I was a professional nanny for 10 years and here’s my advice for choosing a caregiver for your little ones! - Ashley Morse
After over a decade of nanny experience and nearly a dozen families that I have worked with on a regular or semi-regular basis, I would like to think that I have a pretty good handle on the nuances of what it truly means to be a great nanny, and what to look for in an ideal caregiver for your family.
So, let’s set aside the obvious wants in a nanny: kind, fun, high energy, multi-tasker, first aid trained, and of course, likes kids. And let’s assume that any candidate that makes it to “viable nanny” status has, at least, the majority of these attributes. I’ve outlined below, what I believe to be the 5 most important qualities to look for in a nanny, and some ways to see these qualities in action during the interview, references, and trial period portion of your hiring process (all phases that I think are integral in determining if your nanny will be the right fit).
When looking for a nanny, you want someone who finds genuine joy and interest in spending time with your children. Someone who is hands on, who doesn’t just watch your children, but plays, teaches, and enjoys being with them. Enthusiasm takes many forms in a nanny, and when asking your potential nanny what kinds of things they like to do with their charges, look for answers that include: art projects, science experiments, singing, pretend play, sports, and activities like baking, painting, nature walks, games, and anything that shows engaging time spent with children.
Growing up and experiencing the world for the first time will, at times, be overwhelming and tumultuous for your child’s emotional development. It is important to surround your children with kind caretakers who are sensitive to the individual needs of children. And since every child is different, you want to find a nanny who can adapt their approach from child to child and moment to moment to best support them. I find it most helpful when parents outline their parenting approach and outlook during the interview stage, so I can align my actions with their style to give my kids a consistent, structured environment for them to thrive in, and I can demonstrate my understanding of their approach during the trial stage. In the trial stage, look to see the way they comfort an upset child, or handle temper tantrums, to make sure that on a base level, you nanny is guiding your children in a way you are comfortable with.
My two main identifiers under the dependable umbrella are reliable and diligent. At a surface level, it is important for your nanny to be reliable. They must arrive on time, give you ample notice for planned changes in schedule, manage their time to complete tasks you set for them, help your children accomplish their tasks, and be able get to school, activities, and appointments on time. On a deeper level you want a nanny who reliably shows up with high energy, a good attitude, and meaningful care for your little ones. Diligence is the other half of the dependable equation. A caregiver should take their job seriously; they should know the influence they have over your children and should never take that trust lightly. Your nanny should take conscientious care to adapt their approach to each family they are with to ensure the children in their care have a reliable routine, and reasonably consistent expectations for behavior. This is a difficult area to determine in an interview and can often be determined from speaking with their references or giving scenario questions in an interview.
Communication is an integral part of the nanny/parent relationship. Open communication with your nanny leads to an honest, genuine relationship that bridges the gap from employee to family. A nanny truly is a co-parent, and it is important that they feel comfortable asking questions and clarifying when they are unsure. A great indicator of a nanny’s level of communication is that they are sharing important, as well as “unimportant” information about your children. You obviously want to know how your child napped, if they ate well, and that they didn’t spend the entire afternoon in front of a screen, and that is important information about your child. However, the best indicator of open communication is your nanny wanting to tell you the funny thing your child did, or that they finally figured out how to stack their blocks without knocking them over, or that they said bird for the first time. The nuggets of information from a thorough retelling of their days together, shows that your nanny wants to have quality open communication with you. This openness then ensures that your nanny is comfortable speaking up about the wellbeing of your children. Your children are spending most of their waking hours with a full-time nanny, so you want them to feel comfortable sharing any concerns or observations with you.
- Competent Autonomy
For your peace of mind, it is important to find a nanny that you are comfortable with making important decisions about the safety and well-being of your child. A nanny who can accurately assess a situation and make a choice that puts your children in the best position for success. You want them to be able to resolve everyday problems themselves and be confident in the care of your child. A good nanny knows to be respectful of a family’s privacy and is sensitive to familial ups and downs and is discreet with the information they are privy to. From a reference you can begin to get an idea of your nanny’s competent autonomy, but I think the surety of this is one that can only happen over time and by getting to know your nanny.
And all those attributes pale in comparison to the most important aspect of choosing a caregiver: chemistry. Chemistry with the child and the family. Letting a nanny into your home and your life is an intimate relationship to embark on. They will see you are your best, and not so best, and eventually, inevitably, you will see them at theirs as well. So, you must carefully choose the caregiver you think will love your children the most. The one who will give them lots of hugs and kisses, laugh at their silliest joke, will always sing one more song, or read one more book. The one who will treat them like their own.
Because, at the end of the day, you want a nanny that feels like part of your family, but still knows they are doing a job, because it’s the most important job in the world.