With holiday parties on the calendar, and the Christmas shopping season here, many parents are going to need child care. If the experience is a new one for your family, check out these tips and resources to help get you started in the right direction, for both your children and their caregiver.

1. If possible, get to know the family first.

This allows a family needing childcare to get an idea of the babysitter's family environment, and can be a comfort for both your family, and hers. In situations where you see the babysitter outside of your date night, you have the opportunity to get to know her in a more informal situation, see her personality, and observe her strengths.

2. If you live in a college town, check out the possibility of using a student.

Child care jobs can be great opportunities for college students, allowing them a (possibly) flexible schedule while still earning money. Some universities have job boards in their student union halls where babysitting services are advertised. In order to get more information on individuals, consider using a service that matches families with babysitters and nannies.

Care.com recently launched a College Caregivers Program. College students and other adults are listed on the site, along with their experience and general information. Parents can find possible individuals in their area and be provided with a background check and references. Their website also provides information on childcare, housekeeping, and tutoring.

SitterCity.com is another resource that can help families connect with the right person to take care of their children. Their site gives a brief history of the company and an explanation of the services they provide:

"Parents looking for sitters can use the four-step screening process, which includes checking references, reading caregiver reviews, conducting interviews and utilizing free access to background checks to find the perfect match for their family."

3. Create an opportunity for your children to get to know the person who will be taking care of them.

Start with two or three babysitting appointments while you're at home. Have her over for dinner or for an afternoon. This gives her a chance to get to know the house, the rooms, and possibly the neighbors. Please pay the babysitter for her time; this is no different than on-the-job training.

4. At one of the in-home babysitting dates, walk through the children's routines.

It is frustrating for someone providing childcare to have no idea of how bedtime works or what the children are used to. It also creates frustration — and perhaps fear — in children to have someone other than Mommy or Daddy put them to bed. Decrease the possibility of problems by having the potential babysitter work these routines with you.

5. Don't forget to talk money.

Some sitters may have an hourly rate, others, especially younger ones, may have no idea what to charge. Be sure there is an understanding on what you are paying. For help, check out rates in your area using an online calculator, or just by checking with your parent friends.

Once you've chosen a babysitter:

  • Always leave emergency numbers, including 911 and how to contact a neighbor or two.
     
  • Write down your address in case your babysitter needs help from law enforcement.
     
  • Make sure your babysitter — and your kids — know the rules.
     
  • If needed, write down the basic steps in your child's routines.
     
  • Leave plenty of toys and appropriate activities to help the sitter work with, entertain, and take care of your children.

Parenting Squad readers, this list is not exhaustive. What suggestions do you have for effectively choosing and using childcare?

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