The Sitter Cafe Blog

A Conversation About Child Care
and the common challenges faced by parents

Monday, October 29, 2007

Child-Care Labor:
Deciding what to pay your babysitter
By Wall Street Journal columnist Sue Shellenbarger

Work & Family

© October 25, 2007; Page D1

What to pay the occasional Saturday-night baby sitter may seem like a simple matter. But my talks with parents about the topic often end with an anxious question. One mother told me she pays her sitter "above the market," then in the next breath asked, "Is that above the market, do you think?" Other parents think they pay well but are mystified that sitters never come back.

As a pricing puzzle, paying the sitter ranks right up there with valuing mortgage-backed securities. Sitter pay ranges wildly, based on a sitter's age, credentials, experience, job duties and region. Couple that with the fact that sitter-pay rates are soaring at triple the overall inflation rate, and you've got a real pricing mess.

Average pay for a teenage baby sitter for one child has risen 39% in the past five years, says Runzheimer International, a Rochester, Wis., consulting firm that researches living costs; the consumer-price index rose 13% over the period.

L.J. Kolek, 36, Westport, Conn., who grew up thinking of baby sitting as a $3- to $4-an-hour job, sometimes finds that hard to swallow. After paying an experienced, college-age sitter $14 an hour recently for an evening when his son slept nonstop, he recalls thinking, "I can't believe I'm paying this amount for someone to watch my kid sleep.”

But he and other parents are increasingly willing to pay more for highly qualified sitters. Jessica Griffith, St. Paul, Minn., says that although she pays her sitter, a well-qualified woman in her twenties, more than six times what she once earned herself as a teenage sitter, "we'd rather go out less often and have the peace of mind."

Regional differences in pay further cloud the picture. A teenage sitter for one child can command an average of $14.84 in the New York City area, more than twice the $7.33 paid sitters in Dallas, Runzheimer says. Rates average $9 in Washington, D.C.; $8.67 in Chicago, and $8.64 in Los Angeles, based on data collected by researchers living in 350 locations.

Add more children to the mix; ask a sitter to do light housekeeping or provide her own transportation, or insist on a sitter in college or beyond, and rates rise sharply. Rates offered by parents where 60% or more have two or more children and want a college-age or adult sitter willing to do extra tasks, reflect these premiums. Such parents are offering $16 to $18 an hour in New York; $14 to $16 in Chicago or Washington; $13 to $16 in Los Angeles and $10 to $12 in Dallas, says Michael Cravens, CEO.

In a morass like this, you need a pay strategy. First, figure out the range you can afford, then set your rate at the low end, says Michael Gerard, executive director of The Sitter Cafe [], a sitter-search site. This will enable you to manage bonuses, tips and other extras. "Sitters won't remember that you paid a bit less per hour than some parents, but they'll always remember that you give them an extra $5 or $10 tip," he says.

Second, be thoughtful about those extras. Genevieve Thiers, CEO of, a sitter-search site, recommends giving a $1- to $3-an-hour raise after a year, and doubling pay on a sitter's last job before the new year. Consider adding a few dollars for commuting, especially for short jobs, she says. Jean Dolan, Newtown, Pa., pays a bonus when a sitter tidies up the house without being asked.

Finally, don't make the common mistake of assuming money is all that matters to a sitter. Several sitters I interviewed ranked pay as only the No. 3 incentive to stick with a family, behind feeling safe in the home and feeling trusted and respected by parents. Examples include sticking to agreed-upon pay rates, refraining from calling home every half-hour, and returning home when you say you will.

"What's important to me," says Torrye Hart, a 20-year-old sitter from Travelers Rest, S.C., "is the interpersonal relationships with the family."

Monday, October 22, 2007

Thorough Nanny Background Check
Requires a few inexpensive searches
By Wall Street Journal columnist Sue Shellenbarger

Work & Family Mailbag

© October 18, 2007; Page D3

Q: I need to hire a nanny. Can you offer tips for background checks? How can I cover the basics without launching an FBI investigation?     D.P., Plano, Texas

A: For candidates over 18, a background check is a good idea and can usually be done for roughly $100 to $200 or less. The first step is to verify a candidate's Social Security number and past addresses; this tells you where to search for any arrest or criminal records, says Michael Gerard, executive director of The Sitter Cafe (, Solon, Ohio, an online sitter search service.

