The caregiver checklist: What to ask before your 1st day on a job

Sept. 7, 2018

As the oldest sister of five and an elementary education major, being a caregiver seemed like the most likely job for my skill set. I thought I knew all there was to know about taking care of children, but I was actually limited to just knowing about taking care of my siblings. I discovered that each child and family you work with will be different, and while basic child care is similar across the board, you’ll encounter a wide range of parenting styles and preferences.  

I wish I knew then what I know now: Asking questions doesn’t show a lack of knowledge but rather an attention to detail. I’ve learned over the years that knowledge is power, and never will I regret having too much information. As nannies, babysitters and caregivers, we must do our own due diligence and find out as much as we can about our employers. Use the following questions as your checklist to make sure you have all the important information necessary ahead of your first day on the job.


As a nanny, I loved sending quick texts to parents throughout the day and figured those short updates and images were a highlight of their day. Though, as a parent, I vividly remember my child’s first day with a nanny. My phone was stashed in my purse and I didn’t see any messages pop up throughout the day but was instead overwhelmed with them all at once when I sat down for lunch. I wasn’t expecting to hear from my nanny unless there was an emergency, so my heart sank with dread as I opened my inbox. The sweet smile staring back at me in the photograph immediately calmed me down, but it also made me realize the importance of clarifying when and how often it was appropriate to send messages. Consider asking the following:

  • What contact information should I have for you (and your spouse)? Determine who should be your main point of contact throughout the day. Is it the mother, the father, a grandparent or someone else? Make sure you have important phone numbers and know where they’ll be while their children are in your care.

  • When can/should I contact you? Understand when it’s appropriate to contact parents during the day. They may want updates and pictures throughout the day, or they may prefer to only be contacted for emergencies.

House rules

You may think you have the experience to know the basics, but sometimes families surprise you. With six years of experience as a nanny, Emily B. says she has a thorough checklist of questions. However, one night, she added a new question to the list.

“While watching three siblings whose rooms were upstairs in a fairly large, newer house, I went into one of their bedrooms and they were all gone. No kid to be found,” she says. “I heard some noises behind the wall and called for them. They suddenly appeared out of a tiny door in the corner of the closet… I was disappointed the parents didn’t warn me of this hiding space… Moral of the story: Ask where they like to hide!”

Also ask:

  • Do you have limits on screen time? Understand rules around screen time — phones, tablets, computers, TVs — including time limits, approved content and whether the kids are allowed to use screens in certain locations, like iPads in public or watching TV in mom and dad’s room.

  • What household chores would you like me to do, if any? If household chores are part of your agreement, make sure you know what and how often they expect you to do them. And remember to ask if the kids have any chores, as well.

  • How do you operate the necessary household appliances and devices? Know how to operate the heat/air conditioning, TV, washing machine, dishwasher and security system. If the house is childproofed, ask for directions on how toddler safety gates operate, as each one is different.

  • Are there any specifics I should know about your kitchen? If you are expected to cook, find out what tools, appliances and foods you are allowed to use. Determine whether you should strictly make meals for the kids or if you can also make yourself meals.

Safety and health

Emily B. says she knows that first-day questions can help keep everyone safe. While she takes great care of the children under her supervision, she also knows that accidents happen. Being prepared is the first step to proper safety. She recommends seeking clarification on the following safety concerns to avoid finding dangerous surprises, like the hidden stash of Reese's peanut butter cups she found while supervising a young boy with a peanut allergy.

  • What are your preferred emergency contacts? You’ll want to have a list of the chain of command in case of an emergency. Determine who should be contacted first — a parent or 911. If the parents cannot be reached, who should be contacted next? Is there a preferred hospital? Think about what would happen if you, the caregiver, becomes injured. Should you contact a neighbor? What should you do if the parents are very late coming home and can’t be reached?

  • Do the children have any allergies? Consider food, environmental or animal allergies. You should be aware of the location and dosage of any allergy medication, such as Benadryl or an EpiPen, as well as the proper protocol for administering medication.

