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What advice would you give to a new caregiver who is just starting out?

Diane Hoelter
May 17, 2018

We are launching a new series this week called "Care.com caregiver question of the week"!  We can't wait to read your answers and share your advice with the community.   

This week's question is: 

What advice would you give to a new caregiver who is just starting out?


Remember that you are marketing yourself. You are your "brand," and as much as it's a comfort to think your service will speak for you, you also need to take care with your presentation:

Spell check your profile, applications and messages, and if writing is not your strong point, have someone else review your profile information before you post it.

Ask for help with your profile photos. Go easy on the makeup, wear something clean, simple and that fits well. Orient your primary photograph correctly! I cringe every time I scope out other sitters in my area and get vertigo looking at sideways and diagonal pictures. Your profile is NOT your party time, sexy girl, let's get wild Facebook page.

Speaking of which, clean that thing up. Don't think for one moment that parents aren't hitting the Google. I know I check parents out before I even decide if I'm interested in exchanging messages! Take down your pictures of yourself smoking, drinking, scantily clad. If you have friends who post questionable material on your timeline, restrictions on their ability to do so are a-ok. If it comes down to your money and J-O-B or your drinking friends and party buddies...

Take a first aid class. Do a background check on yourself. Do the DMV check on yourself. Be proactive. These things all move you closer to the top of the first page of applicants that parents see.

Join the INA, join a local nanny support group. By support group, I don't mean meet other nannies to hang out at Starbucks. Meet other nannies who are going to help you up your "care game." Educate yourself on current issues in the caregiver community.

Take the INA basic skills exam. It's largely common sense (https://nanny.org/resources/na...).

Create a schedule for yourself, and build in time for self-care, because you will need it. Be firm that about when you are NOT available for additional services. If you don't take care of you, who will take care of the children? You are not a permanent household fixture, and as a human who works in an emotionally and physically demanding environment, you have care needs of your own. It's fair and logical to tend to them.

Keep a "floating resume!" Anything could happen at any time, and the more contacts you have, the more stability you can guarantee yourself.

HAVE. A. WORK. AGREEMENT. Read them online, research what should be in them, look up what's common in your state, city, zip code. Know how much you're getting paid, make sure it's in line with minimum wage laws. Know WHEN you're getting paid, and ask parents to set up automatic payments or payroll.

BE. LEGAL. Check the IRS website to see what your rights and responsibilities are as a nanny, and make sure parents know their financial responsibilities as well (https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p926.pdf is a good place to start).

Familiarize yourself with the neighborhood the family lives in: where is the library? Park? Swimming pool? Schools? Zoo? Be able to suggest activities that you would take them to, beyond "I take them to the park." Why would you suggest these activities? What would you encourage children to take away from them?

If parents expect you to drive or swim, ask them to observe you two or three times before leaving you to do those things alone with the children. It will show that this is a job you are treating as a profession and that you value safety.

Create and print some simple docs in a word processing program to have parents fill out: who to contact in an emergency, a schedule they can fill out, their work info, a profile of the children (ages, birthdays, names). Have a signed form indicating that they give you consent to treat their child or agree to medical/ life-saving measure in an emergency (or that they DON'T). Have a sheet for any medical or behavioral conditions and any medications the children take.

Meet the family more than once. Take the initiative to request an observation period (paid) where you shadow the family for few hours to see how they interact with one another, and request a follow up to allow the family to observe you.

Remember that this is work. Also remember that you will be in someone's home, privy to their personal space and activities. If it's not illegal, abuse, neglect or endangerment, you don't air their laundry to others.

Take the very easy mandated reporter course that you can find lots of places on the internet (for CA, find it here: http://www.mandatedreporterca....). See something? Say something. I ask parents about every bruise, bump, scrape, mystery rash, change in behavior.

Decide what kind of carer you are: are you there for the children, or there for the parents? Set up your boundaries, decide with parents what your tasks and responsibilities are, and be prepared for "job creep." A lot of nannies lately are transitioning /agreeing to " personal assistant " or "house manager" positions. KNOW what the differences are, and what the responsibilities will be. Don't agree to tasks you 'll be salty about just to get a job. If the parents want you to do more, sit down to talk about it without the children present. If you don't don't mind, negotiate a pay increase. Your time IS worth it, because, without you, parents wouldn't be able to go to work/school, whatever.

