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Choosing the Best Nanny

Tips for Evaluating the Best Nanny and Childcare for You and Your Family


Finding the right nanny is an important decision for any working parent. Whether you’re considering a full-time, live-in nanny, or someone to provide you relief a few hours a week, choosing a reliable and attentive caregiver for your child or infant can be a challenge—but to ensure your child's well-being, it’s worth the effort. These guidelines can help you find a nanny who is the best fit for both you and your child.

Keys to finding the right nanny

Searching for a nanny can feel immediately overwhelming. After all, you have spent months or years taking care of your child or children’s every possible need, and now you’re about to leave all the feeding, napping, educating, and playing responsibilities to a stranger while you go back to work. Where do you even begin looking? What questions do you ask? And how do you know it’s a good fit for not only your child, but also for you? Here are the keys to help you find the right nanny for your family:

  1. Identify your priorities: Make a list of what you and your partner want in an ideal nanny. Do you want someone older with a lot of experience, or do you need a younger nanny who can keep up with the energy level of your children? Are you looking for someone bilingual? Do you need a person who lives close by so they won’t be late? How much are you willing to pay a nanny? Do you want a man or woman, or does it matter? There are a lot of things to consider, so take your time discussing your priorities before starting your search.
  2. Get the word out: Once you’ve established what you want in a potential nanny, first reach out to your friends and family for references and leads. Next, don’t be afraid to post notices at the park, on school bulletin boards, or at the local coffee shop. Advertising online is now very popular—using craigslist.com or 4nannies.com, for example—to list exactly who and what you are looking for. There are also local nanny placement organizations you can call, but this is a more expensive route (as they will have already prescreened candidates and take a commission fee).
    • Interview: Before meeting with a potential nanny, write down your questions to make sure all your identified priorities are addressed. When you welcome him or her into your home, pay attention to the small things. Did they arrive on time? Did they ask to wash their hands before holding the baby? Did they seem warm and treat your home, furniture, and pets with respect, or are they immediately flippant and messy? When you sit down to discuss the position, here are some questions you may want to ask:
      • Are you comfortable holding and soothing a sick child much of the day, if needed?
      • How do you soothe a crying baby?
      • If the baby isn’t responding to you at first, how do you go about establishing trust?
      • What do you think the best way is to get infants to sleep?
      • How do you feed babies?
      • How do you discipline a child?
      • What do you do with a child or infant while he or she is awake?
      • Are you certified in first aid and infant CPR and choking?
      • Are you in good health? Do you smoke?
  3. Check references: After narrowing down your list of applicants, it’s vital to check their references. Some people say all the right things during an interview, but it’s a past employer who will give you the most honest answers to questions about the applicant’s dependability, capabilities, and how they interact with children. Ask about their strengths and weaknesses, and why they no longer employ him or her.
  4. Intuition: How do you feel being with this person? Do they look at you directly and do you feel they are really listening to you, taking in what you're trying to communicate? Does being with them make you feel safe and could you imagine going to them if you needed comfort? Do they impress you as kind, caring, and attentive? And does this person impress you as someone who can successfully pick up important nonverbal cues, which helps your baby get the best possible start in life, as shown in the Creating Secure Infant Attachment video?

After hiring the right nanny

Asking for a trial run

After deciding on the best nanny for your family, ask him or her to agree to a trial run, which can last a few days or even a month. Remember, just because you agreed to work with someone does not mean you have to stick with them if you have second thoughts a week or two into the hire. If your child or children rejects the nanny, it may be because they need more time together or have attachment issues, or it may be for other, more serious reasons. Don’t be afraid to go with your gut instinct when it comes to your children. A mother or father’s intuition is not to be ignored.

The importance of the nanny-child bond

Whoever spends the most time with your child instantly becomes the primary caregiver in the household, which very much includes your nanny. Parents need to recognize that a strong bond should form between the nanny and their child, and to overcome any regret that may occur when this happens. It’s vital for the cohesive development of your child’s brain that bonding with the primary occurs caregiver, and it means your nanny is successfully doing their job. You should prefer your child has a secure attachment bond with the caregiver rather than not having a bond at all. If your regret becomes too strong, then you might reconsider going back to work or finding work at home. Encourage your nanny to communicate with your child—in any language—while your child is awake and sing to your child as they’re falling asleep. The more your caregiver cares for your child the more your child will feel loved.

If at all possible, try to hire a nanny who could potentially be with your family for a minimum of three years. Keeping their bond intact will ensure your child or children will feel safe and be calm enough to experience optimal development of their nervous system. The attachment bond is a key factor in the way your infant's brain organizes itself and influences your child’s social, emotional, intellectual, and physical development.

It’s important to make sure your nanny’s primary focus is your child so they can create this strong, trusting bond. Excessive cell phone use by a caregiver shifts attention away from your child. Talk to your caregiver about limiting phone and computer use while the child is awake to urgent situations only.

