Lynn Weiss, 20, is a pro: She's learned to handle pretty much anything in her eight years of working weekends, holidays, and summer afternoons in East Meadow, New York. But when she was watching 3- and 5-year-old siblings recently, it was a nightmare of an evening. "They ran around like lunatics. They got ketchup all over the dining room and play dough on the basement carpet. I was mortified." Their mom, when she got home, didn't seem to care: She thought Weiss would be happy that she'd told the kids they could do whatever they wanted. Hardly.
Weiss never told that mom what she thought -- most sitters, teenage or otherwise, wouldn't dare. But for some insight into what'll keep your Saturday-night saviors happy, here's what they have to say about discipline, respect, and more:
Make the rules clear up front...
One of Jessalyn Pinneo's worst sitting experiences was when a parent failed to tell her what was and wasn't permitted. "The kid wanted a soda, but in my experience that's a special treat, so I said we should wait for his mom," says the Manhattan Beach, California, sitter. He snatched one from the fridge anyway. "I wrestled it from him and gave him a time-out," says Pinneo. Later, his mom said he could have soda whenever he wanted. "After that he glowered at me every time I sat."
Letting your children know the babysitter's in charge, even though it's their house, can go a long way toward making the night better for all. Announce bedtimes in front of everybody to cut fibbing off at the pass.
Slacking on the rules when the sitter comes actually makes her job harder. "The kids will take advantage," says Weiss. Tell the sitter what types of punishments you practice -- time-outs? Loss of TV? Be specific about what you want her to do if your kids aren't angels while you're out.
Leslie Pepper, a mom of three in Merrick, New York, also writes for Babytalk, Harper's Bazaar, and Redbook.