.
The babysitter doesn’t necessarily have to be the chattiest Cathy on the block. But they should still be engaged in the conversation, Henry said.
You want someone who answers your questions thoughtfully and has some questions of their own, too, that show they’re interested in getting to know your family.
“You want to hire someone who can effectively communicate with you — who can tell you what happened while you were away, feel comfortable bringing up any concerns or questions, and staying in touch overall,” Henry added. “Open communication with your babysitter will give you peace of mind while you’re away.”
4. They lack basic child care skills.
Changing diapers, consoling a crying baby, identifying choking hazards (and, ideally, knowing basic first aid and CPR) are all skills a babysitter should possess.
“Open communication with your babysitter will give you peace of mind while you’re away.”
“Sure, you may need to teach a babysitter a few things specific to your family’s lifestyle or home. But you want a babysitter with some level of experience and basic child care skills,” Henry said. “Otherwise, you will spend a lot of time worrying about the well-being of your child while you’re gone. A babysitter should provide peace of mind, not add more worry to your life.”
5. Your child doesn’t seem to get along with this person.
When you’re meeting a candidate in person, be sure your kid is there, too. That way you can watch them interact and gauge your child’s reaction.
“I encourage all parents during the interview process to allow an in-person 30 minutes to an hour session with the candidate and your child,” Barry said.
Pay close attention to your child’s behavior around the prospective sitter, as kids may pick up on things adults do not. Is your child acting out more than usual? Do they seem uncharacteristically shy or avoidant? Those could be signs that it’s not the right fit.
“If your child becomes temper tantrum-y when the candidate arrives, hides behind furniture to avoid eye contact with them or suddenly begins throwing objects to hurt the candidate — then you should further evaluate your decision in hiring them,” Barry said.
6. They’re evasive when you ask about their references — or their references don’t check out.
A sitter should be willing to provide you with a few references, including a couple of families they’ve worked with in a caregiving capacity in the recent past.
If they give you written reference letters, you should also request phone numbers so you do a follow-up call to get more information.
“For each reference you speak with, please have a list of questions written in advance to ask,” Barry said. Asking some situational questions about how the sitter handled real-life incidents or circumstances “is always a plus,” she added.
Consider it a red flag if the babysitter avoids questions about their former employers, won’t provide their contact information or if their references seem confused as to why you’re calling or don’t have much to say.
Barry also recommends doing an additional layer of vetting with anyone you’re strongly considering hiring — like getting a background check from a reputable company.
According to Care.com, you should tell the sitter you’re planning to run a routine background check on final candidates so they can authorize the screening. If they refuse, then this probably isn’t the right person to care for your kids.
7. You have a bad gut feeling about them.
When you think about leaving your child with this person, do you get a pit in your stomach? Even if the sitter looks good on paper, don’t ignore that sensation — it may be your parental intuition trying to tell you something’s amiss.
“In addition to properly screening a caregiver and monitoring the quality of care children receive, parents should never disregard their gut feeling about a provider,” Michelle LaRowe, founder of NannyTraining.com, told Care.com. “If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.”