Second, you'll need a county criminal-records check from each county where the candidate has lived, to uncover any assault, theft, check-kiting or disorderly conduct cases -- "the common types of convictions you're looking for," Mr. Gerard says. Third, you'll need a check of criminal and sex-offender records in the states where the candidate has lived. You also should have the candidate's driving and credit records checked, Mr. Gerard says.

Getting all this information requires access to county courthouses, as well as motor-vehicle departments and credit bureaus. Licensed private investigators can conduct such searches, and some nanny agencies will arrange background checks. They also can be purchased online at such Web sites as... Be aware that this type of background check by law requires a candidate's written permission. Another option: The Web site offers background-check services at the applicant's request.

Finally, the background check is only part of a thorough screening, Mr. Gerard adds. Also ask for and verify candidates' employment history, and interview references in depth.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Ending Daycare Crying

By Jonathan H. Gerard, PhD

A crying child inevitably has the effect of making a parent feel guilty for leaving him or her with a babysitter or when dropping the child off at day care. To solve this problem one might consider two important truths.

First, the tears may make a parent feel guilty, or regretful, but unjustifiably so. Most likely, whatever it is the parent is about to do is something at least indirectly necessary for the well-being of the child, whether it is going to work or shopping or to a class or a meeting.

Feeling guilt may lead to showing regret and showing regret ultimately reinforces the child's tears. A parent who gingerly continues on his or her mission will quickly extinguish such behavior rather than reward it. But who among us has easily been able to do this? Truth number one: you needn't feel guilty for leaving a child behind if the reason is legitimate and the child is left in good hands.

Second, the child's tears have a purpose and that purpose is not to express pain. It is to change your behavior. At the risk of minimizing the child's feelings or sounding cynical, I suggest that the child is, at some level, seeking to manipulate the about-to-leave parent into not leaving.

I say this only because manipulation is a strategy you can win. You are smarter and more clever than your child -- at least for now.

Here's what to do to extinguish that transitional crying that comes with separation. As your car begins to approach the day care center (or as you are getting ready to leave the house) look earnestly into your child's eyes and say, 'I know it upsets you when I leave (you at day care) and that's ok. I used to cry, too, when my Mom left me to go to work (or school, or to go 'out'). Crying is a way to tell me you're unhappy about it. I understand. So if you want to cry, this is a good time to start. We are almost there. (Or, 'I'm almost ready to leave.')' Urge your child to cry. Practice a few times until you can say it with conviction and confidence.

Instead of trying to get your child not to cry, encourage him or her to cry. If you do this, you will be letting the child know that crying is not going to change your mind or your schedule. There will no longer be any reason to cry and at some pre-conscious level he or she will realize that. The child may feel out-manipulated, and get angry with you, but he or she will not cry. Theorists of change call this 'symptom prescription' and it works to solve many problems.

Related Information:

Handling Separation Anxiety
Tips For Easing The Transition

By MaryAnn X. Meddish, CPN
reprinted with permission from the autor and
The International Nanny Association - INA

As the new school year gets into gear, many parents and caregivers of preschoolers and kindergartners may discover that their little ones are not adjusting well to change – or the idea of being away from their caregiver. Experts agree that separation anxiety is a dilemma faced by scores of parents and nannies around the world. Some children are likely to adjust on their own. Others may experience more difficulty adjusting to change – even after the first few weeks of school. With some guidance, your charge can overcome separation anxiety.

According to experts, separation anxiety is overcome when a child develops a sense of self-confidence. Last fall, each time I dropped off my cute and social 20-month old at school, he melted into a puddle. This behavior lasted for about a month and then one day he surprised me as he ran into the classroom and yelled “goo-bye” over his shoulder. But for some children, gaining confidence and adjusting is not so easy.

Here are some ideas for smoothing the transition to school:

Instill a Sense of Independence
Children who cling and hide behind you when you talk to a stranger will likely need some help adjusting to their new environment. During your charge’s time away from school, gently nudge him into independence. For example, I gave my toddlers money and coached them on how to make a purchase from a store clerk. I allowed them to practice being independent by taking them to various stores to complete a few tasks by themselves. Standing nearby, I watched as they purchased bread from the bakery, M&Ms from the store and paid for postage at the post office. After successfully completing a task, I praised them for doing such a great job.

