For working parents Sinu Antony and his wife Anphy, leaving their two children － an infant and a preschooler － with a babysitter was not an easy decision. But, as they were both in highly demanding jobs and had little support otherwise, this was an inevitable arrangement they had to make a few years ago.
In the urban scenario, getting a full-time maid/babysitter or putting the child in a crèche or day care centre has become a reality for most working parents.
What the numbers say
Around the world, there are about 55 million domestic workers and of these, a large part constitutes at-home child care providers. According to research done by International Labour Organisation (ILO) in 2015, India has over 10 million maids and nannies and many of them share the burden of both housework and child care. They earn anything between Rs.6,500 and 8,500 in big cities and lesser in smaller centres, says a survey by Bangalore-based job site Babajobs.com.
In the West, there are guidelines in place, and babysitter appointments are made through professional agencies that specialise in this area. But it is not so in India. Here, babysitters are often domestic help who double up as nannies and don’t come with the skill sets required to take care of a child. Getting a babysitter is usually an informal process, and the person is hired mostly through recommendations from friends and neighbours.
“Checking the babysitter’s background is the least you can do, since you have to ensure the safety of the child. Meeting them in their house is helpful in getting a better understanding and checking how trustworthy they are. Other things we were particular about was trustworthiness and hygiene,” says Anphy.
The couple visited the babysitter’s house and met her family before they decided to hire her. For the first few days, Anphy stayed back at home to check how the babysitter handled the children, especially the little one, who was only three months old. These days, big cities have agencies you can contact, but most of them change the hired help after a set time period, which can be difficult, even traumatic for the child to adjust.
Trust is Important
“It is almost impossible to get the perfect help, but if they feel that you trust them and treat them like family, then you earn their lifetime loyalty. That is why we have had hired help staying with us for a minimum of five years,” says Ray Simon, who holds a high-profile job in a multinational company and is mother to two children.
She has had a full-time maid/babysitter from the time her first-born was six months old. Her criteria for choosing a babysitter is trust, cleanliness, patience, overall reflex to emergencies, as in, how she responds to situations.
Merits of hiring a babysitter
1. A full-time, experienced babysitter means that the child will get undivided attention when her parents are away and her needs will be well taken care of, compared to being in a crèche.
2. Your child will be at home and not away at a day-care centre, where it might be a challenge to monitor how the child is doing and how well he is being taken care of.
3. Having a babysitter ensures that the routine is more flexible and the child is relaxed in the comfort of his home. Parents do not have the extra burden of dropping off and picking up the child from the crèche
Demerits of hiring a babysitter
1. Having a babysitter is more expensive than enrolling the child in a day-care centre.
2. Unlike in the crèche, there is hardly any interaction that the child has with other children and this might make him isolated.
3. Since most of the hired help are not professionals, they may not know how to react to a emergency situation or to maintain discipline and decorum in the house.
If you are hiring help to look after your toddler or preschooler, there are some things you need to keep in mind. Here is a checklist you can use, to help you choose the right babysitter for your baby --
Before choosing the Babysitter
1. Do a thorough background check of the hired help. Visit her house if possible and meet her family. Some apartments in metros have a mandatory verification for all domestic help and babysitters.
2. Ask lots of questions and watch how the candidate generally behaves with children.
3. Check if the person maintains hygiene and how she cares for the children in public places.
4. Appoint someone who has come through recommendations or was referred by family or friends. Do not appoint a stranger, whom you know little about. Ask around to get information.
5. If possible, ask for a health certificate or suggest a medical test at your expense, to rule out any illness or infection. Since a small child is involved, it is better to be careful.
Questions you should ask:
- How much experience do you have with babysitting?
- How many children and what age group of children have you cared for earlier?
- What kind of schedule are you comfortable with?
- Do you know what to do in emergency situations? Can you handle first aid?
- Do you have children of your own?
- Can you cook and prepare meals for children? Are you comfortable with bathing and meal time routines?
- How would you handle crying and temper tantrums in the child ? What would you do to comfort the child?
You should also ask questions about the babysitter’s health status, family situation and remuneration expected.
After Hiring the Babysitter
6. Show her around the house and tell her the house rules; what is allowed and not allowed
7. Make sure safety measures are in place and ask the babysitter to also be alert about safety of the child -- including not leaving the front door open, never leaving the child alone, avoiding keeping small objects around and so on.
8. For the first few days when the babysitter starts work, stay at home and keep a watch, as she familiarises herself with the house and the kids.
9. Have a monitoring system - ask the child what he did the whole day and what he ate and pay an unannounced visit once in a while, to check if everything is fine
10. Tell her about any allergies and medical conditions of your child
11. Mention about the food preferences of your child, her diet and so on.
12. Give all your numbers and any emergency numbers
13. Keep your valuables under lock and key.
Should You Have a CCTV to Monitor the Babysitter ?
While some parents believe that there should be mutual trust and CCTV camera is not a good idea, others feel that it will help keep their child safe. Parents also need to factor in the cost of having such an arrangement and whether it is feasible.
Dr Arundhati Swamy, Head - Parent Engagement Programmes at ParentCircle and former president, Chennai Counselor's Foundation has this advice to give:
“Firstly, it is possible that the CCTV may make the babysitter accountable. The most important thing is to ensure you build a mutually respectful relationship with the babysitter, treat her well and make an effort to understand her circumstances and her needs. After this, if you decide to put the CCTV camera and find that the babysitter is diligently doing her work, counter any kind of resentment by appreciating her efforts. If the CCTV shows there is some problem, approach the babysitter and have a conversation to find a solution to the problem.”
“Secondly, if you do not put a CCTV camera, you should be aware that you cannot trust the babysitter implicitly and there should be some mechanisms in place to monitor what is happening at home. If you are suspicious of neglect, abuse, ill-treatment, confront her immediately,” she adds.
Whatever decision you take, take it keeping in mind the welfare of your child. While having a full-time babysitter can make a lot of things easier, it should not be an excuse for parents to neglect their duties towards their little one. Remember, your child still needs you for her emotional security and well-being.
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