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Nothing is more important than keeping our children safe and happy. And, since most parents will use the services of a babysitter at some point during their children's early years, choosing the right one is crucial.

A great babysitter can give your child many happy memories and allow you to do things alone sometimes. A bad babysitter can turn your family's life into a living hell. The question is, how do you choose?

1. Read Gavin de Becker's books

Protecting the Gift, and The Gift of Fear are two life-changing books that will help you keep yourself, and your family, safe from predators. Protecting the Gift is specifically about keeping our children safe, and it includes very detailed suggestions on how to select a babysitter. De Becker has a lot of practical tips, but he's all about listening to intuition something we all have. His tips for choosing babysitters include asking for references, and calling them up. This may seem obvious, but few people actually do it. If you want to know more, visit De Becker's website, which contains a list of questions to ask potential babysittters, and do read the books if you have a chance.

2. Check a candidate's background

We've already mentioned checking references. If your babysitter comes through an agency, don't assume they have conducted a thorough background check; do it yourself. Check your candidates' criminal record, employment history, and driving records. Some people even request a credit report from their potential babysitter. Do interview several people, so that you feel you have options. The good one will jump out and essentially select herself. Herself? Statistically, and realistically, men are much more likely to be sex offenders than women are. It may not be politically correct, but picking a female babysitter sure is safer.

3. See how the babysitter interacts with your child

In my house, we have had the same babysitter that we love for two years now. She was recommended to me by a friend, who also hired her as the babysitter for her two kids. Even so, I didn't simply trust our babysitter. For the first few months, I stayed at home when she came to watch my kids, and used the time to write articles, and to blog. By the time I felt comfortable going out for a meal with my husband and leaving the kids with the sitter, I had been to her house, met her own kids and her husband, and had attended a service at her Church. I had seen the way she interacted with my kids, as well as her own, over a period of time, and had the chance to chat with her about parenting philosophies.

4. Keep your eyes open

Don't deny any signals that something is not right. Trust your intuition. Keep your eyes open and react if your child starts behaving differently or your babysitter is giving you weird signs. This sounds vague, but you will know what I am talking about, if it happens.

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