If there’s one thing all parents everywhere can agree on, it’s that we could definitely use a break. Whether it’s a work event, a date night, or just a couple of hours to catch that new movie everyone’s talking about, it’s important for both emotional and mental health to switch out of “World’s Greatest Parent” mode and relax away from your child. This can be especially true of parents of children with special needs who may be dealing with heightened demands for time, energy, and patience.
To take that much-needed break, however, you’ll have to find a babysitter. Trusting another person with the care of your child can be one of the most difficult parts of special needs parenting. It can be done, though! We’re here to help with a few tips to consider when looking for an appropriate caretaker.
Know your priorities
Since there is a broad spectrum of special needs, there is also a broad spectrum of individuals who may be able to serve them. For example, the needs of your child may demand the need for a caregiver or babysitter who is CPR-certified. For others, they may want someone who knows how to bathe and care for their child. Still, others may want an individual who is well equipped to handle seizures.
It’s a good idea to write down a list of characteristics that you want in a special needs caregiver. Doing so will allow you to understand where to look, who to interview, and what the needs of your child are.
Where to look
- Some of the best places to look for a sitter start with your family and close friends. If your parents, aunts, uncles, or siblings know you and your child well enough and are reliable and trustworthy, it might be a good idea to perhaps start there.
- Your child might have needs greater than those family members are equipped to handle. If you are looking for someone who specializes or is learning to specialize in occupational therapy, physical therapy, nursing, special education, and the likes, it’s a good idea to start at a college campus. A lot of the times, colleges and universities have a career services department that posts job listings, including babysitting, caregiving, and nannying, to share with their students. Contacting the university to solicit a student is one of the best ways that you can get care for your child. It’s a win-win situation, even for the student, since they get good experience and pay!
- If your child has a teacher, teacher’s aide, paraprofessional, or any individual that he or she works closely in school, it may be a good idea to ask them to babysit. Of course, check with the school or organization before asking for babysitting, since it may or may not be violating their rules. Always play it safe with that.
Support groups of other special needs parents
- If you are in a Facebook group for special needs parents or even an actual support group in your hometown, it’s a good idea to ask special needs parents to help watch your child. That way, you and your special needs friends can trade off who watches the kiddos, and everyone can get a date night. You can also ask those parents for referrals to companies or individuals who are able to cater to the uniqueness of your kiddo.
- Care.com is like the Amazon.com of babysitters! Type in your location and specify that you’re looking for a special needs babysitter, and it might pull up some great options! The great part about care.com is that it allows you to know the hourly rates and reviews of each person you are interested in using to watch your child.
If you’ve decided to bring someone new in as a babysitter, you’ll definitely want to get to know them first through a face-to-face interview. Set up a meeting with your potential babysitter and prepare questions that are specific to your needs as well as the needs of your child. Some good questions to ask are:
- What is your experience with special needs children?
- Why do you want to work with special needs kids?
- Are you CPR certified?
- Have you interacted with children who have _______ diagnosis?
- How do you handle conflict?
- How do you handle meltdowns?
- Are you a smoker?
- Do you have pet allergies?
- What is your typical availability?
- What are your rates?
Once your interview is over, you’ll hopefully have a sense of whether they’ll be a good fit. If you’re still unsure, ask the candidate if they’d be open to another interview. You might also schedule a trial run of visits to see how well they get on with your child. By scheduling a few hours of care while you’re at home, you can help with the “getting to know you” process with the added bonus of getting a few extra things done around the house.
Whatever you do, don’t rush. Taking your time to find the right fit for your special needs kiddo will ensure a lot more peace of mind for you down the road.
Help them get to know your kiddo
When you’re ready to enjoy a night on the town, don’t forget to write out any and all information you feel the new babysitter needs regarding your child. Write out their age, diagnosis, foods they like and don’t like, allergies, their favorite toys, and pastimes, how to help calm them in the event of a meltdown, and whatever other helpful information you can think of. Make a checklist of bedtime routines, whatever they may be. Giving a babysitter information about how to help your child is crucial in ensuring good communication between you and the sitter.
Speaking of communication, if you feel the need to call or text every fifteen minutes, do that! Don’t be afraid to come off as clingy or untrusting. It may take time for you to feel comfortable with your new situation and that’s okay. A good babysitter will understand your separation anxiety, and, over time, you’ll become more relaxed about being away from your child, especially if they’re in good hands.
Enjoy Some Time for Yourself
Please keep in mind that every child, situation, and babysitter is different! While these tips and suggestions might work for some, they may not work for all. At the end of the day, it’s up to you to discern whether a babysitter is right for your kiddo.