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Setting Up Your Sitter for Success

When I was the mother of five little boys under age 10, babysitters were of utmost importance—along with food, water, and fresh air.  Yet, in the anticipation of time away from daily demands, I never gave much thought to ways I could make the babysitting experience more enjoyable for my substitutes.  Of course, there were the obvious things such as explaining our routines, showing where things were kept, having food in the house, leaving a contact number, etc., but today I see there are things that make a difference in making the babysitter feel successful.

I know, because now… I AM THE BABYSITTER.

I’m now the GRANDMOTHER to eleven lovely, lively children under age 12.

Don’t misunderstand: I love it!

But now I do look at things from a new perspective. I see the world through sitters’ eyes and I’ve started to take notice of some things parents can do to make the experiences more enjoyable for the sitter.  For example:

  • Transfer authority. Teach a child to respect the authority figure when the parents aren’t present. Once, one of our precocious little granddaughters was not being her usual cooperative self when she was left with a sitter. When asked why she was being so difficult she replied, “Well, you know I’m pretending that I’M in charge!” Having a clear understanding of who’s the boss makes the sitter’s job easier. The children need to understand they obey the sitter just as they do the parents (this is assuming they DO obey the parents☺).
  • Have a checklist for good behavior. This worked well for us when we kept three of our grandchildren one weekend. Their parents provided for each child a list of expected behavior to be “checked off” by Pops and me.  The points listed were age-appropriate for each child. The list included things such as helping set the table, taking a bath, picking up toys, being kind to each other, being helpful, being obedient, not whining, etc. Each child was diligent to fill the boxes with checks and repeatedly asked if I was going to show their mama and daddy. This took the parents’ expectations a step further than just the “Be good for Lollie and Pops!” phrase as they left.  It gave definition to what “being good” looked like and the checklist was a measurable show of success. (I discovered one child erasing some of the checks on her sibling’s list because, in her opinion, that child didn’t deserve it—but that’s another topic!)
  • Invite the babysitter for honest feedback.  Allow the babysitter to be honest with you regarding your child’s behavior. Sometimes, in the defense of our own egos, we moms prefer denial rather than face negative or uncooperative characteristics in our children.  Once when I had three small boys under five, a friend looked at me and made a cryptic observation: “Your kids aren’t minding you.” It made me mad, oh yeah, because I was embarrassed and frustrated. But it also motivated me to do something about it.  Let’s be honest, our children don’t come into this world perfect (quite the opposite). We need teamwork, and sometimes a non-family member with our child’s best interest in mind can be a helpful asset.  Rearing children is a work in process.
  • Establish house rules.  Explicitly communicate the amount of screen time a child is allowed. This has become a matter of importance in the culture we now live in.  No doubt parents’ opinions vary, but it’s also no doubt that children’s curiosity has no boundaries. In our own home, when I am the babysitter, the parents and I have reached an agreement, to wit, no screen time unless authorized by Lollie and Pops. And if there is an argument, the screen devices are left at home the next time. My theory is that I want our grandchildren to come to see us, not come stare at the latest technology. (But one caveat: when the parents leave town and we’re babysitting their five children at their home, the iPads hid under their dad’s underwear have to be turned off so the alarm doesn’t go off in the middle of the night!)
  • Keep everyone fed…well.  Have good quality food for meals and snacks—for the sitters (I’m kidding!), but seriously, good protein food makes the challenge of rearing children a million times easier (more or less).  In my own journey of motherhood, I learned that a snack of cheese or nuts, boiled eggs, or beef jerky could tame many childhood tempers—as well as my own!
  • Reassure your child before you go. Audrey Penn, the author of the book, The Kissing Hand, describes a mother who provided a “kiss” for her anxious child to hold on to until she returned. You can do this by letting the child keep something of yours while you’re gone, some special item they’re responsible for in your absence. Or it might be to manage a task, such as putting an ice cube in the orchid to keep it alive (you might need to specify not to pick it).  One of my granddaughters volunteered to keep my diamond earrings until I came back to see her; she’s a little too smart for her age.
  • Give yourself permission to leave your child.  When you, as a busy mom, have done all you know to be a good mother, cut yourself some slack.  You need rest and recovery in order to do your job well. Secure a capable, qualified sitter you feel comfortable with and RELAX.  Children react to our leaving them in various ways for different reasons (again, another topic for another day). Our boys demonstrated all extremes. One of them hung onto the door handle of the car, begging us not to leave him (we were going to CHURCH, for heaven’s sake!), while another one told me they didn’t need a babysitter; they needed a mansitter!

In the end, all parents need a little time away in order to make the most of their time together with their children.  So…trust your sitter, set them up for success, and go enjoy your time!

A note about the author:

Careen Strange is author of Hello, Young Mothers, an honest and comical look at the realities of day-to-day motherhood. She and her husband, Burt, have been married 50 years, raised five sons, and are now grandparents to 11 grandchildren. To learn more about Careen and her work with young mothers, visit

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