Going out for the night and leaving your kids in the care of someone else can often be pretty nerve-wracking. If you are booking a babysitter, though, particularly for the first time, you may find yourself wondering – what does a babysitter need to know? What do I need to tell them to ensure that they can give the best care to my little ones, allowing me to relax and enjoy my night?
For the sake of your relationship, your self-esteem and your mental health, you really need some time out, adult conversation and a chance to be the person you used to be – if only for a short while. So it’s well worth making sure you are prepared and that both you, and your babysitter know what to expect.
If you don’t want to spend all night grasping your mobile in case the babysitter calls, here’s what you need to do.
What does a babysitter need to know?
First off, make sure your babysitter is up to the job.
There is no legal age requirement for a babysitter but the NSPCC recommends that no-one under the age of 16 should be left alone to look after children.
Frankly, I think even 16 is too young, no matter how responsible their own parents may claim them to be.
You may feel differently if the babysitter is a member of your own family or an older sibling of course, but I would rather play safe and ensure that a responsible adult was looking after the kids in case of accident, sickness or some other emergency.
There are babysitting websites such as www.findababysitter.com where you can buy a monthly subscription (currently £25 a month).
You can post your requirements and receive messages from prospective babysitters free of charge but you’ll need to subscribe to message them if they do not include a contact number.
Whilst schemes such as these offer the added peace of mind of being able to put you in touch with far more local babysitters than you could probably drum up by just asking around, and some background checks are carried out, you may find that lots of your messages are from eager teenagers looking to earn some pocket money.
I also found lots of messages from babysitters who lived so far away from me it would have taken them a couple of hours to get home!
You still need to take steps to ensure you find the right person to look after your kids, even if it is just for a night out.
I always interview any new babysitter and make sure that they meet my children.
I’ve found the babysitters who are truly interested in the job generally don’t mind a quick 20-minute meet ‘n’ greet.
Kids are usually very upfront about whether or not they like someone and it’s a great way to see how the babysitter interacts with the children.
Sitting on a sofa clutching a coffee and observing them from the other side of the room isn’t that great a sign.
The best babysitters I have had have found themselves dragged off to play / colour / inspect toys and haven’t minded in the slightest (well, maybe just a bit!).
Tell them exactly where you’re going and roughly when you expect to be back
If you’re going to a restaurant, give them the establishment’s phone number in case you cannot be reached by mobile. This is particularly important if you’re going somewhere where you know the mobile signal is poor – as it is at one of our regular haunts. If you’re going to a show, tell them that you will not be contactable during the performance but that you will call them during the interval.
Leave a list of emergency telephone numbers
It’s a good idea to have a typed list of emergency telephone numbers to give to the babysitter.
We usually visit the same restaurants on our rare nights out so I add the restaurant telephone numbers to the list.
I also include the number of a nearby responsible adult (in this case my parents) in case we are in an area where mobile reception is poor.
Leave stuff for the kids to do.
Our current babysitter always brings a selection of craft material and some DVDs but you may want to have similar things available to help the babysitter out.
Leave clear instructions about bedtimes and bedtime routines.
Our babysitters know to put our kids to bed at 8 pm.
We’ve found in the past that telling a babysitter to put them to bed “when they’re tired” means kids will suddenly be bright eyed and bushy tailed way past 9 pm.
Tell your babysitter which toothbrush/toothpaste/comforter is required and whether doors should be shut and lights left on or off.
Our kids always have a glass of milk before bed too. Departing from their normal routine can be unsettling for some children so let the babysitter know what helps your little ones to settle best.
Leave even clearer instructions about any medicines to be given and in what situation.
Generally, I’m talking about antibiotics and medicines like Calpol or Nurofen here.
Make sure the babysitter knows where they are and most importantly when the last dose was given.
To be honest, if my kids are unwell enough to need medicine we usually stay home but this isn’t always possible I know.
Let the babysitter know under what circumstances you must be called.
This will vary according to the level of trust you have in the babysitter.
If your child just wakes and needs comforting, the babysitter should be able to handle this but if your child is sick, for example, you really need to know so you can come home.
This is another reason for carefully vetting your babysitter and employing someone with experience – many babysitters now have first aid training under their belt which an inexperienced teenager is unlikely to have.
Be clear about when you are likely to be back.
We are not exactly rock ‘n’ roll types (any more) so we are usually back before 11 pm.
There are two reasons for this.
Firstly I don’t think it’s particularly fair on the babysitter to leave them there into the small hours and secondly, given that the average hourly rate for a babysitter is now upwards of £8 an hour, you can quickly find a night out becomes very expensive indeed.
Leave refreshments for the babysitter
Explain where the tea, coffee or soft drinks are and leave some biscuits or a light snack if you are going to be late and you know the babysitter hasn’t eaten.
Explain where the TV remote works
If your house is anything like ours, it takes at least 2 remotes to turn the TV on and some complicated button pushing to swop over from the XBox.
You might also be asked for your Wi-Fi password. We have a guest one set up for friends and babysitters.
Check that the babysitter can get home safely
It’s just courtesy to ensure that your babysitter isn’t wandering off home alone in the dark. Again, employing a babysitter from a reputable agency means you can check whether they can drive and how far they will be travelling. Generally, our babysitters drive themselves but we will drive babysitters home if they live nearby.
Have their pay ready and make sure you’ve agreed what that will be beforehand.
Make sure you have the right money to pay the babysitter on hand as soon as you get home.
You don’t want to be rifling through bags, pockets and down the back of the sofa to find the right money – and your babysitter will be eager to get home.
And since this is your date night….
This is your chance to dress up, glam up and be a woman again.
Some of you might have managed to maintain immaculate levels of grooming despite having children but I seem to have been welded into a pair of black leggings so it makes a nice change to see my legs again and slip into a pair of heels.
Try to relax
This is your time so make the most of it. I find I often get so stressed before I go out I get a headache. I’m working on becoming a little more chilled.
Don’t just talk about the kids
If you have made sure you have the best babysitter for the job then you should be able to relax a little and concentrate on your date.
Chat about your holiday plans, what you’d like to do in the future, how your partner’s job is going, what your ambitions are.
This is your chance to try to reignite any spark that may be less bright than it was between you.
Don’t constantly look at your mobile.
Put it next to your plate if you must but try to concentrate on your date. On the other hand, make sure your phone is fully charged when you go out.
Yes I know – you’re spending money on yourselves – so try to enjoy it!
If you’re like us, it may be quite a while before you’re able to go out again so try to make it memorable.
The world won’t implode if you have a Sticky Toffee Pudding.
Book your taxi home before you leave.
Worth considering if it’s a Friday or Saturday night and you face a long wait to get a cab.
And if you’re taking the car, put your mind at rest by checking the fuel level and having cash on hand for the car park.
I always love coming home after a night out and going upstairs to give Caitlin and Ieuan a sneaky good night kiss and to straighten their bed covers.
They look so angelic when they sleeping.
And I feel extra happy, having had a break of a couple of hours.