The holiday season seems to fill automatically with potlucks and lunches, work parties and cocktail hours, dinners with the boss and lodge and church events.

All of these can cause parents to spend many more evenings away from home than usual. Really lucky parents might have two or three baby sitters available during this season, but it is likely that all might be busy on any one day, and you will have to find someone new to care for your children.

The American Academy of Pediatrics offers these reminders for picking your baby sitter:

• Be sure to meet any new baby sitter before he or she takes care of your children. Getting references doesn’t do much good if you don’t check them. Find out whether the applicants have had any formal training before you employ them. Accidents do happen, and, if possible, those who replace you while you are away should be trained in first aid and know CPR. The Red Cross offers classes in many communities.

• Sitters should be at least 13 years of age, mature enough for any emergency that arises.

• Have the sitter meet the children and become familiar with their routines before the night in question. Explain what games the children like to play, what stories they like to hear.

• Show the sitter around your house or apartment, pointing out fire extinguishers, exits and problem areas. In case of a fire, make clear that you want them to get the children safely outside, out of danger and, only then, protect property by calling the fire department from a neighbor’s house. Point out the location of first aid supplies and information charts, flashlights, and other emergency gear.

• If your children have any medical problems, such as asthma, that require special care or medication, leave detailed instructions and go through any routines several times, until you are sure that the sitter can carry out your instructions.

• If there are guns in the house, be sure they are stored unloaded in locked cabinets.

• Tell the sitter where you will be and approximately when you will return. Leave a list of important numbers that include parents, neighbors, your doctor, the fire department, police, poison center, and your home phone number and address to give to emergency workers.

Discuss the baby sitter’s responsibilities. The baby sitter should:

• Always be prepared for emergencies and know that if questions arise, he or she can always call you for advice in calming the children or solving a problem.

• Never open the door to strangers.

• Never leave the children alone in the house under any circumstances.

• Never give food or medicine beyond your instructions.

• Remember that their job is to care for the children.

Even if you have a trusted baby sitter, it will not hurt to go over these details and perhaps to offer to pay part or all of the cost of a Red Cross class in first aid and safety that may prepare her to better care for your children. This is a small price to pay for greater peace of mind.

Sally Robinson is a clinical professor of pediatrics at UTMB Children’s Hospital, and Keith Bly is an associate professor of pediatrics and director of the UTMB Pediatric Urgent Care Clinics. This column isn’t intended to replace the advice of your child’s physician.

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