What Is the Difference Between a Nanny and a Babysitter?

Woman helping kids with a mixer in the kitchen

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Choosing the right childcare provider is one of the most important decisions a parent has to make. Whether you tour daycares or interview in-home help, the decision about who cares for your child while you are away can be overwhelming.

You need to consider whether leaving a child with a family member, sending them to daycare, or hiring a nanny or babysitter would be a better choice for your family. Once you have determined which option to pick, you still need to settle on the right schedule, the appropriate person, or the best place for your child.

If you have decided to hire a nanny or babysitter, it is crucial that this person is trustworthy and qualified to take care of children. They also need to be a good fit for the entire family as well, because a nanny or babysitter becomes part of the support system a parent relies on for managing childcare.

Here we help you distinguish between nannies and babysitters as well as weigh the pros and cons of each option. We also provide details on pricing to help you make the choice that is right for you.

What Is a Nanny?

A nanny is someone employed by a family full-time or part-time on an ongoing basis to provide childcare when parents are away. Some families hire live-in nannies who stay with the family to provide care for children throughout the day and night.

Though there are different levels of nanny involvement depending on a family’s needs, a nanny typically tends not only to the physical needs of the child but also focuses on the social, emotional, and at times intellectual development of the kids in their care.

“The nanny becomes an integral part of the child’s developmental team, helping the family to raise their child, as the nanny is involved in tracking the child's developmental milestones,” says Gabriela Gerhart, founder of the Motherhood Network, a comprehensive pregnancy and parenting services provider.

A nanny might even have the education and experience to help babies achieve milestones like talking, walking, or feeding themselves. Nannies who care for older children may oversee homework time and encourage other enrichment activities.

According to Michelle LaRowe, executive director of nanny placement specialists Morningside Nannies, the most common arrangement between parents and a nanny is coordinated care, where the two parties partner together to care for the child.

“A nanny serves as a stable and consistent presence for the children and is entrusted to meet the children’s needs with both day-to-day and long-term goals in mind,” LaRowe says.

What Is a Babysitter?

Parents usually hire a babysitter on an as-needed basis when they need someone to watch the children at home for a few hours or while they run errands or enjoy an evening out.

Some parents employ babysitters on a routine basis as well for regularly scheduled work or social commitments. Babysitters are responsible for the kids under their care during the hours when parents are away.

“A babysitter’s role is to keep the children safe while in her care and to ensure the children’s basic needs are met,” LaRowe says.

These responsibilities could mean keeping an eye on the kids as they play or sleep, engaging with them in play, preparing and serving a meal if it is mealtime, and bathing them or putting them to bed.

Nanny and Babysitter Pros and Cons

Deciding whether you need to employ a nanny or babysitter depends on the needs of your family. They each play a different role. However, each position also comes with their own set of pros and cons.

Nanny and Babysitter Pros and Cons
   Pros Cons
 Nanny Consistent/stable presence for children Employers must interview extensively for a good family fit
  Customized care for children Replacing nannies can be disruptive to children’s routines and sense of stability
  Opportunity for care that aligns with parenting vision/style  Financial commitment that does not fit every budget
 Babysitter Flexibility in trying different babysitters if one is not a good fit Not as experienced as nannies since it's not their full-time job
  Cost less to use on an as-needed basis May not have as broad an understanding of child development
Can often find on shorter notice

When You Might Prefer a Nanny

Nannying is a career and as such, most nannies are looking for permanent work with adequate hours and a salary. As a parent, consider how many hours of childcare you need and how often you need it.

If you need someone for ongoing, consistent, and customized care for your children on a regular basis while you are at work, you may prefer hiring a nanny who has the availability and training to do the job.

Jeannie Yoo, president at Adam Lippes, decided on hiring a nanny after weighing her options and considering the merits of each option.

“We considered daycare, but with COVID and potential daycare closures, I really didn’t want to risk so many disruptions in childcare,” Yoo explains. “A nanny seemed to be the best option for transitioning from parental leave to childcare.”

Due to the long hours children spend with their nanny, a nanny becomes a partner in child-rearing. They are invested in the ongoing development of your children and family, working alongside you in the day-to-day aspects of raising your kids.

