A babysitter is like a consultant–anyone can call themselves one. This doesn’t mean there aren’t throngs of well-qualified babysitters available; it just means formal training isn’t a requirement for getting the job. Babysitters and their qualifications range widely, from the old woman next door who raised her children during the Nixon administration, to the tri-lingual exchange student or the first aid-certified nursing student who lives around the corner. Depending on your needs, all or none might be qualified for the position. Your job is to examine your own situation and determine which qualifications you most desire in a babysitter.
Although it’s not required, many teenage babysitters take babysitting certification courses through the YMCA or Red Cross. These courses typically cover CPR, basic first aid, and preventative child safety, like avoiding feeding toddlers whole hotdogs or popcorn. The babysitter’s age and personality also come into play. A loving mother of five and grandmother of eight probably has more practical experience in safety and first aid than could ever be taught in a course. And just because a babysitter has completed the certification class doesn’t necessarily means she’s patient or energetic enough for your kids.
A babysitter’s level of education can range from GED to doctoral student. How educated your babysitter should be depends on your preferences and the needs of your kids. For example, if you have a child with special needs or a particular disorder, such as ADHD or OCD, you may very well want someone with formal education or a degree in that area. However, many kids just need a babysitter who’s bright and educated enough to engage them in stimulating activities and answer their questions accurately–and you don’t need an advanced degree for that.
Caring for toddlers and preschoolers is a physically demanding job. A good babysitter must have enough agility and strength to catch an 18-month-old briskly toddling toward the stairs or carry a preschooler who fell off her bike and scraped her knee. Physically fit babysitters come in all ages and sizes, but make sure she’s able to keep up with your kids and participate in their activities without injuring herself or allowing them to be injured.
Experience caring for children the same ages as your own is definitely an advantageous qualification for a babysitter. Kids’ development changes rapidly, so it’s important your babysitter understand the issues and risks associated with a particular period of development. For example, a babysitter who’s cared for dozens of preschoolers isn’t necessarily qualified to care for a 14-month-old toddler who’s constantly trying to stick things in his ears and the heating vent. Her lack of experience caring for a certain age doesn’t automatically make her disqualified, but it’s something worth considering, especially when comparing her with other babysitters. Equally important is her experience with multiple children of specific ages. Caring for 14-month-old twins and a 2 1/2-year-old requires a different set of safety and behavioral knowledge than babysitting kids who are 3 1/2 and 5 years old.