How to Hire a Nanny for Your Children

Mother handing baby over to nanny
ONOKY-Eric Audras/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images

Employing a nanny, au pair, or long-term babysitter can offer invaluable assistance to busy families and working parents, but it should go without saying that parents need to conduct some research before bringing a stranger into their home. Asking potential caregivers lots of questions and checking their resources is always vital, but there are important steps beyond the interview process that should be considered when making such an important family decision.

Determine What Type of Caregiver You Want

There are key differences between a nanny, au pair, mother's helper, babysitter, and a private caregiver, so the first thing you should do is research which type of care you prefer. Compensation, training, living arrangements, hours, and transportation requirements may greatly influence what type of professional care provider you seek and can reasonably employ.

Prioritize Your Requirements Over Your Preferences

While it's easy to imagine hiring a Mary Poppins who is capable of doing it all, keep in mind that child care providers are only human, just like you.

Write a list of "must have" requirements, such as years of experience or flexibility with changing schedules, and then create a second column of "like-to-haves," like the ability to tutor or drive a child to soccer practice. Keep these lists in mind when interviewing candidates so you can put each candidate in perspective.

A person who can fulfill all your "dealbreaker" requirements, but who might only meet some of the "bonus" ones, might be the fit that's right for you, your child, and your family.

Determine Appropriate Pay

Once you fine-tune your list of requirements, determine what you are able to pay. Depending on how realistic you are about what you can afford, you may have to temper your list of requirements slightly.

Nannies who have child care training and experience will typically command the most pay, and their terms may be very stringent. You may want to consider an au pair, who is often less experienced and requires room and board, but likely charges less (or not at all). If an occasional babysitter is what you need, you'll need to determine an hourly rate that you think is fair and that you're comfortable paying.

Ask Around for Names and Resources

Often, the best way to find your dream child care provider is to ask your friends and family members about providers they use/have used and the arrangements they've made. Ask about the pros and cons of their situation to see if something similar might work for your family, and inquire about bad experiences so you can get insight on things to avoid.

On having these conversations, you may even get leads on available caretakers. Perhaps your friend's old nanny is newly available, or a babysitter's cousin is looking to get into the field. A recommendation from someone you know and trust can be the best path toward finding the type of help that will work best for you.

Screen Applicants Carefully

There is no such thing as being too careful when screening a potential child care provider. After all, this is a stranger with whom you're entrusting your children. This often makes parents nervous at first, but when the relationship works, it provides a safe and nurturing environment for kids and more flexibility for parents.

In addition to covering the basics like experience, available hours, and compensation, don't be afraid to ask about tougher topics like child care philosophies, discipline tactics, and how they've handled problematic situations in the past. You may want to ask each candidate how a former employer and their kids would describe him or her, then call references and ask the same.

Don't Expect the Impossible

While movies and reality TV shows often glamorize the child care profession, showing nannies transforming challenged families and unruly children, this is far from realistic. If you struggle to juggle three kids, their school and after-school schedules, laundry, and keeping a well-maintained house, then don't expect a nanny to magically take all of that on with ease. Yes, you pay them, but their first priority is always caring for the kids. Be sure to keep your expectations realistic and convey those to each candidate so you are on the same page.

Let Go of Guilt

Guilt or sadness about leaving kids while at work are emotions that working parents often struggle with, and that sense of unhappiness can rub off on a childcare provider and your kids. Remember that a nanny or babysitter is not there to replace a parent, but to help out. Keep the good reasons you are working top-of-mind and think of the benefits a caretaker can offer your child. If you've done your research and screened candidates carefully, you should ultimately feel happy and comfortable with your childcare arrangement.

Employing Occasional Care

Even if you're active in a playgroup or share babysitting duties among neighbors and family members, you should be as careful about safety with occasional child care as you are with a professional provider. Kids need constant and quality supervision, whether it is with a teenager, next-door neighbor, or friend.

It's always best to have a conversation upfront about your parenting styles and supervision expectations before something bad happens or you become unhappy with a situation. Keep the lines of communication open between you and any type of caregiver to ensure that everyone feels comfortable and is getting what they need from the relationship.

By Robin McClure
 Robin McClure is a public school administrator and author of 6 parenting books.