Finding the right babysitter crucial for parents

In every parent's life, the day comes when their children leave the nest. But long before that happens, mom and dad may have to fly out of the nest themselves for a night.

And while grandparents, friends and family may be reliable standbys for the occasional night out, there will come a time when you just need to find a babysitter. With a sitter comes so many questions: how do I find one, how do I know if they're reliable, how do I know they'll get along with my kids?

Red Cross instructor Sue Byron goes up and down the I-5 corridor teaching babysitting training and other courses, and she remembers the caution she felt leaving her son with a sitter for the first time. She also knows what a special experience it can be.

"It's good to think about that it's healthy for your children to have interaction with other people," Byron says. "Usually when the sitter comes over it's a fun and exciting time for your kids."

Byron shares 10 tips for parents taking their first crack at finding a babysitter.

1. How to find a babysitter

Though websites such as care.com include listings for babysitters, Byron says parents can look in their neighborhood and talk to friends and coworkers to get an idea of who they use for nights out. They may also have a son or daughter who has experience babysitting. "In general, I really advise people to do it the old-fashioned, person-to-person way, as opposed to finding them on the internet," she says. "I think it's safer for the sitters and safer for the families."

2. How to know if they're good

Don't be afraid to ask for references, but know that you may be the first family that this sitter has worked for. For many kids, babysitting is their first job. If they've sat for other families, ask for references or if you can give the family a call to talk about their experience. If you're the first, ask what experience they have with children. Do they have any babysitting training thorough an organization such as the Red Cross or first-aid and safety training? Ask about what they do at school and what they do for fun. The best way to get a feel for them is through an interview in your home.

3. Don't underestimate the importance of the interview

Sitting down face to face with your potential babysitter is a great way to get an idea of what kind of person you'll be leaving your kids with. And if you decide that you're comfortable with the sitter and want to hire them, it's a great time to get into all the information they'll need before they watch your kids for the first time: home tours, meeting with the kids, house rules and any special need your kids might have.

4. Have a backup

In a perfect world, you'd have plenty of time to plan when you'll be out of the house so you could arrange a babysitter accordingly. But, as most parents learn on day one, the world is rarely perfect. Emergencies crop up, and your usual sitter may not always be able to be there when they do. Instead of scrambling to make sure there's someone home to watch your little one, make life a little easier by having a back-up babysitter. "What will happen is something will come up and your regular sitter isn't available, and then you're in a bind," Byron says.

5. Meet the kids

As part of the interview process, have the potential sitter meet with your kids to see how they interact. That way you can gauge the sitter's comfort level with children, and you can give your kids a chance to get to know the person who will be caring for them before you're trying to rush out the door. "They need to meet them before it's going to happen. It's not, 'Here's the sitter and we're leaving,'" she says. "In general, most children are very excited when the sitter comes over and it's a fun time that they look forward to."

6. Give them the grand tour

It's important for babysitters to know their way around your house, so give them a tour. Have them come over a little before you plan to leave or do it once you've decided they're a good fit in the interview. Show them where they can find all the supplies they'll need while you're gone: diapers, toys, snacks, anything that's part of your child's routine. If your home has an alarm, show them how it works. Go over evacuation routes in case of fire, and make sure they know where first-aid kits, fire extinguishers and any other emergency supplies can be found.

7. Establish guidelines early

The interview is the perfect time to lay out what you expect from the sitter, whether it's homework help, educational play or whatever your needs may be. "If you start saying, 'My expectation is such and such,' and the sitter is uncomfortable or confused by it, that's maybe a signal that they're not right for your family," Byron says. Go over rules and what is allowed. No TV after 8 p.m., or are certain shows forbidden? Are sodas OK with dinner, and is it all right for the kids to play on the iPad? It's your job to let a sitter know what the guidelines are because kids are doubtless going to try to push the boundaries when there's a new person caring for them.

8. Share your schedule

Schedules and routines are precious things for young ones, and when they aren't adhered to, things can get hairy. Babysitters don't have to follow the schedule to the minute, but let them know when bedtime is, and what the bedtime routine is. Favorite books, favorite songs and favorite jammies help to keep continuity while parents are away. "Things go better for everybody when the family routine is maintained," Byron says.

9. What you can expect to pay

Byron says the going rate for a babysitter up the I-5 corridor is $5-$10 an hour, though she thinks Whatcom County should be on the lower end of the range.

10. What the sitter needs to know before you leave

The sitter should always know where you are and how you can be reached, as well as an emergency contact they can get a hold of if you aren't answering the phone. Have a list with your number, an emergency contact number and other important emergency numbers. Let the sitter know if there's a trusted neighbor they can go to in case of an emergency, or if there's a neighbor they should avoid. Have a list of any allergies your children have, any medical conditions and any medications they're taking.