“An experienced, screened, and well-referenced nanny [helps you] gain freedom and flexibility because care is in your home and you as the employer can set the schedule, duties, responsibilities, and activities that occur,” says LaRowe.

Also, a nanny spends long hours in the home and will often be available to complete other childcare-related tasks as assigned by the parents. Yoo has the benefit of employing a nanny that takes care of other time-consuming chores while she is at work.

“[Our nanny] does anything related to the baby—laundry, dishes, grocery shopping—but all are related to the baby and the baby’s things,” she says.

When You Might Prefer a Babysitter

Parents who need occasional childcare for running errands, date nights, or work commitments may only require the services of a babysitter. You can often find a babysitter by asking friends for a referral, searching on parenting forums online, or going through a babysitting service.

Some parents use babysitters on a more consistent basis when they need regular, but limited help. For some families, it makes sense to hire a babysitter as an extra pair of hands during a family’s busiest hours of the day. Just make sure you get referrals, even if you don’t intend to use a specific babysitter long term.

Michelle LaRowe, Morningside Nannies

You must always know who is caring for your children. Parents should do their due diligence and conduct pre-employment screening before ever leaving a caregiver alone with their children.

— Michelle LaRowe, Morningside Nannies

Kristen Browning, a Houston mom of two, struggles with getting everything done and everyone where they need to be in the afternoon and evening hours. She decided to hire a regular afternoon babysitter to help ease the stress.

“Our babysitter is an important, constant figure in our children’s lives and we are all happier and less stressed having her help,” says Browning.

Average Cost of a Nanny

Nanny salaries depend on many factors, including where a family lives, how many hours they need, and the expectations of the job. Some nannies have more experience, education, and training than others, which would affect their salaries as well. According to LaRowe, nannies can make between $17 and $25 or more per hour in Houston, Texas where her nanny placement agency is based.

For prices in your area, local nanny placement agencies would be a good source of information. The International Nanny Association also publishes a Nanny Salary and Benefits Survey that collects information on what nannies are paid, and it found an average hourly wage of $19.14 in 2017.

Keep in mind, families that employ nannies are also responsible for paying taxes such as Social Security and Medicare taxes. For details, refer to the Internal Revenue Service’s “Household Employer’s Tax Guide,” which instructs employers on the tax obligations required when hiring a nanny.

“Nanny employers can expect their employer tax obligations to be equivalent to approximately 10% to 12% of the nanny’s gross annual salary,” LaRowe says.

Average Cost of a Babysitter

Rates for a babysitter vary depending on many factors, including the experience and expectations for the babysitter. Employing a neighborhood teen to watch just one child for a few hours on a Saturday night will likely cost less than engaging a trained childhood development specialist to look after multiple kids.

“The hourly fee should be based on the nanny or babysitter’s experience, education, the number of children that will be cared for, and the type of job duties entailed,” says Gerhart.

Some families may only need someone to be present at their house to watch a baby monitor after an infant has gone to bed for the night. In that case, the rates might be lower.

Meanwhile, parents expecting enrichment, help with making or serving a meal, and bedtime duties may need to compensate more. Those requiring a sitter to drive kids around will also have to take into consideration the mileage and the use of a vehicle when calculating compensation.

The costs of hiring a sitter also depend on where you live. According to the digital babysitting services platform Care.com, pay rates can range from $13.25 per hour to more than $17.25 per hour. You can use the babysitting rate calculator on their website as a guide.

A Word From Verywell

Hiring a nanny or a babysitter is an important decision. Look at your circumstances and determine whether employing a babysitter on an as-needed basis makes more sense or whether a long-term nanny would be a better fit. Then consider the pros and cons of each.

Once you have decided which option is best for you, use your social networks or a nanny placement agency to find a babysitter or nanny to fit your needs. And no matter what you choose, remember that you can always re-evaluate and make changes as needed. 

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Article Sources
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  1. International Nanny Association. 2017 INA Nanny Salary and Benefits Survey. Published January 15, 2018.

  2. Internal Revenue Service. Household Employer’s Tax Guide. Updated March 16, 2021.

  3. Care.com. Babysitting Rate Calculator. 2021.