You are polite to sitters, you pay a good hourly rate, your kids are respectful, and they’re great kids! Still, you have gone through several sitters or nannies in the past year and sometimes you feel like no one wants to work anymore. Is there anything you can do? There may be. Consider these 15 insights on how to find and keep reliable sitters:

1. Make yourself a pretty regular client who stays on your babysitter’s radar. When you meet a sitter you like and trust, promptly book with them and keep the relationship going by booking with them at least once a month. You’ll have a hard time keeping sitters if you book with them infrequently and sporadically. In my experience as a babysitter, I often met parents who wanted to expand their sitter pool. After a great first meeting, we’d have a booking or two and then I wouldn’t hear from them again for several months. They seemed to assume that I had become part of their sitter pool for the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, I got the impression that they didn’t really need sitters or it hadn’t been a good match, and I gradually forgot about them. To this day, I occasionally receive a text from a parent I haven’t heard from in over a year, asking if I’m available on Friday night. So much time has passed that they often have more children than they did when we met.

2. Take to heart that working as a babysitter is challenging. Discard the idea that it’s an “easy” job. This work entails meeting new clients at their private household and engaging their most treasured family members, their children. At the same time, the sitter is quickly observing and learning the rules, dynamics, and expectations of that individual household. Rules and expectations vary by culture, location, family structure, children’s ages, and so on. Communication styles vary widely, too. On top of that, the sitter is on alert regarding their personal safety: they are heading to a private home, alone, to meet adults they have likely only communicated with by phone. They cannot assume that it will be safe. You on the other hand are approaching the interaction from a more comfortable position of power and safety: meeting one person in your own home where you know all of the ins and outs. You probably have your spouse or a trusted friend with you at that first interview.

Most of us tend to believe that we are easier to work with than we truly are. We tend to think that we communicate more clearly than we actually do. Your sitter or nanny may misinterpret your instructions, or do something that irks you in a sincere attempt to be helpful. Maybe you only purchase specific natural products and toys for your child, and your nanny brought in a package of Walmart finger paint that you’d never buy. Maybe the sitter didn’t understand how strongly you feel about screen time limits, and they thought it would be ok for the kids to watch a show after playing outside. Childcare providers mean well. An annoying mistake or a difference of opinion doesn’t really indicate a bad match. Parents, nannies, and sitters can learn from each other. The vast majority of childcare providers want you to be pleased with their work, and will strive to learn and understand your needs over time. Give it some time.

Parents interview a babysitter candidate at the dining room table in their home.

3. Realistically consider a babysitter’s commitment level, and manage your expectations around change. Babysitting is typically a supplemental form of income. Because of this, many sitters view the work as transitional, seasonal, or temporary. You might meet a college student who will be in your family’s life for a wonderful three to four years. You might meet retirees or neighbors who can help for years to come. That said, a sitter’s tenure could also be for the summer or for the semester. Know that a sitter who can do nights and weekends is not striving to work nights and weekends indefinitely. People generally don’t hold onto multiple jobs if they find a way to have one.

It’s not uncommon to see parents going to great lengths, sometimes pushing themselves towards exhaustion, in unrealistic efforts to shield their children from experiencing a caregiver transition. Each summer, parents contact my agency to reserve a babysitter for the two-week gap between the end of summer camps and the beginning of the school year. This is easy to fulfill. However, parents sometimes add stress for themselves by setting an expectation that the same person must become their after-school nanny for the year, too. In an attempt to spare their child a caregiver transition, the parent ties a two-week need to a year-long commitment.

4. Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket. Expecting to find just one special sitter for a shy child puts too much pressure and expectation on one person, setting you up for disappointment. Babysitters get sick, they have emergencies, their priorities can change, and their family’s needs may change. You don’t want to bank your plans on one or two people. At a minimum, you want to have three or four people in your sitter pool.

I learned this lesson when a client of my childcare agency initially matched with the seemingly perfect sitter for her timid young son and they completed several successful bookings. The client was resolute that she would not undergo introducing her son to anyone else, and firm in her decision to work exclusively with this sitter. Introductions were very challenging for her son and, understandably, she wanted to shield him and herself from that experience. Then, life’s unpredictable events intervened.

