8 Things Your Sitter Wants to Know (But May Not Ask You)

Working with your sitter

You’ve posted a list of emergency phone numbers, debriefed on the bedtime routine and covered your kid’s dietary restrictions. Time for mom and dad to hit the town, right?

Not so fast.

While your nanny has mastered the ends and outs of watching your kids, setting a date night sitter up for success may require a few more details. Before you head out, be sure to cover these topics with your sitter.

  1. Ground Rules
    It can be easy for a parent to forget — especially with an occasional sitter — that clarifying house rules is a must if you want to avoid misunderstandings. Tell your sitter which rooms (think: master bedroom or home office) are off limits. If you prefer she doesn’t rummage through kitchen or bathroom cabinets, set out items she’ll need — like ingredients for dinner, snacks or a first aid kit. And if your sitter is inexperienced, make sure she understands that guests are not permitted. Be clear about your expectations, and don’t be afraid to communicate rules and set boundaries.
  1. Electronics
    In our screen-obsessed world, addressing the use of electronics with your sitter is increasingly important. Your sitter should know that her first priority is taking care of the kids — not sending snaps — but you’ll need to fill her in on screen-time rules for your kids. Is one TV show OK, but binge watching Sofia the First a no-no? Can the kids play video games or on the iPad? Are there time limits on these activities and how are those limits enforced? Let her know if electronic entertainment is allowed, and explain how and when it can be used.
  1. Discipline
    Discussing discipline is at the top of the list during nanny interviews, but it’s often an afterthought when leaving the kids with a date night sitter. Giving your sitter the heads up on any behavior issues — like your toddler’s hitting phase or siblings who’ve gone on a sharing strike — and being clear about how you prefer she handle those issues can make or break your family’s and your sitter’s experience. Being on the same page about how to discipline, and maybe more importantly, how not to discipline, will help you avoid any of the tricky issues that arise when caregivers take different approaches to behavior.
  1. A Schedule Change
    Dinner ran long, the play ended late, getting an Uber took forever — whatever the reason, you’ve blown right past your self-mandated curfew. This is a pretty common scenario even for parents who build in a buffer of time when out for the night, but it can make a sitter who doesn’t know you and your record of timeliness (or tardiness) nervous. Before you leave, ask the sitter if she has any constraints on her time, let her know you’ll give her notice if your evening runs long (a quick text works just fine), and assure her that she’ll be paid for any additional time.
  1. Your Pets
    Fido and Fluffy may be friendly, but pets can pose more questions for a sitter. If you have pets, your sitter needs to be aware of any additional responsibilities. Fill her in on the kind of pets you have and their demeanor, make sure she is comfortable having them roam free, and explain the basics of care, like if the pets should stay inside or if they can be let out in the yard, if they need to be fed, and where pet products are kept.
  1. Meals
    Asking a sitter to feed the kids is a common request, but the sitter needs to eat too. Sidestep meal-time confusion by saying, “Please help yourself to the pizza/mac and cheese/casserole that the kids are having.” If your sitter is taking care of a baby, ensure she doesn’t go hungry and tell her ahead of time that there’s a frozen dinner, leftovers or some other easy meal available to her, but she’s welcome to bring her own food if she prefers.
  1. First Aid
    You’ve left a long list of “in case of emergency” contacts, but the likeliest accidents are minor bumps and bruises that require antiseptic spray, a Band-Aid and a hug—not a dinner interruption. When you give the sitter a tour of the house, make note of where important safety items are, including the first aid kid, the fire extinguisher and dosage information for any medications.
  1. Trouble Spots and Special Tricks
    Did you forget to mention that your preschooler only eats beige food? Or that your daughter is afraid of the dark? Sharing the small details about what easily sets your children off will go a long way toward a smooth experience. Prep your sitter for these potential pitfalls. Whether it’s checking the closets and under the bed before saying goodnight, singing a special song or soothing your toddler with a stuffed toy, tell her the secret tricks and tips that will ease anxieties and tame tantrums.