Happy Holiday Child Care Begins at Home

By Jolie Breeden

Whether it’s holiday shopping, wrapping presents, or preparing for parties and feasts, ‘tis the season for having hands full—and that can leave harried moms and dads searching for an hour or two of child care. What’s an over-extended parent to do?

First off, don’t fret. For those with short-term kid care on their wish lists, there are more than a few options for trustworthy sitting—even if it does take more than holiday magic to find it. Witha few common sense tips and little foresight, parents can wrap up a sitting schedule that will leave everyone in good cheer.

For many parents, friends and family are the first stop when it comes to watching the kids outside of normal daycare hours—and that can work against them during the holidays when trusted caregivers are in the same busy boat.

“It’s just a super busy time of year so whether it’s your family or not, sitters are hard to find,” said Kimberly Vantine, a Longmont mom with two high-energy kids. “I have always used family for sitters because it’s so hard to find someone that’s available and it’s difficult to hire someone if you don’t use them regularly.”

Using your mom (or best friend or next door neighbor) as your regular short-time sitter doesn’t have to be a liability though. In fact, those networks can lead you down the path to finding someone in a pinch.

“I think a lot of parents, especially new parents, don’t realize that this is how child care evolves,” said Hailey Hilliard of Play Care Longmont. “Moms are good at tracking these things and usually when someone’s in a bind, they know someone that knows someone.” Hilliard started Play Care, a drop-in sitting service, a few years ago when she was a full-time mom. After she returned to work, Play Care evolved into more of a babysitting co-op where Hilliard helps connect moms who want to trade childcare. The vetting process is relaxed and relies heavily on social networks. That’s why Hilliard recommends  expanding your sitter pool by joining online groups and meetups for parents.

“You have to be careful and that’s why you have to get into a network and build trust,” she said. “We get to know each other by providing advice. I know it seems informal, but that’s how we’ve seen Longmont families doing it.” Moms aren’t the only ones good at caring for kids though—in some cases other kids can be just what Santa ordered. They’ve got lots of energy, they’re free during the holidays, and if you can find one with Red Cross certified, they might just be a gift that keeps on giving.

“The [certification] training gives them the decision making skills to make safe decisions quickly,” said Angela Rinehart, the community class coordinator for the Longmont YMCA. “It teaches them how to be the boss without being bossy.”

Kids that take the eight-hour American Red Cross certification course learn the basics of caring for children, first aid, leadership skills, and some business savvy. That leaves certified sitters able to do everything from change diapers to play with kids in creative, age-appropriate ways.

They also leave the class with checklists that cover topics such as emergency numbers, foods allowed, house rules, safety equipment—everything they need to know about being in the house when you aren’t there, said Elizabeth Honan, who oversees the Red Cross certification offered by Longmont Recreation Department.

I’m a huge fan of lists and of being prepared,” she said “A trained babysitter is going to make the best babysitter.”

While the young sitters might be more prepared than even you are, they do require some special handling. Expect to communicate with the sitter’s parents, set clear expectations, and meet up beforehand to make everyone comfortable. And you’re still going to need to tap those networks to find a match.

“As a kid, I remember complete strangers calling me,” Rinehart said. “It’s not like that anymore. You’re not going to find reputable teenagers advertising on Craigslist. For parents to find them, they have to start asking other parents.”

Of course not everyone has extensive social networks to rely on but for folks that are new to the area or short on family, there are a bevy of online and nanny services that can be of use. While they’re likely to be more expensive or charge a fee for making matches, they often provide the security of background and reference checks and can find someone suitable in a wink.

“We have a ton of our clients looking for coverage during the holidays,” said Julie Beyer, owner of Nannies of the Rockies. “They can use us for just one time, but most find they like the service and use it more often.”

Parents can also keep an eye out for community group events, like the Parent’s Night Out offered by Longmont Recreation. Churches, parent teacher organizations, and community groups often host kid activities during the holidays specifically so parents can sneak off to play St. Nick.

Sure, Santa might not deliver your sitter to you in a sleigh, but for Longmonters willing to do a little legwork, the options are there—and between making new friends and taking care of business, they might even help make the holidays merrier.

 

HINTS FOR HIRING

Whether parents decide to go with a formal service or build par tnerships with other parents, exper ts agree on one thing—the regular rules still apply. Here a few tips for making sure your sitter is just what you’ve always wanted.

Birds of a Feather. Sitters that are already involved in communities you care about are likely to be the best fit, so check out schools, churches, and activities groups before you turn to the bulletin board at the coffee shop.

Take a Gander. Sure you’re busy (that’s why you need a sitter!), but taking a few minutes to introduce your child to a prospective sitter and their home before the event can ensure success and ease everyone’s mind.

Don’t Duck Your Responsibilities. It might be tempting to kiss the kid and hit the road, but taking the time to state your expectations can go a long way. Your new sitter will need to know everything from where you keep your fire extinguisher to when it’s time for a nap, so make some lists and check them twice.

Talk Turkey. The shor t-term nature of holiday sitting and referrals from friends might make it tempting to drop and go, but you still need to make sure your nanny isn’t on the bad list. Conduct inter views, check references, and negotiate times and prices just as you would with long term care.