First, her sitter’s grandmother passed away, and the date of the memorial coincided with the parent’s wedding anniversary dinner. Next, the sitter faced an incredibly stressful week at work, prompting her to request a reschedule of an upcoming weekend booking with the family. The parent seemed agreeable to rescheduling. Following this, the sitter caught a seasonal stomach flu and was unable to babysit for the parent to attend a concert. With the loss of her nonrefundable concert tickets, the parent’s frustration peaked and she ended her relationship with the once-favorite babysitter. She directed her anger towards the sitter, rather than acknowledging that the outcome objectively stemmed from her son’s needs at the time, and from uncontrollable circumstances. It was no one’s fault. This real-life scenario underscored for me the importance of diversifying your childcare options.

5. Give yourself enough time to search for sitters and truly expect to search and work at it. Allow 6 to 8 weeks to create your sitter pool. Recognize that it’s not a quick or simple task. Be ready to sift through lots of unprofessional responses and poor resumes, especially if you use Facebook childcare groups to find sitters. You’ll schedule interviews that fall through, meet some people who seem strange, struggle to reach references, and meet people who seem great and then be baffled when they withdraw their application or stop responding. You may find 2 great candidates out of 30 responses or more. This is actually a pretty typical search process, and it’s one reason I founded my babysitting agency: to provide parents with a more professional, less time-consuming solution.

Some of these frustrating things may stem from what you wrote in your job post. Have a friend in HR or recruiting? Enlist them to review and edit your job posting, to ensure that it is respectful and that it effectively communicates your requirements and pay range. Have friends who are teachers or run a daycare? Let them review your job post and your expectations, too. They can help you understand what is reasonable in terms of your sitter goals.

6. Pay your sitter when you cancel. When you book a babysitter, you are telling them to reserve that time exclusively for you. Failing to compensate a babysitter when you cancel, particularly on short notice, damages your ability to hold onto reliable sitters. Paying your sitter when you cancel acknowledges that their commitment to your family is important to you, their time has value, and you realize that your cancellation has an impact on them. Not paying when you cancel inadvertently communicates that babysitting for your family isn’t very important. Your sitters may view working with your family as a casual arrangement in which absences or last-minute changes are no big deal. You are more likely to attract sitters who cancel on short notice, are less mature, and move on after a short period of time.

Consider your reservation with your sitter as a nonrefundable purchase. Providing fair compensation when you cancel demonstrates mutual respect. Fair compensation is at least 50% of what your sitter would have earned if you had not canceled. Canceling when your sitter is already on their way? Pay them in full if you can afford it.

7. Pay more when you have the sitter supervise a playdate or a carpool. Let them know about the extra child in advance and get their consent. A playdate or carpool entails the added responsibility of another child’s safety, and supervising highly excited children. The presence of an extra child demands increased attention and care, even if the babysitter is less directly engaged with your child because they are playing with a friend their own age. Paying an additional $10 to $15 per hour is reasonable. Adding another family without adding comparable compensation takes advantage of the sitter.

We can all agree that surprises at work can be disruptive or irritating. Rather than having your sitter arrive and find out that they will be responsible for more children, a little heads-up beforehand is the more respectful approach.

8. Do not ask to pay later or forget to pay. This really damages your sitter relationships. Babysitters should be punctual, dependable, and engaged. Your end of the agreement is to pay on time and in full, without exception. Even when you come home to your excited kids demanding your attention, it’s still your responsibility to correctly pay your babysitter before they leave. It cannot wait until later. Prompt payment demonstrates mutual respect, and shows that you have the maturity to pay your bill without extra reminders.

9. Consider – is your home is reasonably clean and organized enough for someone to work there? It’s hard to objectively evaluate how your own home appears to other people. Ask your most honest and tidy friend to evaluate what they see in your house. If babysitters mysteriously become “too busy,” it may be because your home is not adequately clean, or there is too much clutter or tripping hazards. A refrigerator so packed that items fall out, broken baby gates, or strong pet and litter box odors all significantly hinder a sitter’s ability to work. While you don’t need to have a Pinterest-worthy home, maintaining an adequately tidy and sanitary environment does matter. Your goal is not to achieve perfection but rather to maintain a setting for your babysitter to comfortably care for your child.

Typically, excessively messy homes lack a system of organization. This results in items scattered without a designated “place” to go. This often looks like toys stacked high in bins that are hard to dig through. This often looks like kitchen cabinets or pantries where canned goods and nonperishables are stacked with no discernible order. This often looks like drawers full of puzzle pieces, dried out markers, and unmatched socks. It’s easy for half-eaten snacks and spoiled sippy cups of milk to end up in the mix — I have found mice and fly larvae in the homes of some otherwise lovely parents. 🐭

While a sitter or a nanny may attempt to help you tidy up, ultimately they can only move clutter from one place to another unless your family implements an organizational system and sticks with it. An organizer can help you to establish a system, and their hourly rates vary between $80.00 to $150.00 per hour. It’s not reasonable to expect a sitter or nanny to create the organizational systems, because that is significantly above their pay rate and purview.

