Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole

Parent Needs To Vet Potential Babysitter

DEAR HARRIETTE: I have a 5-year-old who is a good kid. He gets along with most people. This includes a teenage girl who lives in my building. Her mother came to us to say she would be available for babysitting if we ever need help. Occasionally my husband and I do go out, and we could use a part-time sitter. I worry, though, that this young lady may not be attentive enough. My child has a good temperament, but he's still 5. He has to be watched at all times. Would you allow a teenager to watch a 5-year-old? -- BABYSITTING DILEMMA

DEAR BABYSITTING DILEMMA: I recommend that you invite the teenager to have a trial run at watching your child while you are at home. Create a "play date" for the two of them, for which the teenager agrees to spend four or five hours, whatever amount of time you would normally be out of the house, with your son.

Make a written list of things to do, what he likes and doesn't like, what he eats, etc. so that she has a guide to follow. Explain your expectations, especially about never leaving him alone, TV usage, personal phone calls and anything else that you want to regulate. Then make yourself scarce. Look in only occasionally. She has to establish a rhythm with your son independent of you. When you observe them, look for signs that he feels safe and comfortable. Trust your instincts. If she seems competent, hire her for a short outing. The length of time can extend along with your comfort level.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I started my business around the same time as several of my friends. We are all doing different things, but I have to admit that I am struggling. I know it takes time to get things off the ground, but I am still in the red and really don't have the funds to keep going much longer.

I talked to one friend this week and learned that her business has grown so much that she's trying to figure out how to manage her expansion. Meanwhile, I feel like such a failure. Do you think I should ask my friends what they are doing that is making their businesses work? How can I get good advice on what to do next? -- GETTING OFF THE GROUND

DEAR GETTING OFF THE GROUND: If you consider any of your friends to be a confidante who will be honest and helpful to you, you can talk openly about your situation with them. It can be helpful to talk to other small business owners about what works and what is challenging in their businesses as you talk about yours.

But don't stop there. Utilize the free services offered by the Small Business Administration. The SBA offers many programs, templates and other resources to help small businesses grow. They also have business loan and grant programs, so contact your local office. Learn more through sba.gov.

(Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to askharriette@harriettecole.com or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)