Preparing to Use Respite Workers and Babysitters

Now that things are beginning to open back up in some communities, we may start to turn our thoughts to one of the luxuries that may have been unavailable to many of us for the past few months – babysitters! Particularly now, as many of us have been with our children for months, the thought of getting out and enjoying some adult time is especially appealing. And for some of us, it’s a matter of mental well-being. (Insert “raising hand” emoji!)

Before the pandemic, I was much more hesitant to leave my kids with someone who didn’t have a comprehensive working knowledge of my child’s needs. Many parents are finding that their regular babysitter or respite worker is no longer available, or is not yet ready to go into someone else’s home. If you are in the situation of hiring someone new to care for your kiddos, here are some tips to getting back in the babysitter / respite worker game:

Preparation and Planning

Leaving your children after such a long stretch of being together may be unnerving to you – and to them. Carefully consider what you need to do to make this successful – picking the time of day they may be happiest, avoiding leaving during difficult parts of their schedule (in our house, that’s bedtime), and listing the types of activities that are sure to keep them engaged and content (cough-electronics-cough). Being in the midst of a pandemic that seems to be more easily spread indoors than out, you may want to think about having everyone outside for a portion or all of the time the sitter or respite worker is there.

Interview – Be Honest About the Job 

If you are using a babysitter or respite worker you haven’t worked with before, be sure to disclose everything they need to know in order to determine if they are the right fit. Sometimes this part is easy to skip, because the most important pieces are also the parts that are most painful to talk about. Lead with all of the positives about your kiddos, but don’t forget to mention the hard parts – any toileting issues, aggression or other challenging behavior they may need to handle. It’s also extremely important to be crystal clear about the COVID precautions you expect them to take, and what you will be doing to protect them (masks, gloves, handwashing, disinfecting). Some parents will feel more comfortable inquiring about the new babysitter’s social distancing practices, and it’s important to clarify that ANY symptoms that arise requires a cancellation.

Virtual Orientation 

Before the pandemic, many of us would have a new babysitter or respite worker come over and get to know the kids on a day we’d all be together, or at the very least, have them come by early to get the lay of the land. These days, as we focus on preventing the spread of germs, you may want to have a “virtual” orientation to accomplish this. Though you may still want to spend some time with the new babysitter and your kids in person before you leave, getting through talks of where the emergency numbers are and how to handle challenging behavior is easily something you can accomplish via phone or Zoom.

Behavior Plan Cheat Sheet

If your child has a behavior plan for ABA sessions or in school, it’s a good idea to have a short-hand version for the babysitter or respite worker. There’s no need to give them the whole thing, but it’s a good idea to write down the pieces of it that you expect them to keep consistent. Respite workers may be more adept at implementing behavior plans than your typical babysitter, so adjust according to their experience and role.

Arrange the Environment 

If your house is anything like mine, there are toys and other items around that are more likely to cause issues than others. Maybe there are toys your children fight over, or things they need a lot of supervision to use, or non-food items that could end up in someone’s mouth. Do a scan of your house, and put away anything likely to cause an issue.

Prepare the Kid(s)

Every child needs a different type of preparation. It is helpful for some children to have a social story, especially if they haven’t been separated from their parents in a few months. It can also be comforting to others to have a “warming up” period while they get to know the new person in their parents’ presence. I know other moms who prefer to keep the transition short and sweet and “rip off the band-aid” by heading out immediately. You know your kid, consider what will work best and be intentional about how you approach this.

Once your area is safe and you are ready to leave your kids, planning ahead (even just a little bit) can do wonders for your ability to relax. Go enjoy your foray back into the world.

Please note: Different states are in different points in re-opening; this is not an endorsement to get a babysitter if that runs counter to the guidance in your area.