A kitchen where items consume the counter workspace and restrict the walkway as tripping hazards.

In addition, all workers need functional tools to do the job. Has your kitchen sink or dishwasher been malfunctioning for months? Is it hard to find two matching shoes or clothes that fit your child? Are most of the toys missing pieces and parts, making it harder to play? Issues like these hinder your ability to retain a sitter or nanny. Example: a diaper change involves a changing area stocked with wipes and diapers, or at least a mobile caddy of diapers & supplies. A diaper change is not rummaging for a diaper, then finding a pack of wipes that isn’t dried out, then clearing clutter off the changing table or getting down onto the floor and looking for a blanket to spread under the child.

A lack of tools and space to work drives away babysitters and nannies.

10. Share in advance when you or your child are sick and accurately describe symptoms. A few times, we have dispatched babysitters for parents who described their child as having “a runny nose and some lingering congestion.” The sitter arrived to a child with ongoing green nose discharge, a prominent cough and frequent gooey sneezes. The parent then shared with the sitter that they had the same cold. Understandably, the babysitter felt misled. This situation is inherently disrespectful because it exposes workers to contagious illnesses without sufficient information beforehand. That can have a ripple effect of the worker becoming sick, missing other work and losing income. In these cases, the worker understandably feels that the parent only thought about their own needs and did not consider the impact on others.

I have personally experienced this. In 2020 before the COVID-19 vaccine was available, I arrived at a client’s home to discover that one of the parents had a fever and their doctor was coming to administer a COVID test. I was taken aback, and felt let down that the parent had not informed me about the symptoms and potential exposure before I came into the home. The parent had booked a sitter because she wanted to rest. She thought it was only relevant to disclose illness if her child was unwell, and had not considered the broader implications.

11. Ask your sitter if they are comfortable caring for your sick child, and pay even if they do not come. When you present your sitter with a choice about caring for your sick child but you don’t provide payment if they choose not to come, this isn’t a real choice. It puts the sitter in a position to choose between being exposed to illness or being unpaid, which is not respectful. While paying if they don’t come may not feel “fair,” absorbing the financial loss is your responsibility because it is your child. At a minimum, offer to pay 50% of what your sitter would have earned if the booking had gone as planned. It is an investment in your continued working relationship with your sitter.

12. Choose consistency rather than changing up the plans unnecessarily. The babysitter and your children are playing a board game, when you come home with a new toy and want the kids to come try that instead. The sitter and your children are making a craft in the basement, when you come tell everyone to go play outside because it’s such a nice day. Sound familiar? Although you perceive your decisions as exciting or appropriate, these types of changes disregulate children’s moods and are disruptive to the worker, too.

13. Consider: are you are in too close of proximity for your sitter to really be effective? It’s important to acknowledge that no matter how skilled and engaging a babysitter may be, they cannot surpass your presence and your child’s natural desire for your attention. If your home office is right next to the playroom, your child may frequently attempt to reach you, driven by their strong attachment to you and the knowledge that you are near. This can limit a nanny or sitter’s ability to fully assist you and they may worry that you are dissatisfied with their work. Many people find it overly tedious to work in this setup. Although I don’t behave any differently when parents are home, I am more effective and relaxed in my role as a caregiver when parents are out of the house. This is because the children and I have a clear understanding of the day’s plans and the decision-makers in the space.

If you’re booking a sitter so that you can work around the house, such as unpacking after moving, communicate this to the sitter in advance and have them take the children to a park or some other outing.

It’s up to you to speak with your child about the limits of your home office and to enforce your boundaries. Here are several strategies you can implement to reduce proximity: installing a baby gate in the hallway to your office, locking your office door, using a curtain to remove yourself from view, employing a sound machine to muffle your voice, or requesting that the sitter plan an outing away from the house if you have an important meeting. Some parents use color-coded post-its to signal when knocking on the door is ok. By implementing measures like these, you create a more beneficial environment for you and for your child. The worker will be able to perform their duties much more effectively, providing you with the space and uninterrupted time that you need.

