After the killing of an eight-year old boy in Brooklyn this month, we have been sharing advice by notable security and safety expert Gavin de Becker. Today he tries to help parents screen caregivers before hiring nannies to work in their home.
In our culture of short encounters and little accountability, it is important to learn a lot about someone you bring into your life, particularly someone who’ll be alone with your children. The more you know about someone, the more you reduce that person’s anonymity. If you have talked to five of the candidate’s references, that’s five more inhibitors against bad conduct, five people whom you and the babysitter know in common, five people who could hear about a misdeed. When you have many inroads into a person’s life, you raise the consequences for bad behavior.
Pre-employment questions are low-tech, easy tests you can perform when screening someone to take care of your kids. They are designed not just to elicit information, but to put important subjects on the agenda.
Among the questions you might ask (after having someone fill out an application):
1. What is your philosophy about discipline?
Exploring this topic will reveal their opinions, and also serve as an ideal segue for you to set forth your house rules on discipline. If you don’t want the babysitter spanking your child, this is the time to say so.
2. Have you ever suspected that a child in your care was being sexually molested by someone?
This question is designed as a bridge into the topic of sexual abuse, but also as a way to test denial, and you do not want a denier as a babysitter or nanny. People caring for children have a duty to acknowledge and recognize reality, even hard reality, and denial is an evasion of that duty. When evaluating a babysitter, put sexual crimes against children squarely on the agenda. If the person you are talking with is a denier, you’ll know it quickly ("Things like that don’t happen around here;" ‘"I’ve never even considered such a thing;" "I’ve only worked with good families," etc.).
3. Do you have children of your own? Do you have younger siblings?
It may be a plus when they answer yes to either question. In any event, the topic allows easy transition to several other areas: Did you take care of siblings when you were growing up? How old were you when you first stayed with them alone? How young do you think is too young?
4. Why do you do this work?
The answer might be ‘‘For the money,’’ ‘‘It allows me time to study/read,’’ ‘‘I love children,’’ ‘‘It’s easy,’’ or ‘‘I dunno,’’ but whatever it is, the answer will inform your intuition.
5. Have you ever been in an emergency situation while babysitting? Have you ever been in any emergency situation?
These questions can reveal the applicant’s thought processes about emergencies.
6. What is your opinion of drugs and alcohol?
Many parents look intently at applicants, hoping somehow to determine if they are drug or alcohol abusers. There’s a greater likelihood of learning something valuable about the topic by discussing it explicitly.
7. Describe a problem you had in your life where someone else’s help was very important to you.
Is the applicant able to recall such a situation? If so, does he or she give credit or express appreciation about the help? A candidate who is not willing to accept help might not be the best caretaker for your child.
8. Who is your best friend and how would you describe your friendship?
While many people will name several friends, there are, believe it or not, some who cannot think of a single person. Another benefit to the question comes if an applicant gives a name that was not listed as a reference (which happens often). Ask why the person wasn’t listed; ask if you can now have the contact number.
9. Describe the best child you ever babysat for. Describe the worst child you ever babysat for.
This is a powerful inquiry that can reveal important attitudes about children and behavior. If the applicant speaks for just a moment about the best child, but can wax on enthusiastically about the worst, this is telling. Does he or she use unkind expressions to explain the trouble with a given child (’‘brat,’‘ ‘‘little monster’‘)? Does the applicant take any responsibility for his or her part?
A follow-up is: Could you have taken another approach?
Other questions might include:
- Can you give me some examples of problems you have had with kids and how you handled them?
- What if my son fails to obey you when you ask him to do something?
- What if he is doing something dangerous?
- How do you handle fighting between brothers and sisters?
- How do you handle tantrums?
- How would you react if a child bit or hit you?
- What do you do when you become angry with a child?
- What if my daughter asked you to keep a secret? What would your response be?
- What if she revealed something to you that you knew I wouldn’t approve of?
- Can you swim? Would you be willing to go in the pool with our child?
- At what point would you call a pediatrician or 911?
- Do you prefer to work with boys or girls and why?
- What would you do if you saw a child fondling himself or herself?
- How would you handle a situation of this nature?
Some parents ask about medical conditions that could be relevant, and some even ask babysitters to pass medical examinations or drug-screen tests. Some require special skills, such as CPR. (Remember that CPR for infants requires training beyond regular CPR.) Safe Sitter is an excellent national program that teaches an intensive two-day course in the prevention and management of accidents. Founded by Dr. Patricia Keener, Safe Sitter (1-800-255-4089) teaches babysitters (as young as eleven-years-old) about medical emergencies in addition to the basics of childcare. Student must pass a rigorous written and practical exam.