Creating an employee file to protect your family

Once you’ve hired the best nanny for you and your family, it’s important to collect important information to have on file in the house. Remember, you are now an employer with a paid employee, and you have to protect yourself in case of unforeseen circumstances like fraud, theft, or in an emergency. Here is a list of things that you should have on file:

  • Copy of your nanny’s driver’s license
  • Second form of identification
  • Copy of your nanny’s resume and references
  • Copy of the nanny background check you conducted
  • Copy of your nanny’s CPR/first aid certification
  • Copy of your nanny’s job description
  • Signed I-9 form

Creating a personnel file also establishes certain employee/employer boundaries, ensuring your relationship retains its business stature, even if you become friends.

Maximize your own quality time with your children

Try to simplify and outsource as much as you can so that when you are home you can focus on your children and their needs.

Other childcare options

If you decide a live-in or live-out nanny is not the best childcare option for your family, it pays to think about other options early, especially if you are in an area where there are limited possibilities or long waiting lists for childcare facilities. To ensure more personalized attention for your child, look for a caregiving scenario that offers the smallest child-to-adult ratio.

  • A daycare center is often an affordable and reliable option, with trained and certified staff, and a social environment for your child. However, daycare centers have fairly inflexible opening hours and the group environment also means your child is likely to get sick more often, in which case you’ll have to make alternate care arrangements. Look for daycare that offers a ratio of one caregiver to three or four children, depending on the age group.
  • Home daycare offers care by the same person in a homelike environment, usually with smaller groups of children and more flexible hours. Again, though, there’s often no immediate cover if the caregiver gets sick or is otherwise unavailable, and there’s no one to oversee or supervise the caregiver.

Other options include obtaining childcare from a friend, neighbor, or family member.

Questions to ask at a daycare or other childcare facility

As well as the questions above, you can also ask questions such as:

  • Is the staff trained in childhood development?
  • What is the staff turnover rate? If the staff changes frequently it will affect the consistency of your child’s care and may point to underlying problems at the facility.
  • How many caregivers are there per child or infant?
  • Are you able to visit your child at any time during the day?
  • Does the relationship between the staff and the children appear emotionally close and happy? Do the children appear to feel safe in this environment?

Find a staff in tune with your child-rearing philosophy

It’s important to find a facility that shares a similar child-rearing philosophy with you. Some caregivers may be very experienced in handling babies but focused more on the physical, scheduled needs of the baby. If someone is set in their ways, it is better to find someone who is more oriented to the whole needs of the baby and is sensitive to baby’s cues.

  • Check applicable licenses and references.
  • Talk to others who have used the daycare provider.
  • Ask lots of questions to get a sense of the staff’s child-rearing philosophy.
  • Once you’ve narrowed down your options, try the facility out to see how the staff interacts with your child. Does your child seem comfortable in the daycare environment?

Tips for choosing a childcare facility

You may wish to try out different daycare centers or home daycare venues a few times each to see whether your experience on different days confirms your initial impressions. Try to do a trial period where you are on hand, but the caregivers are handling most of the work with your child. This is the best way to see how the staff handles your child, what their natural preferences are in caregiving, and if it is a good fit.

  • At daycare, does the staff seem friendly and to be enjoying their jobs?
  • Does the staff regularly cuddle and play with the kids? Do they hold and rock infants?
  • Is the home or daycare facility clean and large enough?

Related Articles

Separation Anxiety in Children

Separation Anxiety in Children – Learn how to make the separation process easier and identify and deal with separation anxiety disorder.

When Baby Won't Stop Crying

When Baby Won’t Stop Crying – Discover time-tested strategies for comforting and soothing an upset or colicky baby.

Attachment Milestones and Your Baby

Building a Secure Attachment Bond With Your Baby – Tips for new parents on how to create a secure attachment bond with your newborn.

Bonding with Your Baby

Secure Attachment & Bonding: Understanding the Different Ways of Bonding and Communicating With Your Child

Finding the Right Career

Finding the Right Career – Discover how to find a career that fits your skills and interests, find the courage to make a change, and overcome obstacles to career happiness.

Resources & References

Finding an AP-Friendly Caregiver - Suggested questions to help get a picture of the caregiver and her caregiving style, including feeding, sleep, and discipline. (API Speaks)

Child Care 101 - General tips on fin ding a caregiver, including types of care, checking accreditation, and a searchable database of local child care referral agencies in the U.S. (Child Care Aware)

Will My Baby Prefer the Nanny Over Me? – How everyone can win in the battle for the baby’s heart. (TLC)

Authors: Joanna Saisan, MSW, Greg Boose, and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D. Last Updated: September 2013

©Helpguide.org. All rights reserved. This reprint is for information only and NOT a substitute for professional diagnosis and treatment. Helpguide.org is an ad-free non-profit resource for supporting better mental health and lifestyle choices for adults and children.

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