14. Consider: do you appear whenever your child cries, and tend to hover or listen in? Imagine if your boss appeared every time they heard something, frequently interrupting your work and undermining your ability to problem solve. It would probably make you question why they hired you. You might find yourself hesitating to ask questions or express concerns, fearing that it might reinforce their perception that you are less than competent. In this environment, communication and the working relationship would fall apart. Many sitters and nannies have even experienced a parent speaking to them and correcting them through the baby monitor! Imagine how jarring and disconcerting it would be for your boss to suddenly speak to you through your laptop, in the middle of your workday.

There is a distinct difference between a child’s typical cries expressing tiredness, hunger, sibling fights, or discomfort, and a cry of urgent distress. Keep in mind that you are only hearing a situation that your sitter or nanny is observing firsthand. They have more context for the proper actions to take. Additionally, unlike you, your sitter or nanny does not become as emotionally charged when they hear your child cry. This often allows them to make more objective assessments of the situation or allow it to resolve naturally.

A skilled sitter or nanny knows how to provide comfort and support to a child without attempting to distract them or downplay their emotions. They objectively understand that most of the time, crying is a normal part of a child’s development.

It’s natural to want to attend to your child’s needs. That said, if the sound of a cry always compels you to come to your child and offer comfort, working from home may not work for you. It’s important to set realistic expectations for yourself.

15. Become comfortable giving in-person feedback, training, and opportunities to improve. You see your sitter or nanny do something you don’t like or something you want done differently. You aren’t sure how to bring it up, so you:

  • hold it in and feel disappointed
  • send them a text about it and that doesn’t go well at all
  • mention it so casually that they don’t realize that it’s actually important to you
  • just have the sitter or nanny just stop doing the thing altogether, without giving them the opportunity to correct it or learn. Real-life example: a parent didn’t want their children to wade in the water at a nearby pond. The sitter did not know this. Upon learning that the sitter let the children wade in the shallow water, the parent instructed the sitter to just stop taking the children to see the pond. They lost a fun local place to visit and became more confined, instead of the sitter getting a chance to learn or improve.

Keep in mind that in-person feedback does not mean speaking to your sitter or nanny through the baby monitor.

Regardless of how reasonable or clear you believe you are being, texting your sitter or nanny about an issue will come across as immature and passive-aggressive and your message will be easy to misinterpret. Speaking face-to-face offers a much better chance of achieving your goal. If the matter is sincerely important to you, have that 5-minute conversation. If the issue doesn’t even warrant being mentioned in-person, it’s likely just a minor preference and chances are that letting it go will be more productive. Accepting that there will be differences in you and your sitter’s childcare style can create a more pleasant relationship, free from micromanagement.

Don’t give in to the desire to avoid an important issue. Avoid rationalizing with thoughts such as, “A sitter should already know this. I shouldn’t really have to explain. They must not be a very good sitter or nanny.” You probably do need to explain. Childcare workers interact with many families, and each family has their own rules and expectations which vary widely by culture, location, and age. What seems obvious or straightforward to you is not that way to someone else. In addition, asking your parent friends for advice about a caregiver issue usually only results in an echo chamber reinforcing your viewpoint, since friends usually share similar perspectives and values.

Rather than assuming that your sitter or nanny is not competent because they didn’t know certain details, articulate your family’s needs to them and empower them to provide the best care. Providing training and feedback is not a bad sign! It helps to establish effective communication and a shared understanding.

Finally…are you actually right that sometimes people are just flaky and unreasonable? Yes, and I sometimes experience this as an agency owner. You could do almost everything right, and still need to start your sitter search again. Sometimes team members have earnestly asked me to keep them in mind for extra jobs to earn money for something important, then decline high value bookings because they had a long week and want downtime instead. I have to accept that people make their own choices about what’s best for them, even when I don’t comprehend their logic. Once, a member of my babysitting team asked me to keep her in mind for extra work because her cat had a major veterinary emergency and would require ongoing care and expensive medication. A couple of months later I was surprised when she left my team without notice. Most of the time, people will not offer an explanation about their decision. We are not really due an explanation, even though we may feel that we deserve one.

In conclusion, we all do things that we don’t realize give off negative impressions or have negative impacts. This can be baffling and frustrating, since a sitter isn’t likely to tell you if something about your home or your behavior doesn’t work for them. They do not know you that well, and they reasonably assume that as a paying customer you won’t appreciate feeling critiqued in your own home. At your home, the balance of power is in your favor and the worker is unlikely to say anything that they think could insult you or embarrass you. I hope that the 15 insights shared here can assist you in cultivating rewarding working relationships with babysitters and nannies, going forward.​