Since I’m thinking of getting into babysitting myself, I’m curious to know what kinds of things parents most look for in a potential sitter.

Do you expect First Aid training? Housework? How do you feel about using someone new to babysitting? Do you think an adult sitter has an advantage over a teenage one? What if the adult doesn’t currently have much experience?

I’m very interested to hear your thoughts.

First Aid certificate is nice, but references and experience are the most important thing to me. Minimal housework expected (maybe put the dishes in the sink).

I’ve never hired a babysitter I didn’t know personally (as someone’s child, usually), but I did do a lot of babysitting, both as an amateur teen and as a professional adult. My initial calls were mostly word of mouth, but here’s what kept people calling me back:

Always be on time. Get there 10 minutes early and sit in your car so you can press the doorbell at the stroke of On Time. Don’t be early ringing the bell - Mom is probably still getting ready and you’re going to mess up her rhythm - but don’t be late, either.

Bring child entertaining things with you. I carried a large rolling bag full of coloring books and puzzles and crafts and play scarves and other activities. This works two ways - one, someone else’s coloring book is more interesting than the same old boring coloring book a kid has had since last Easter, so the kids loved it and it kept them busy and out of trouble. Secondly, it showed the parent that I intended to be actively involved with edumacationalish time with their kids while they were gone.

Ask the parent when a good time would be for the kiddo to call them for a check-in. Then set an alarm in your phone for that time. Again, this does several things: it lets the parent know that you know kids need their folks. It lets the kid know that Mom will be reachable, and staves off quite a bit of bitching and moaning in the meantime. It lets you look all responsible and awesome when you’re on time with the check-in call. It eases Mom Guilt that she’s abandoning her sprog.

Speaking of Mom Guilt…there will come a time when the kid does some First while you’re on duty. Don’t breathe a word of it. First steps, first word, first anything…just keep your mouth shut. The momentary glee of sharing their accomplishment will be far overshadowed by the Mom Guilt that they weren’t there to witness it. Just don’t go there. This is one time when ignorance is bliss.

Clean up after yourself and the kids. If you’re going to be doing more than that, negotiate housework separately from childcare, in terms of time and salary. I did have one house I did clean the kitchen, vacuum and make beds for, but they paid me extra for it. But I wouldn’t charge extra for washing the dishes that the kids and I dirtied.

Be prepared to bring your own food. Most people will tell you to “help yourself to anything,” but they don’t always mean it. OTOH, some people will be offended if you don’t eat a thing of theirs, so this is a minefield of cultural expectations and personal quirks. I tended to bring a yogurt and a small container of almonds or something that would get me through the shift, but if they left a pizza for the kids and there was extra, I’d go ahead and have a piece of that, too.

Good luck! Get yourself registered with a website like sittercity or, as well as any locally based sitter services you like. I got only about a quarter of my gigs from such places, but I bet it would be more now than it was 10 years ago.

I have some experience with assisting my wife in interviewing babysitters. I would personally say, “No criminal record? You’re hired!” Luckily, my wife had higher standards.

As mentioned above, references are HUGE. Experience is nice, but even if you don’t have much, if someone else can vouch that you’re reliable and responsible, it goes a long way.

When you do interview, ask about the child. Ask more than you would ever actually care to know about the child. Does she have alergies? What does she like to eat? What does she like to play with? And on and on. My wife loved it when people asked about the child. They seem genuinely interested in the child’s happiness.

My husband and I just did this, and we used sittercity because I got a free subscription through work.
We found ourselves more inclined to hire the older sitters, but I think that was mostly because the younger applicants we got were mostly interested in summertime work while we wanted someone all year round. The woman we hired had a clean background check, great references, and was great with our baby- we had her hang out with her with us while we worked from home for a couple of weeks before we had her alone in our house with our daughter. She has first aid training, which is a plus but not a deal breaker; we cared more about references and reliability.
As far as other stuff, I don’t give the smallest damn if she does any cleaning as long as my daughter is content.

We found our last two sitters on Sitter City and we love them. We went for older sitters who were also Mom’s themselves, and were just looking to supplement their income for whatever reason.

We didn’t browse for sitters and select one that way. Instead, we posted a Want Ad on the site and had over 150 replies. From those, we found 3 or 4 to interview and we’ve used two of them regularly for the last few years.

WhyNot has a lot of good advice. As someone who occasionally hires babysitters, I think first aid training is nice, but I wouldn’t ask about it. I wouldn’t expect a babysitter to do housework other than tidying up whatever messes were made while he/she was there. I’d be irritated to come home and find juice boxes on the living room floor and Legos scattered throughout the house. Another example - my friend fired a nanny after she left dog puke on the playroom floor all day. I don’t necessarily prefer a teen or adult sitter, but I do prefer a sitter with their own car and the ability to take my kids to their various activities. I don’t know how strongly I’d care about experience, as long as I was able to get a personal recommendation of some sort. However, it shouldn’t be too hard to gain experience. You can start by sitting for people you know.

Things you didn’t ask about but I think you should consider:

  1. Do some research to find out the going rate in your area. You want to have an answer when people ask how much you charge.

  2. Ask parents about any food allergies the kids have. Do a little research on food allergies. It’s a big deal to a lot of parents.

  3. If you’re going to be babysitting during the day, do some research into nearby, inexpensive or free activities you could do with the kids, and ask the parents if they would be comfortable with an outing. I’m thinking a walk to the playground, a trip to the library for story time, or something along those lines. Be proactive.

  4. Recognize that there are a lot of different parenting styles out there and ask questions out preferences the parents have. Do the kids need to follow a certain routine? How much TV, if any, is OK? Are there certain snacks/meals the kids should have, or is it anything goes? What should you do if the kid misbehaves?

Remember that having younger brothers and cousins who didn’t manage to kill themselves while in your care counts as babysitting experience. I never got paid for babysitting, but I sure got invited to a lot of birthday parties of kids my brothers’ ages… :stuck_out_tongue:

I hired a sitter for my baby for two days per week, and the biggest factor in my decision is that I had interacted with HER kids (ages 6 and 9), and they are healthy, tidy, friendly, polite and happy. I figured I didn’t need to know too many of the details of how she got them that way.

Thanks very much for the thoughtful answers, folks. You’ve given me a lot of ideas.