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Written by:  Heidi Smith Luedtke
Date: January 1, 2012

Whether you hire a neighborhood teen or a more seasoned sitter, you want to set her up for success. Armed with a little insider info and your mom-knows-best tips, she'll be ready for whatever kid chaos develops in your absence.

1. Approved snacks

Don't expect a sitter to sift through your Mother Hubbardly cupboard in search of treats for the tots. Post a list of appropriate eats on the fridge, and store snacks in easy-to-find locations. Show her the goods before you go. If the kids are hungry, no one's happy.

2. Clean expectations
Nothing kills the mood of a romantic date night like coming home to a toy-strewn mess. If you'd like the kids and their caregiver to tidy up, say so. And explain your expectations to the kids and the sitter at the same time, so everyone understands. The sitter will need your support to encourage — or enforce — kids' cleanup.

3. Play-by-play
Leave a (flexible) schedule of events to guide the sitter through your usual routine. "Dinner at 5:30, play games or color, bath at 7, put on pajamas, stories at 7:30, lights out at 8," for instance. Unstructured time is stressful for everyone.

4. Pay plan
Parents and sitters may be reluctant to talk about money. Don't be. Ask your sitter up front how much she charges and/or explain how much you're willing to pay. Your sitter may not speak up if she's underpaid; but she won't be available next time you need her. Pay fairly and generously. Caring for kids is hard work.

5. Tech specs
If you want to limit kids' screen time, give guidelines to your kids and the sitter. While you're at it, show the sitter how to operate electronics, such as the DVR that holds seven (precious) episodes of "Dinosaur Train" and your daughter's videos.

6. Secret soothers
Some kids struggle with separation or grow agitated when their routine is disrupted. Let the sitter in on your if-all-else-fails options for comforting tired, cranky kids. Favorite songs? "Baby Einstein"? Best-loved book? Must-have blankie? Bubble bath bonus time? Share your secret weapons.

7. Bedtime basics
Resist the urge to say "just lay her on her back in the crib" and leave it at that. Your nighttime wind-down is probably more complicated — and more instrumental in getting your child to sleep — than you realize. Leave a quick step-by-step guide. "Bath, pajamas, snack, two books, put her in the crib on her back with her brown-and-pink polka-dot blanket." It's not bossy. It's helpful.

8. Hidden hazards
Food allergies, pesky pets and your toddler's obsession with toilets and trash cans should be revealed up front. Situations you monitor regularly (like the fact that your 5-year-old goes outside without asking) won't be on your sitter's surveillance plan unless you make them salient.

9. Discipline directions
In your smart-sitter tour of the house, point out where kids go for time-out or where you stash taken-away toys. When your little angels behave badly, the sitter will need to know how to address their behavior. Her best bets? Your standard strategies. Predictability restores calm.

10. Contact info
Leave detailed information about your plans and several cell-phone numbers your sitter can call in case of emergency. You never know whether you'll have a weak signal or a dead battery. Also, let her know if it's OK to call with questions on problems. Coming home to a wide-awake baby and a strung-out sitter could be a bitter end to your date night.

How much should you pay?
Babysitters' pay depends on:
* location
* number of children
* kids' ages
* sitter's age and experience
* special circumstances such as time of day, travel and chores to be performed (such as homework help or cooking and cleaning)

Ask other parents how much they pay or use an online rate calculator (try or to get an estimate.

Heidi Smith Luedtke is a personality psychologist and mom of two. Visit her at


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