Request an initial 4 week conference after you begin so everyone can touch base and see how it's working out. After that, agree on a time to do it regularly. Yearly, six months? Also schedule "conferences" to share what activities you will be doing with the children every few months. Are they really interested in shapes or trucks? Is the end of the music or swim class coming up, and you need parents to enroll in the next one? Does their kid HATE music or swimming, and you think something else might be a better idea?

Be firm about what you need, but also be open compromise. You have to work late hours, but they can't pay you more? Can they let you use the washer and dryer in exchange if you don't to one? Can you shower while the kids nap or after they go to bed to save time? They need you to come on a day you don't work, or a weekend date night and you don't have a car? Can they pay for your Lyft or taxi ride if it's late or inclement weather, or let you spend the night and go home in the morning? No one works for free, and you are not a charity. Get creative together if they are in a tight place financially and you have a good relationship with them.

Keep in touch when you move or switch families. This is as much about building relationships and community as it is a job or profession, and the smallest effort can leave such a positive impression on the children and families!

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KNOW YOUR WORTH: You will meet prospective employers/clients who think you don’t deserve what you charge. That’s their prerogative. Know your worth and assert it.

CONTRACT IS YOUR FRIEND: A lot of headaches can be avoided with this underrated piece of paper. Aside from obvious benefits such as legal protection, a contract is a good reminder of one’s obligations, benefits, etc. A good contract should be detailed, comprehensive and modifiable and it should also be fair and beneficial to the parties involved. Do not sign anything in a hurry, anything you don’t understand or agree with or anything that cannot be modified upon agreement.

FOLLOW YOUR INTUITION: If something doesn’t feel right, figure out what it is and take care of it. Do keep in mind that sometimes, the best way to take care of something is to walk away.

DON’T BE DESPERATE: Don’t accept jobs that doesn’t meet your needs and expectations out of desperation and don’t keep jobs that doesn’t meet your needs and expectations out of desperation either. Desperate people do desperate things which often leads to regrets and ugly outcomes. So, put your best foot forward and wait till you find the right fit; you will be happy and thankful you did.

BE ALERT BUT NOT PARANOID: The industry is full of predatory employers- from those who underpay their caregivers to those who overwork them, etc. Watch for telltale signs because sometimes, a simple interview can tell you whether you should move forward or back away from a position. That said, there are LOTS of incredible families out there who appreciate and value their caregivers; so be mindful but not paranoid.

DON’T OVERSELL YOURSELF: We all want to look good on resumes/portfolios and show prospective employers our superpowers. However, it’s important to be honest about your experience, credentials and skills while putting yourself out there. It can be damaging to one’s image and reputation to oversell but under-deliver and just as damaging to be caught in a lie. Rome wasn’t built in a day, so give yourself a break! Be confident with yourself, hone the skills you have and be willing to learn.

KEEP LEARNING & GROWING: Speaking of learning, an exceptional caregiver doesn’t just excel at nurturing, she/he also excels at listening and learning. This includes listening to kids- this is something a lot of adults’ struggle with! Kids are great teachers, so be willing to be vulnerable with them and learn from them because they have as much to share with you as you do with them. Furthermore, when you get to the pinnacle of your career, keep learning because there will always be something you don’t know and something you can improve on. The more you learn, the more you grow.

HAVE FUN: Fun is one of the most rewarding things about working with children. Sure, every day won’t be peachy and there will be days when you feel like throwing in the towel. However, most days ought to be bright and positive. I strongly believe that the more fun you have doing your job, the more fulfilled you will be and the more fulfilled you are, the more likely it is that you will thrive and shine. So, do remember to HAVE FUN!

Definitely don't take "have fun" for granted! It can get so hard to keep that in mind, especially when non-carers assume that all we do is play all day :)!

I hear ya! I think it's even more difficult to hear fellow caregivers claim that we get paid to play. Say what? Where can I sign up for that because that does not describe my job one bit! Then again, I suppose there are some people out there who get paid to watch TV while the children do their own thing.

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Make sure taking of kids is a passion dont do it for the money do it because you love kids

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Michelle in Lehi, UT
May 21, 2018

screen your family, do not just jump in until you check all your P's&Q's, make sure they are who they claim to be and DO NOT allow them to underpay you.

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A great way I deal with stress is showering. The shower helps me release all my negative emotions after a hard day from school or my extracurricular activity down the drain. But most importantly, parents, it is really important to remember that the stress at work should always, no matter what, stay at work. Parents work so hard to keep their home environment safe and happy for their kids while they are away so why not try to do that same thing when they are home! Keeping work-related stress strictly at work helps keep the safest, stress-free environment, for the kiddos; parents work so hard to protect. :)

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