By Melinda Holzschuh, contributing writer

You’ve done your research — talked to parent friends, combed through the profiles on UrbanSitter, watched video clips, read reviews, held thorough interviews — even supervised a short playtime between a sitter and your child before hiring her. On the contrary, maybe you found yourself in a last-minute childcare bind and hired a friend’s sitter out of sheer desperation, and then she became your default go-to childcare provider. No matter how a sitter found their way into your life, it’s absolutely normal to feel at least a twinge of anxiety or guilt at leaving your child in the hands of anyone other than yourself. We’ve all been there. But there are ways to evaluate your sitter, and hopefully put a damper on those nerves.

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How to Evaluate and Monitor Your Babysitter or Nanny

1. Dangerous Situations
It goes without saying: if a sitter is risking your child’s safety in any way, such as leaving them unattended in a bathtub, not keeping a careful eye out while cooking, leaving the premises, or if you see bruises or other unexplained signs of physical distress in your child, the sitter should be fired immediately. You don’t need a reason. A simple “thank you for time, but we won’t be needing you anymore” is plenty adequate.

2. Criticism and Praise
Every employee deserves to be treated humanely — that is, to be thanked for what they do right, told what they could improve upon, and given second chances. You are an employer and your sitter or nanny is the employee, however casual that relationship, and you should strive to be the sort of boss you’d like to have yourself. Consider tipping your sitter or buying her a small gift if she goes above and beyond. If she falters, politely let her know what your expectations are. That said, if second or third (or fourth or fifth) chances have been given and improvements not made, it may be time to start your hunt for a more responsive sitter.

3. Ask the Experts
No one knows the ins and outs of a relationship better than the people in it, so check with your kids! They are half of the childcare equation after all, so ask for feedback. They’ll let you know if the sitter meets their standards, and while their standards and yours may differ wildly, receiving your child’s opinion with an open mind is a fantastic way to deduce the overall atmosphere in the house while you’re away.

4. Infer
There are signs to look for if you’re suspicious that a person you’ve hired may not be up to snuff. Some are more serious than others, but all require closer examination, at the very least:

  • Your child may be disinterested or even change their mood (for the worse) entirely when the sitter arrives
  • Child seems abnormally upset at your departure, or even days before your departure at the mention of having the sitter come
  • Sitter seems to dismiss your requests and/or your parenting style in favor of her own agenda
  • Sitter is not reachable when your children are in her care
  • Sitter seems preoccupied with her phone or the TV/computer
  • Sitter badmouths others on social media sites
  • Diapers are clearly not being changed, or not often enough
  • You notice a disregard for household safety
  • There are multiple negative reviews of the sitter on reputable websites
  • Child shows unexplainable signs of physical or mental trauma of any caliber, including bruising, sudden onset of nightmares, potty training regression, etc.
  • You’ve heard it a million times: trust your gut. If you sever ties with a caregiver and your instincts were wrong, it will pass. The alternative isn’t worth the risk. A “wrong” feeling is all the justification you need to let someone go (or to not hire them in the first place).

5. Communicate
As an employer, make sure you create an environment in which you and your sitter can discuss any issues openly. This includes your asking for a debriefing upon your return (you may need to steer the conversation with specific questions like, “How did bedtime go?” or “Did you do anything especially fun this visit?”). Also make sure your sitter feels comfortable telling you about any issues she had. If your little angel was less than perfect, the sitter should be able to tell you this with the confidence that you won’t immediately jump to your child’s defense. You’d want to know if your darling was repeatedly pulling the cat’s tail or tossing around colorful language simply because of your absence, wouldn’t you?

Have frank discussions with your caregiver about the time you’ll return, what the rate of pay is, and what your discipline style is. It may sound obvious, but expectation management is key. Finally, even if you never check in, make certain your sitter knows that she is expected to always be reachable. Exchange cell phone numbers and give her an idea of your basic itinerary while you are gone from the house. Likewise, make sure you are always reachable. Keep your phone’s volume on as much as possible, and leave the number of a trusted person she can contact if she can’t reach you. When the sitter arrives at your house, step out of the front door with her and point out the house of one friendly neighbor she could approach for help if she needed to.

6. Observe
Nothing is as important as the safety of your children. It may feel awkward, but you are well within your rights to install a “nanny cam,” ask a neighbor to keep an eye out for anything suspicious, or to drop by your own house unexpectedly.

A babysitter or nanny can be the best thing that ever happened to your family. Your peace of mind is an integral part of that equation, along with the comfort level and happiness of all parties involved. Keep the lines of communication open between parent, sitter, and child and you will be planning your next girls’ night out before this first one is even over!

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