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Your Top 3 Questions About Hiring a Babysitter Answered

As a working mother and CEO of UrbanSitter, a service that helps families find and hire top-notch child care, I'm often asked by parents to share the secrets to finding and working with babysitters. Leaving our children in the hands of others can be stressful, and it makes perfect sense that we look to other parents for the skinny on how to work with a babysitter. Here are three of the most common questions about babysitting and a bit of advice on how to build a strong relationship with your sitter:

1. What does my sitter need to know before I leave her with my kids?

There's a balance to strike between giving your sitter a minute-by-minute instructional guide to taking care of your kids and just assuming that she knows what to do and wishing her luck as you fly out the door. Provide her with the information she needs and give yourself peace of mind by creating a babysitter checklist that includes everything you want her to know but may forget to tell her in your rush to get out the door. Talk over the checklist with her when she arrives, and leave it as a reference for taking care of your kids and your home while you're away. Your checklist should include your contact information; emergency contacts; information about special needs, sensitivities or allergies; an overview of your child's daily schedule; bottle and meal instructions; nap schedule; suggestions for activities; general house rules; and anything you think will help her while she's at your home, such as your Wi-Fi password and a welcome to the contents of your refrigerator. Here's a handy printable babysitter checklist to customize and leave with your sitter.

2. How much do I pay a babysitter?

The best way to determine a fair wage for a sitter in your area is to talk with other parents to gauge the local going rate and talk with your sitter about her expectations. Also, consider these factors when determining what to pay: location (child care in larger metro areas tends to cost more), the number of children, the sitter's expected duties and the sitter's level of experience. For a ballpark range, check out the results of our national child care rates survey. The survey shows that the average rate across the United States for sitters is about $14 per hour. Parents in New York City pay the highest reported rate among the cities in the survey (almost $15.50 per hour), while Denver has the lowest average at less than $11 an hour.

3. How do I score a babysitter for the biggest date night of the year, New Year's Eve, when every other family in town is trying to hire one, too?

You've managed to land an invite to the party of the year or a dinner reservation at the neighborhood hot spot, but finding a sitter during the holiday season, especially for New Year's Eve, is no easy task. You're competing with other families and with your sitter's own social schedule. Your best chance at landing a sitter is to plan ahead and be prepared to pay more. Many families book a sitter at least a month in advance of the big night and pay 1.5 to 2 times the sitter's typical rate. If your best efforts don't pan out for the night, try sharing a sitter with another family, celebrating on a different night or earlier in the evening, or hosting a family party at your house and relying on a couple of more readily available younger sitters to supervise the kids.

After you've found a few babysitters who are a good fit for your family and its needs, maintain and strengthen the relationship by keeping the lines of communication wide open. It's also great to vary it once in a while by substituting for your regular sitter with someone new. Ask your favorite sitters to recommend a friend to sit when they're unavailable. Your kids—and you—will love having a variety of options.

Lynn Perkins is the CEO and co-founder of UrbanSitter and a mother of three.