In-Home Childcare

Finding a Childcare Provider


How will you know if you've made the wrong choice in hiring a nanny or sitter? Watch for signs of:

  • bruises or abuse
  • hunger, soiled diapers, or other signs of neglect
  • intense cries, withdrawal, listlessness, or signs of profound unhappiness
  • the absence of any smiles or affection for the sitter, even after several weeks together

If you consistently or repeatedly observe any of these signs, you should strongly consider switching sitters.

You'll need to do some work just to find viable prospects for an in-home child-care position. Here are some of the things you can do:

  • Word of mouth. Ask neighbors, your pediatrician, co-workers, and clergy members. You can try asking other parents, too, but don't expect too much of a response: It's like asking a miner where to find gold around these parts.
  • Classified info. Check the want ads in your local paper(s) or try placing one yourself.
  • Post-it. notes. Check community bulletin boards at the town hall, the grocery store, the drug store, and so on and post your own ad there, too.
  • On campus. If you only need part-time help, register with the employment, career counseling, or housing office of the nearest college or university. If you have an extra room, you might be able to find a college student who wants to trade 10-15 hours of childcare a week for a free room and perhaps some meals.
  • Student employment. For part-time help in the evenings and on weekends, or for an occasional sitter, call the guidance counselor at your local high school or junior high school and ask if your school district offers baby-sitting training programs. If it does, the guidance office will gladly offer you a list of prospects.
  • Grandparents for hire. Check with your local senior citizen centers. Many older people are capable of caring for a baby (although a toddler may be harder to keep up with).

The Interview


During the interview, excuse yourself from the room for a minute, leaving the prospective sitter and your baby alone together. When you return, come back in quietly. Observe how the prospect is interacting with your baby. If the sitter isn't interacting with your baby at all, forget it. If the sitter is trying, however, give the two of them a couple of minutes to get to know each other. You can use this time to form some initial impressions about the sitter's rapport with infants. (Your baby may "sabotage" this tryout if he sees you. No matter how great the sitter, he prefers you.)

If the sitter seems warm without being pushy, offers a narrative of what your baby is doing, and/or tries to engage your child but lets him proceed at his own pace, you may have a good prospect.

Although you may be desperate, don't hire the first prospect you get. Instead, collect a handful of prospects and then invite each of them to your home for an interview.

What should you look for? It depends a lot on your own needs and personal preferences. If promptness is important to you, for instance, you probably won't want to hire someone who shows up late for the interview. But no matter what your personal preferences, you want someone who seems warm and comfortable with young children. At least some training or knowledge of infant development, including knowledge of infant CPR, can be a plus, but keep in mind how much knowledge and training you had when your baby was born. You may also want to consider how well your sitter's and your baby's personalities mesh. A shy infant and an overbearing, or even just pushy, sitter won't match up well, for example. But neither will a very social infant and a withdrawn, passive sitter.

The most important quality that a nanny or sitter should have is the ability to communicate well. You want someone who will not only be sensitive to your baby's pre-verbal communication, but also be at ease when talking to you about your baby. A good prospect will not only listen attentively to you, but will ask questions about your baby, your child-rearing philosophy, and his or her job responsibilities during the interview and/or tour of your home.

During the interview, ask about the person's beliefs regarding setting limits, feeding habits, and so on. Make sure they're at least close to your own. You might also find it useful to offer up a few hypothetical situations to see how the interviewee would handle them. Find out how the person would handle not just an emergency (although you certainly want to know that, too), but also such everyday crises as crying jags, crankiness, and the refusal to eat or nap.


Check a potential sitter's references! Don't just ask for them and don't be satisfied just with a written letter. Call the letter writer to find out what the interviewee did for the family and for how long. Find out why the person left and whether that family would consider hiring her or him again.

Trust your instincts in hiring a nanny or sitter. If something doesn't feel right, even though you can't quite put your finger on it, don't hire that person. (However, if this feeling arises with every interview, re-evaluate whether you really want to hire a sitter at all.)

Even after a successful interview, consider requiring a trial period of one or two weeks before you really need childcare. This trial period will give you a chance to observe your baby and the sitter together and see how things go. It will also give you a chance to ease your baby into childcare by leaving for short times at first and building up from there.

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Bringing Up Baby © 1997 by Kevin Osborn. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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