When you have a child with special needs, finding the right babysitter can be absolutely critical. While a typical child may not like a sitter, they won’t necessarily suffer as a result – they might be unhappy, and whine or even act out for the sitter, but most won’t do anything that will really harm themselves or anyone else. But sometimes a child with special needs will refuse to eat or drink for the sitter, or even do other things that could be harmful to themselves, or the sitter, if they don’t like the sitter. If they have trouble accepting new people, that can add another layer of difficulty to an already trying situation.
So what can you do to ensure your child likes the new babysitter and accepts her as well?
The first thing to do is look around at your network of family and friends. While you may not want to rely on them consistently to watch your child, having a family member or friend who will watch your child can eliminate the frustration of trying to find a sitter. There may be times when you need a sitter and just don’t have time to interview and select a new sitter. Having a relative or close friend who will pitch in and take charge for that time when you need someone you can count on right now can be a huge help. And you might be surprised and find out that your sister or your mother-in-law or your best friend since high school is happy to be your go-to sitter. Most of the time, your child already knows and likes this person, so you won’t have any concerns about how your child will react to be left alone with them.
When you’ve got to go outside your network, consider your child’s needs before you start looking for sitters. If your child has specific medical needs, for example feeding tubes or breathing treatments, you may want to consider using a respite care service or searching a site such as Care.com for Ocala area caregivers who have a medical background or are trained to care for special needs children. Hiring the teenage girl down the street may not be the best idea, regardless of how responsible she may be. You can also look for organizations that support parents of special needs kids that may be able to recommend where to look or even specific people who are qualified.
If there are no specific concerns, but you know your child has trouble accepting new people, or you want to ensure your child’s babysitter understands their disability, use your network to see if you can find someone. Your family or friends may be able to recommend an excellent sitter that they’ve used in the past. They may go to church with someone who would be a perfect fit, or even work with someone who’s looking to make a little extra money and would be great with your child.
Another option would be a college student. While the University of Florida might be a bit far for some students to be willing to travel, you could contact UF and see if there are any students studying behavioral sciences who might be interested. College of Central Florida in Ocala offers a program in Child Development Early Intervention and you may find that some of that program’s students would like to babysit. These students may be thrilled at the opportunity to work with a child with disabilities firsthand and gain some personal experience, and depending on how far into their studies they are, may already have extensive knowledge, which would ease your mind and eliminate the need for you to go over the details.
Once you’ve found a person or two that you think could work, interview them. Without your child’s presence, talk to the potential sitter and find out what they know about your child’s condition, any background they have that would benefit them in caring for your child or benefit your child – perhaps they used to be a special education teacher.
Explain to the potential babysitter what your concerns are – that your child doesn’t easily accept new people, if you have worries that your child may not eat or drink for the sitter, etc. Gauge the reaction to this information, and ask how they would deal with these possibilities.
If you feel this person is a good fit, it’s time to introduce them to your child. If you’re able to, arrange for the new babysitter to come over and spend time with your family on several different occasions. Try to plan these visits at various times during which your child might be in the babysitter’s care, such as during afternoons when a nap might be necessary, in the evenings for dinner and bedtime, etc. Have the sitter participate with you in preparing dinner, giving baths, reading the bedtime story and so on. This serves two purposes: one, it allows the sitter to become familiar with how you do things so that she can learn and be able to do things as similarly as possible. Two, it allows your child to become comfortable with the sitter, and with the sitter’s presence during these times. It also allows your child to see that you are comfortable with the sitter participating in bedtime and dinner prep, which may help in the acceptance process. Children tend to pick up on how parents feel about people and things, and they tend to follow our lead.
If you decide, or have no other choice than to use a service to find a babysitter, be cautious. Do not use a service that will send out whoever happens to be available when you call. Find one that will allow you to interview the sitters first, and preferably one that will try to assign you the same sitter every time. Nanny Poppinz is the only service that serves Gainesville, Ocala and the surrounding area – they do offer temporary nannies, however they do charge a $40 per day referral fee in addition to the nanny’s salary. Aside from Nanny Poppinz, you can find sitters in Ocala on Sittercity.com or Care.com.
Other things to look for when choosing a sitter would include CPR certification (bonus if they are AED certified, as well!), and first aid training.
Lastly, the first time or two that you go out and leave your child in the care of the new sitter, consider keeping those outings on the short side – maybe just an hour or two. This allows enough time for issues to develop if they’re going to, but also keeps things short enough that no one is thoroughly miserable by the time you arrive home.
Trust your instincts, too. Even if they look great on paper, if you just don’t feel they’d be a good fit with your child, don’t let their qualifications sway you.