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On the Park Bench: How a young college student commands respect as a nanny

Emily Starbuck Gerson
Aug. 24, 2018

Alex G. has always adored children and babies. She started babysitting neighborhood kids when she was just 12, and she got her first taste of nannying in high school, when a teacher hired her to watch her kids over summer break.

“I stay extremely close to all of my nanny families,” says Alex, who is now a 23-year-old full-time nanny in the Austin, Texas, area. “It’s not just work to me; I’m gaining family members. In my upcoming wedding, I have one former nanny family that will be my ring bearers, and another family that will be my flower girls.”

She also still does weekly Skype calls with a child she nannied at a former job when she lived in Hawaii.

Now back in her home state of Texas, Alex has a new full-time nannying job looking after twin newborns. She’s close to finishing her teaching degree, though she loves nannying and working with individual families so much that she’s not sure she’ll ever actually step foot in a classroom.

Here are Alex’s proven tips for building strong relationships with her nanny families.

Treat it like the real job that it is

Alex believes that many people make the mistake of not taking nannying seriously. She’s found that acting professionally and showing respect to your potential nanny family is the key to earning respect in return, Alex says.

“Post pictures on your Care.com listing that are professional,” she advises. “Dress professionally at your interview; treat it as if you went to an interview at a business to be a manager. I think that’s partly how I’ve gotten these relationships with parents.”

When she and her fiance moved to Hawaii, she knew nobody, but Alex became so close to the family that she and her fiance spent holidays with them — and she attributes that closeness to building a mutual respect from the start.

As a nanny in her early 20s, Alex and her references often get asked about her age. She says younger nannies like herself must make even more of an effort to overcome negative stereotypes.

“Because of our age, you’re going to have to work extra hard at being professional in the beginning to make these parents realize you are serious — this isn’t just your little summer fling job,” she says.

Set expectations about your style in the beginning

Alex likes to be up-front about her nannying style in interviews to set the tone and so the families can easily tell if it will be the right fit.

“When I did my interviews, I’d say, ‘Listen, I want this to be like you’re a second family to me,’” she says. “I tell every single family that I nanny that I don’t want to be treated like I’m the help. Sure, I’m helping you, but I’m not ‘the help.’ I want to be part of the family, and I want to have a relationship with your kids. I tell the parents that I plan on keeping their family in my life as long as they’ll let me be in their life. If I’m just open and honest with that, the parents love that.”

Start off firm

Sure, when you’re starting to work with a new family, it can feel awkward to speak up for yourself, but it’s important to ask for what you need right off the bat, Alex emphasizes.

“At first, it can’t be a friendship-relationship; it has to be work. So we make the contract and I have to look out for myself,” she says. “Say exactly what you want and exactly what you need. No, I need two weeks paid vacation. No, I need my taxes out. I have to be the ‘bad guy’ and say exactly what I need, and they need to do the same. But once that’s done, I start working, and we know what’s expected of you and me, so there’s no reason to talk about it unless we need to.”

Talk to the parents like they’re a new friend

Once you get the details hammered out and start your new job, Alex says it helps to enter it with the mindset of “now I’m a part of this family — I’m a new family member — so how do I get to know these people?”

She says everyone loves to talk about themselves, and asking the parents questions about themselves and their family can break the ice and help you get to know the people you’ll be working so closely with. She suggests asking questions such as how the parents met, why the baby’s name was chosen, how they acquired the family pet and other easy topics to learn about them and show you care.

Read next: On the Park Bench with Krista

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