For many parents, leaving their children with a babysitter for the first time can be a nerve-wracking experience. After all, most of us have heard a few harrowing stories about shaken babies, sitter abuse, or neglectful nannies.

But while such concerns are valid, cases like these represent only a small fraction of babysitter problems. The more common danger, according to experts, is unintentional injury due to a lack of information about the kinds of problems that can arise and what to do in case of an emergency

Sitter Safety 101

Although no one can care for your child the way that you do, there are steps you can take to ensure safety while you're away from home. To begin, choose your sitter wisely. Ask family and friends for their recommendations, and check each candidate's references carefully

In addition, only hire babysitters who are 13 or older, as younger pre-teens may not have the judgment or maturity to handle emergencies. According to the University of Michigan Health System, you should ask whether they've taken the American Red Cross Babysitter Class and, if not, encourage them to enroll.

Rather than simply leaving your child alone with a sitter the first time, consider hiring the potential candidate as a mother's or father's helper. This way, you can see how the sitter performs first, get feedback from your child, and determine whether it's a good match

Babysitter Guidelines

Once you've found a babysitter both you and your child feel comfortable with, it's important that you provide the information they'll need in case of an emergency. Here, the 17 things you should always tell your sitter

  • You and your spouse's full names.
  • Contact information where you can be reached, as well as your cell phone number.
  • Your child's full name, age, date of birth, height, weight, hair color, and eye color (in case the sitter and child get separated).
  • The phone number and address of your house, as well as directions to it.
  • The name and phone number of your family doctor or pediatrician.
  • Emergency-services numbers and the poison-control hotline number.
  • Location of all the exits in your house.
  • Location of first-aid supplies, as well as the fire extinguisher, fuse box, and flashlights.
  • Contact information for neighbors, friends, and family.
  • Special medical information, especially regarding food and drug allergies.
  • The time at which you can be expected home.
  • Your child's bedtime and bedtime routine (if your child is a baby, tell the sitter to place the child on his or her back to sleep, not on the side or stomach).
  • Any foods or drinks that should, or should not, be given to your child.
  • Any medications that should, or should not, be given to your child.
  • How your child should be handled if he or she misbehaves.
  • How to calm your child if he or she is upset (if your child is a baby, tell the sitter never to shake the child under any circumstances).
  • Other special instructions regarding the child, family pets, etc.

More Sitter Do's and Don'ts

In addition, the American Red Cross recommends communicating the following do's and don'ts to ensure a smooth babysitter experience

  • Do learn first aid and CPR.
  • Do keep the doors locked, even while you're outside.
  • Do call 911 if someone suspicious comes to the door.
  • Do be on the lookout for potentially dangerous items around the home.
  • Do keep matches, lighters, and candles away from the child at all times.
  • Do turn on outside lights in the evening.
  • Do be familiar with basic food safety, including choking and food-poisoning safety guidelines.
  • Don't leave the house with the child unless you have permission.
  • Don't talk for long periods on the phone.
  • Don't open the door to strangers, including delivery people.
  • Don't ever tell a stranger, even on the phone, that you are the babysitter.
  • Don't stay anywhere you feel unsafe, smell smoke, or hear a fire or smoke alarm.
  • Don't go outside to check on something strange, such as an unusual noise.
  • Don't ever leave the child alone in the bathtub, not even for a second.