Take it from someone who knows, having a sub-par babysitter can make a serious (and lasting) impression on your kiddo. Unfortunately, short of installing a nanny cam on your child’s forehead, there are few ways of catching a delinquent caregiver red-handed. Your kid may not be old enough (or bold enough, depending on just how grave the situation is) to pipe up and finger-point.
Which is why, when it comes to weeding out bad babysitters, some sleuthing may be in order. Fortunately, there are certain tell-tale signs that mean it’s time to go back to the drawing board.
1. Your kid seems withdrawn in general, and particularly when it comes time for the sitter to arrive. If the normal adjustment period for kids to warm up to their caregiver seems abnormally long, there may be a problem. Crying, pouting, and tempter tantrums are par for the course over the first few days or even weeks, but if your child seems fearful or despondent for any longer that that, on to the next one.
2. He or she plays it close to the vest. Your caregiver should be forthcoming about the details of the daily routine. Most parents come home fairly anxious to hear how everything went. If your sitter seems secretive, that’s a red flag. A good sitter understands that a parent wants to know the ups and downs of their child’s day.
3. You notice house rules being broken. Anyone you hire should keep in mind they’re working for you (and with you)—not against you. That means keeping to the schedule you’ve set forth, respecting screen time rules, etc.
4. He or she doesn’t seem to respect your parenting style. Nutrition, sleep, safety rules—these are your territory as the alpha dog. Not that you shouldn’t welcome constructive advice from your babysitter, after all, they spend a good chunk of time with your constantly changing little ones and ostensibly know them pretty well. However, if you find the two of you are butting heads often, you might want to reconsider the arrangement. If you don’t click with your caregiver or if you feel he or she is undermining you, it’s time to see other people.
5. Chronic tardiness is never a good sign. A reliable sitter shows up on time and doesn’t leave you in a lurch. Punctuality reflects commitment to a job and a consideration for your time and needs. Explained lateness and absences are one thing, but if it’s a habit, it may be indicative of larger issues.
6. Your caregiver and your kiddo are lacking in the personal upkeep department. If a sitter seems slovenly and doesn’t seem to know how to put himself or herself together, how can you trust that person to take care of another human being as well? That said, we all know sometimes there just isn’t enough time in the day to preoccupy ourselves with appearance. The real glaring red light is if your kid is always unkempt and dirty after a date with the sitter. Basic things like washing your child’s hands and face, or making sure they recognize the importance of personal hygiene, are Sitter 101.
7. You catch your sitter in a lie. Does this require explanation? You’re entrusting this individual with your most prized possession, and lies, deceit, and theft all undermine this basic, necessary foundation of the parent-sitter complex.
8. Your kiddo is always hungry or tired, or vice versa. If your kid either collapses the second they get home or suddenly can never fall asleep at night, it’s a sign your caregiver isn’t sticking to sleep schedules. Same goes for nutrition. If your kid is famished or seems to be gaining a ton of weight, it’s probably worth investigating the cause.
9. You notice an abnormal amount of bruises, cuts, or scapes on your kiddo. With kids, things occassionally get a little rough at the playground, but if it’s a pattern, you have to consider the possibility these aren’t organic injuries, in which case, “So long. Goodbye.” (Reach out to your pediatrician if you have any concerns, ever, about the safety and well-being of your child.)
10. Your gut tells you something isn’t right. Parental instinct is real, people. Trust it.
That being said, don’t read too much into it if your kid seems a little uncomfortable early on. It can take some time for a child to warm up to his or her nanny or babysitter, and for the most part they’d prefer Mom or Dad was around. If the chemistry just isn’t there, it isn’t anyone’s fault, but it may be time to hunt for a new helper. If you’re strapped for time (and that may have been the reason you overlooked certain signs this may have not been the right caregiver for your kiddo from the start), don’t stress—There’s a website for that. As always, our beloved Nanny Doctor is always at your service, but if you need in-depth assistance finding someone for a part-time gig, head over to Care.com.
Need just a little guidance figuring out what brand of babysitter will gel with your family and meet your specific needs? Fill out this survey, then check out your results in the slideshow above.