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BABY-SITTING : Selecting a Companion : Reference checking and some questioning of the care giver may help determine what types of circumstances he or she can handle.


Stephen Frueth couldn't understand the baby-sitter selection process when he was himself a baby-sitter. It makes no more sense to him now that he is a father.

"One thing that shocks me is that parents get a baby-sitter they don't know and 10 minutes later they're leaving him or her with their 2-year-old," said Frueth, who has a Ph.D. and is a licensed marriage and family counselor in Simi Valley. "I baby-sat in college. They didn't know anything about me. I could have been the 'Hillside Strangler.' Suppose I was a wacko; how would they know?"

Most parents would probably prefer to do extensive research into the backgrounds of potential sitters. But often time doesn't allow that. Maybe the parents have important dinner plans and the usual sitter next door is suddenly unavailable. What then? Maybe both parents work all day and simply don't have the opportunity to spend time with potential sitters before putting them to work.

This is a problem more parents will face as summer approaches and children are out of school. Now, then, may not be a bad time for moms and dads to start considering what they want in a baby-sitter.

"There's the parent who just wants a warm body in the house, just an older kid who doesn't do anything," said Frueth, who has two children, ages 10 and 13, for whom he hires a sitter--or, as his kids prefer to call the person, a child companion. "I want somebody who's going to contribute to the life of my children as much as possible."

Frueth suggests that the parent and child go on an outing with a prospective sitter before hiring him or her. "What happens is you get to know the person," Frueth said. "Children should not get to vote on the baby-sitter, but you do take into account their reaction. I certainly want them to express their feelings about it."

There's no way to psychoanalyze the baby-sitter, Frueth said, but he does think that it's important to determine their mind-set.

"I've had grown people, 30 or 40 years old, tell me their baby-sitter really shamed them when they were 6 or 7 years old and they've carried that with them for years," he said. "I might get a baby-sitter raised in a really conservative way. If my children say a swear word, I don't want them to be shamed. I've known baby-sitters to shame, even punish."

Determining a sitter's philosophy may take more time than judging his or her ability to handle everyday situations and occasional crises. A little reference checking and some questioning of the care giver may help determine what types of circumstances he or she can handle.

"They should know basic CPR, how to feed a baby, things like that," said Linda Tigner-Weekes, an east county pediatrician. "They should have basic emergency care knowledge."

Some local hospitals are doing what they can to educate baby-sitters in first aid and other important skills, by offering baby-sitter training programs.

Dot Brennan, a registered nurse-educator at Community Memorial Hospital in Ventura, heads a 3 1/2-hour baby-sitting workshop for children 10 to 15, three times a year at the hospital.

Sitters-in-training receive instruction in what to do if a child is choking, has been accidentally poisoned, is cut, bleeding or burned. They are shown the basics of the Heimlich maneuver and cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and are urged to follow up with more extensive CPR education. Brennan goes over fire safety, what to do if a child is electrically shocked and what to do if someone is loitering outside the house. She also discusses everyday concerns like bathing, feeding, diapering and playing.

You may want to pass on some of Brennan's advice when dealing with your own sitter:

Bathing: "We tell them the importance of water temperature," Brennan said, "and of not leaving the child alone in the tub. There's a danger of drowning, a danger of being locked out of the bathroom."

Feeding: "Does the child have food allergies?" Brennan said. "If they are microwaving, we tell them the food might be cold on the outside but hot on the inside."

Diapering: Brennan said she instructs sitters on how to properly use a safety pin and how to handle the baby. "Put the child in a safe spot, maybe on the floor," Brennan said. "You need to be very careful to have all the supplies ready before you start because the baby can roll off (a table)."

Playing: "We talk about different games and craft ideas for different age groups," Brennan said. "We include safety too. You wouldn't want an infant to play with something that has small objects that they can put in their mouth and eventually choke on."

Brennan said she gives her students various handouts. Included in this package is a magnetic board that the sitter can take to each house. The board has space for the parents to write vital information--emergency phone numbers, a child's allergies, a number at which the parents can be reached, who else to call in an emergency and other special instructions.

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