Congrats! You’ve hired a new babysitter. She’s amazing on paper and even better in person. You feel like you’ve won the lottery, and you’re already dreaming of future date nights — maybe even weekend getaways. Of course you’re nervous about walking out the door that first time and leaving her in charge, but you know she’s bright, fun, and more than capable.
Your kids might not be so sure though; being left with a new person can be intimidating. It’s easy for parents to become so focused on leaving emergency numbers and writing down bedtime instructions that they forget to slow down and take the time to get children settled with the idea of having a new face around the house — a face that might tell them to do things a little differently than they’re used to. Even if you’ve been blessed with go-with-the-flow kids, it’s important to ease deliberately into life with a new babysitter or nanny. Here are some helpful hints to make that transition as smooth as possible:
Introductions before the job
Make a point of letting the caregiver and children meet before the actual babysitting job. Many parents bring kids along when they interview the sitter in person, so the sitter’s face is familiar when they come to the house later. Ideally — especially in the case of more timid youngsters — the sitter would come for a working interview at the house (or stop by some afternoon for a few hours of acting as a Mother’s Helper). This provides more intimate getting-to-know-each-other time in the child’s own surroundings and with Mom or Dad close at hand. This is also an excellent way to let the sitter get acclimated to your home, any pets, your parenting style, and so on.
Plenty of notice
Never “spring” a new babysitter on a child — it’s not fair to the child or the sitter, who may be left with a sobbing, distraught little one. Always let your child know when a new caregiver will be coming, with plenty of advance notice. Mark it on a visible family calendar, if you have one, and remind your child occasionally but casually the week before the job is to take place that a new friend is coming. Sometimes advance notice isn’t possible, like in the case of a fill-in for the usual sitter who canceled last minute. In this case, still give as much notice as possible. Tell your child as soon as you’re aware of the change.
If your child is exceptionally apprehensive when it comes to new sitters or falls apart at the mention of someone new coming over with little warning, it might behoove you to reduce your time gone (maybe just have one cocktail at the company party instead of staying for dinner), to bow out completely, or to play rock-paper-scissors with your partner to see who gets to go and who needs to stay home this time. You know your child best, and it may not be worth risking A) making your child even MORE apprehensive of sitters in the future or B) leaving a sitter with a child so upset that she’ll never come back to babysit again.
Get the kids involved
Kids love to be involved in decision making. Before hiring a babysitter, sit down as a family and discuss what sort of qualities a great babysitter has. You can even bring it up casually as a dinner conversation topic. The kids might say they want a nice babysitter, a pretty one, or one who plays Wii and likes coloring. Take what they say to heart. Even if none of the suggestions are realistic (I want one who will let me stay up until midnight!), your kids will feel heard, and you might gain some new insight. If your child is lucky enough to meet several sitters during the interviewing process, ask them for their feedback. Of course only you know which sitter truly fits the bill, but don’t discount your child’s input. There’s no greater feeling than knowing your child loves their babysitter (and a child who loves their babysitter is a child whose parents can feel free to go out more!).
Put the kids in charge!
For a kid, what could be better than being THE expert in your home on where things are and how things work? When the new sitter arrives, put your child in charge of “helping” and teaching her everything she needs to know. Where are the crayons? When is bedtime? How does Fido like to be pet? Tell your child that the new babysitter might be nervous because she doesn’t know things like where toys go and how to turn on the TV. If your kids are busy being in charge of making the new sitter feel at home and acquainting her with the “right” way to do things, they may not notice their own apprehension. (And you may get the added bonus of the new sitter actually picking up a few things about how the household runs!)
Have an itinerary
To help kids feel in the know (or if you think a sitter might be low on initiative), consider putting together a list of the day’s activities: lunch, an hour of cartoons, coloring/crafts, walk to the park, stop for ice cream. If you think your kiddo will like having a predictable plan to follow, ask the sitter to keep the activities in sequential order. That way, she and the child can talk about and look forward to what comes next. If you think it’s more important to your child to have some control, ask the sitter to allow the child to choose from the list what happens next. Include as the last item, “Mom and Dad get home!” Having something written down (preferably in a parent’s handwriting) can create a sense of calm for an unsure child.
Bend the rules
Many parents like giving babysitters some leeway when it comes to “breaking” the house rules. This automatically sets the sitter up to be the fun one who lets the kids get away with things that Mom or Dad normally don’t, and creates within the child an association between having a babysitter and getting some special perks! Think about some of the normal rules you’re willing to bend a little: an extra hour of video games? A later bedtime? Dessert before dinner? Dessert FOR dinner? Chances are, the sitter will love you for it too. Just make sure she knows the REAL house rules, so she knows what an appropriate amount of “cheating” is. Every family is different. If you’re dead serious about no nightlights at bedtime, the other families she works for may not be, so be clear about which rules are bendable and which aren’t.
Have the difficult conversations
No one likes having these discussions with their kids, but especially when leaving children with a new caregiver, go over age-appropriate topics regarding safety and personal space with your children. Make sure kids know how to dial 911 (and in which situations they should), how to find a neighbor if they need help. Stress that they should never be hit by a babysitter or touched in sensitive places . (If your child doesn’t know what these places are, explain that it’s any body parts a bathing suit usually covers.)
Explain what a babysitter’s job is: to keep kids safe and to be present and know what kids are doing the whole time they are there. When you get home, ask them if they think the babysitter did their job. Did she keep everyone safe? Did she follow the house rules? Did she have any visitors come over? Keeping the lines of communication open with your child and asking them for feedback after the job is complete will not only tell you what happened while you were gone, but will help your kids feel empowered and reduce some of the stress associated with having a new babysitter or nanny.
Remember, when a new caregiver is hired, everyone might be a little apprehensive. Do everything you can to ease the transition by starting the process before the job begins. Soon that babysitter will become an indispensable part of your lives, and with any luck, your kiddo will be begging you to go out!