Completing simple tasks such as these can help to instill a sense of independence and foster positive self-esteem. In my experience, it is beneficial to teach independence by starting with baby steps. Consider allowing your charge play alone in a room. If the child is not comfortable playing alone, prepare to join in by asking them to retrieve something from another room. I would say: “Please go to the play room, get a red Duplo and show it to me.” When they return with item I would say, “Beautiful! Now, please go put a green one on top of this one and come show me.” I suggest repeating this process until the little one is comfortable accomplishing these small play tasks on their own. Soon, the child will be confident enough to go to the play room and build a structure with blocks, or draw a picture for you – all on their own.

Handling Drop-Off and Pick-Up
During drop-off, as parents and caregivers give their little ones goodbye hugs, it is not uncommon to see them ignore the tears and heart tugs that follow. The consensus is that children generally settle in and participate once they realize their caregiver isn’t around. The child usually gets distracted by playing and will only occasionally realize their parent or care provider isn’t there. That is, until the first adult arrives for pick-up. Then, a child who suffers from separation anxiety will likely want their adult too! As children form a bond with their teachers and classmates, and begin to become familiar with the new routine, they tend to grow more comfortable with the idea of being dropped off. However, until your young one reaches that stage, prepare for some heart tugs during drop-off and pick-up times. Here are some solutions:

  • Create a Drop-Off Routine
    Consider doing the same thing every morning and create your own special way of saying good-bye. Walk your child to the classroom, greet the teacher, help put the backpack away, and plan to kiss your child and say “I love you, have a good day” as you walk out. Avoid sneaking out. Instead, attempt to make the drop-off short and sweet. Avoid lingering around the classroom to have a discussion with the teacher. It’s important that teachers focus on getting the class settled and involved in an activity. On the same note, if you do chat with someone, plan to have your conversations in the hallway to ensure you are not a distraction.

  • Acknowledge your child’s Feelings or Fears
    If your child cries or seems anxious, let him/her know it’s OK to feel that way. Validating a child’s feelings and fears is one more way to help build their confidence and self-esteem.

  • Pack a “lovey” item to comfort your child
    Ask the teacher if personal ‘lovey’ items are permitted in class. If they are, pack a small comfort item like stuffed animal, blanket or towel into your child’s bag. Be sure to let the teacher know your child has a special item that will help to provide comfort after you leave. If the school prohibits ‘lovey’ items, pack a small family photo instead.

  • Get to Know Classmates
    Get to know a few of the parents who have kids in the same grade level at the school and arrange a play date. If you receive a class list, contact some or all of the class members’ parents to orchestrate a class play-date at a nearby park or at your home to help the children and adults become acquainted. Your child will likely begin to feel more comfortable, both in school and out, as s/he becomes more familiar with new friends.

  • Build Anticipation
    Talk your child and read stories about what school will be like. Talk about the new friends he or she will play with and the fun things they will do. Visit the school’s playground to make it a familiar place and involve your child in selecting school supplies. If possible, meet the teachers and visit the classroom before school starts – take advantage of the orientation sessions that many schools offer.

Remember that the separation anxiety that comes with going to school is a normal stage of development. Every child will eventually master this stage and become comfortable away from their parents and care providers.

Ms. Meddish offers insight from more than 20 years of nanny experience. She is a graduate of the Northwest Nannies Institute in Portland, OR; and a graduate of Starkey Institute’s SANP program in Denver, CO.

Related Books For Chldren:
"The Bus Stop" by Janet Morgan Stoeke
"How Do Dinosaurs Go To School?" by Jane Yolen
"Yellowbelly and plum Go To School" by Nathan Hale

Saturday, October 6, 2007

'Baby Einstein': not such a bright idea?
By Amber Dance, LA Times Staff Writer - Aug 7, 2007
© 2007 Los Angeles Times

Poorer vocabularies result of viewing, study finds. Researcher says 'American Idol' is better.

Parents hoping to raise baby Einsteins by using infant educational videos are actually creating baby Homer Simpsons, according to a new study released today.

For every hour a day that babies 8 to 16 months old were shown such popular series as "Brainy Baby" or "Baby Einstein," they knew six to eight fewer words than other children, the study found.

Parents aiming to put their babies on the fast track, even if they are still working on walking, each year buy hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of the videos.

Unfortunately it's all money down the tubes, according to Dr. Dimitri , a professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Christakis and his colleagues surveyed 1,000 parents in Washington and Minnesota and determined their babies' vocabularies using a set of 90 common baby words, including mommy, nose and choo-choo.

