After my first son's birth, I went through this period where I couldn't imagine leaving my baby in someone else's care. Yeah, that didn't last long. Whether it's for date night, workout time or as a sanity saver, you need the occasional babysitter. While regular childcare providers are subject to regulation, the teenager down the street doesn't come with any guarantees or warranties. What's a responsible parent to do?

If you need a reliable sitter for a night or two, here are five ways to spot a keeper.

Positive references

The best place to begin looking for a sitter is by asking friends with similar aged children. Moms are pretty protective of their kids, so they'll alert you to any potential problems. If you're considering a specific sitter, ask around with those who have used that person in the past. A glowing recommendation is a pretty good sign you're on the right track. Conversely, if your friends answer with uncomfortable silence, it's time to move on to the next person on your list.


There's nothing wrong with using a newer sitter for older kids, but babies and rambunctious toddlers need a more experienced hand. Also, consider if the sitter does unpaid work with kids. Does the person have classes or certifications working with children? Has she volunteered in a church nursery or preschool? Does she have significantly younger siblings? While experience doesn't ensure a great experience, sitters with some hours under their belts usually do best.


You've made the call and committed to a night with a new sitter. When he arrives, does he come prepared with activities in mind and a willingness to listen to your instructions, or is he winging it? Good sitters know they need to occupy their charges, not sit on the sofa eating free pizza all night. If the babysitter comes ready to play, the night will go smoother for everyone.


Ideally, we would all hire college kids majoring in child development to watch our kids, but that's both impractical and expensive. However, you still need assurance that your sitter can handle any situation that may arise. Kids pick the most inconvenient times to injure themselves and make horrific messes. Does your babysitter know what to do in an emergency? You can help the process by leaving emergency contact information, but your sitter also needs the maturity to know when to use those contacts.

If you are wondering about your sitter's ability to manage the unexpected, ask some hypothetical questions. Ask her what she would do if your child started vomiting or fell off a piece of furniture. Ask how she would handle a stranger at the door or what she would do if a child went missing. If she's unable or unwilling to answer those basic questions, it's time to find someone new.

Going above and beyond

At the very least, your babysitter should keep your kids safe and happy, but great babysitters go above and beyond to retain their clients. If you find a babysitter willing to bring over new games for your kids so they don't have to rely on the TV for entertainment, you've got yourself a keeper. If you find a sitter who cleans up after dinner and gets everyone to bed on time, you've hit the jackpot. Unfortunately, that lands you in a mommy conundrum. Do you really want to tell your friends about him? Coveted babysitters are coveted for a reason - they're hard to find.

In the end, I'm glad I turned over care of my little one to someone else a couple of nights each month. Parenting goes much smoother when you've met some of your own needs. Hiring a sitter also allows the next generation of parents to get in some practice before committing full time to children of their own. It's a win-win situation for everyone.

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