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I have a sick nanny, now what?

It’s a working parent’s nightmare: your nanny just called in sick. You have to get to work, but what do you do with your kids?

“Have a plan in mind before it happens,” advises Becky Kavanagh, co-president of the International Nanny Association and nanny of more than 20 years. “You don’t want to figure out what to do when your nanny calls in sick.”

Former nanny Lindsay Gillis of Cleveland, recommends families and nannies talk about sick leave in advance.

The following tips will help you keep everything running smoothly when the inevitable sick day strikes.

1. Check your sick leave policy

Before hiring a nanny, hammer out a sick leave policy. Determine who’s responsible for finding a backup caregiver if your nanny calls in sick. Kavanagh says that a nanny usually isn’t expected to help find a replacement although it is appreciated. 

Then, once you agree on a plan, make sure it’s spelled out in your nanny contract.

2. Know your backup plan in advance

Avoid a last-minute care scramble and have a plan in place. Are there any family members or friends who can watch your child for a day or two in a pinch? If so, ask them ahead of time if they would mind acting as the backup caregiver. 

“Get a chain of people who can help out,” suggests Gillis, “and just get your list ready to go.”

Read about options for backup care.

3. Find backup care

You may be really, really fortunate and have nearby family or friends who can fill in until your nanny gets better. But if you don’t, you’re going to need to have a backup babysitter or nanny. 

Backup Care might be available through your employer. Some companies offer family care benefits, like Care@Work, where you can book a vetted backup caregiver to come to your home or choose to send your child to an in-network child care center. Because programs like these are subsidized by an employer, they can be more affordable than other types of backup care. Reach out to your Human Resources department to see if you have this benefit. If you do, make sure to enroll! If you don’t, ask them if they would consider putting a program like this into place. 

Learn more about the Backup Care benefit.

4. Prep for the substitute

“It’s disruptive to kids when the nanny calls in sick,” says Kavanagh, “so plan ahead and keep them on schedule.” 

Before your backup sitter arrives, write down your child’s typical routine, school or activity schedule, as well as emergency contact information and any house rules or medical or dietary needs. Here’s a helpful article on preparing for backup child care.

5. Explain the situation to your child

A child may wonder what happened to their nanny or feel anxious when there’s a change to their day, so don’t leave them in the dark. Let them know what they can expect in advance. 

Kavanagh recommends parents keep things matter-of-fact. “Just tell them the nanny will be out sick, and that grandma or a different nanny will watch them. Emphasize they will still have fun, even though their regular nanny isn’t there,” she says. If your child is concerned, consider having them make and send a get-well card.

6. Check in during the day

The backup caregiver has arrived to watch the kids, and you head into work. Make sure to check in once or twice during the day to see how the kids and the backup caregiver are adjusting and answer any questions as they arise.

By planning your backup care plan in advance, you can sail through the day when your nanny calls in sick, making the day easier for you, the backup caregiver and, most importantly, your child.