The researchers found that 32% of the babies were shown the videos, and 17% of those were shown them for more than an hour a day, according to the study in the Journal of Pediatrics.

The videos, which are designed to engage a baby's attention, hop from scene to scene with minimal dialogue and include mesmerizing images, like a lava lamp.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no television for children under 24 months.

The Brainy Baby Co. and Walt Disney Co., which markets the "Baby Einstein" videos, did not return calls from the Los Angeles Times.

Christakis said children whose parents read to them or told them stories had larger vocabularies.

"I would rather babies watch 'American Idol' than these videos," Christakis said, explaining that there is at least a chance their parents would watch with them — which does have developmental benefits.

Listen to the NPR interview with Christakis

Read The TIME magazine article

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

An Apple a Day - Fun Apple Activities
By Jolanda Garcia

Fall is here and what better way to mark the season than with a month of apple-related activities? It’s the time of year for freshly-baked apple pies, apple festivals, and Johnny Appleseed’s birthday! Take a trip to a farmer’s market or to an orchard to pick your own apples. Have a party to celebrate Johnny Appleseed’s birthday. Serve apple pie and apple juice and plant apple seeds in his honor. These activities will also partner up well with your fall, farm, or harvest themes.

Apple Tidbits

Relate these interesting facts about apples to children to pique their interest and get them excited about apples...:

  • Apples come in all shades of reds, greens, yellows.
  • 2500 varieties of apples are grown in the United States and 7500 varieties of apples are grown throughout the world.
  • The pilgrims planted the first United States apple trees in the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
  • Apples are a member of the rose family.
  • The most nutritious part of the apple is the skin.

Make Your Own Applesauce

Applesauce is easy to make. Five pounds of apples makes about 2 quarts of applesauce. Peel, core and slice apples into quarters. Put slices in a pot and partially cover with water. Boil apples until they are soft. Let children use a potato masher to mash the apples to make applesauce. Add sugar and cinnamon to taste.

Dried Apple Rings

First, peel, core, and cut apples into chip-sized circles. Then, dip the circles in fresh lemon juice. Use a wire cutter to cut a clean, white-coated clothes hanger. Next, decorate the hanger with some apples made out of craft paper and add the apple rings. (Don’t let the apple slices touch each other.) Finally, hang the apples in a dry, airy spot and let them dry for one to two weeks. Tip: Rotate the apples every day.

Apple Tasting

Next time you go to the grocery store with your child, point out all the different kinds of apples. Tell your child their names. Buy a few different kinds, and when you get home, let your child try them. Ask your child how each one tastes, how each one is different, and which one is his or her favorite. To add to the fun, purchase or make different things that are made from apples, such as applesauce, dried apples, apple pie, apple butter, and apple cider. Let children sample the treats.

Apple Toss

Set out a laundry basket or a bushel basket and red bean bags or small red balls. Use masking tape to tape a line on the floor. Place the basket a couple of feet away from the line. Have child stand behind the line and try to toss the balls or bags (apples) into the basket.

Plant Apple Seeds

Talk or read a story about Johnny Appleseed and how he planted apple seeds. Provide children with small paper drinking cups, apple seeds, potting soil or dirt, and water. Have children first fill their cups with soil. Then, have them place finger in the soil to make a small hole. Next, have them drop in a seed. Dampen the soil with a small amount of water. Place cups in a well-lighted area and water occasionally.

Apple Relay

To play, you need one apple for each team. On the word "go," a team member places an apple on the back or hand of the first player. The first player races to the end of the course and back without letting the apple fall off her back or hand. If the apple falls off, that player has to stop where she is and put it back on. Once the apple is back in place, she keeps going from where it fell off. When the player gets back to her team, she puts the apple on the back or hand of the next person in line. The first team to finish wins.

Apple Smile

Cut an unpeeled red apple into wedges. The wedges should look like a smile. Spread one side of an apple wedge with peanut butter. Add three or four miniature marshmallow “teeth” along the edge. Spread another apple wedge with peanut butter. Place it on top of the marshmallows for a big, toothy grin.

Visit to find a bushel full of other terrific apple-related ideas.

Jolanda Garcia is a former teacher and educational content designer. Her goal is to provide parents and teachers with quality resources to promote their children's development and creativity. Visit her websites at: for resources and activities to promote healthy eating habits in young children.

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