  • Where is your first aid kit? Know where a first aid kit and any necessary medication and bandages are located.

  • Are you expecting any visitors? Ask to be informed if they’re expecting family, friends or strangers, like service workers, and understand how those visitors should be handled. Should workers be allowed in the house or only specific areas (like outside pest control or pool maintenance). This also includes the children’s friends. Ask whether they’re allowed to have friends over or if they can go to a friend’s house.

  • What’s your security alarm code, if any? If there is a security system in the home, ask when and how should it be turned on. Also determine if there’s any codes or passwords you should know in case authorities are notified.

  • Are there any weapons in the house? It’s crucial to everyone’s safety that you know whether there are any weapons, particularly firearms, in the house and how they are stored. Is there a gun and is it in a safe? Is it loaded?

Daily routine

While most children are potty trained before the age of 4, there are still many situations that can arise for young children, especially in unfamiliar places. Amber S. says she learned as a nanny that not all potty trained kids are as easy as others. After numerous outings, she quickly realized that 5-year-old Thomas would need to go to the bathroom every time they were in a public place and would require assistance wiping. After the crying that ensued when she couldn’t enter the men’s bathroom to help him, moving forward, Amber says she made sure to use the women’s or family restroom, where she could assist him.

Be sure to ask these questions about the family’s routine:

  • What’s the daily schedule? Ask for a schedule of naps, snacks, regular meal times, homework and extracurriculars, like sports or meetings. Be sure to ask about any preferred food for meals or snacks, plus any sleep aids like pacifiers, stuffed animals or blankies for nap time.

  • Do the kids have a bath time routine? Ask whether children should be using the bathtub or shower, what toiletries are allowed and if they should be supervised.

  • What’s the diaper/potty situation? If children are in diapers, know the location of the diapers, wipes and any ointments that need to be administered. If children are potty training, go over the bathroom rules. Do parents want the children to tell you when they need to go potty, or should you implement a timed potty schedule?

  • Are there specific rules for playtime? Be aware of approved locations for play, such as a playroom or outside spaces. If there is equipment present, such as a trampoline, jungle gym, bikes or scooters — what are the safety precautions? Ask if the parents have rules on art in the house and what supplies are allowed, such as paint and glitter.

  • Is there a bedtime routine? If you're working overnight or getting the kids into bed before their parents come home, know where the favorite stuffed animals live and what the proper routine is for stories or bedtime songs. Nothing can ruin an evening faster than deviating from a toddler’s preferred bedtime routine. Ask how much lighting the child needs for bed; while some children sleep in the dark, others, such as my own children, are very particular about having a specific nightlight on, and there is no sleep without a round of “Home on the Range.”

  • How do you want discipline handled? Discipline is a touchy subject so be sure to ask what the protocol is for improper behaviors. Do the parents want you to use positive reinforcements for good behaviors or punishments for poor ones? Do they want you to handle discipline or to be notified (immediately or upon returning home)?


While I am comfortable leaving my children with trusted individual, I am a basketcase when they are being driven in a car by someone other than myself. When caretakers go on outings with my kids, they must notify me when they leave and when they arrive back home. I have the utmost faith in the people I choose to watch my children, but all the uncontrollable elements on the road push my nerves to an all-time high. Be mindful when you’re on the road with the kids that these children are someone’s most precious cargo. Put your phone away, ensure all safety belts are worn properly and put your focus on the road.

Ask these questions to determine the family’s personal preference around transportation:

  • How should I manage travel? Discuss where and when you are allowed to travel, as well as who is allowed in the car. Are you driving your own car, or do the parents have a car for you to drive? Should you take the kids on public transportation?

  • How will gas/mileage be handled? Discuss how repayment will be handled, in terms of traveling — gas, mileage, etc.

  • Does the child require a carseat? Understand child safety laws and how to properly install and use a carseat.


Not all hours are created equal when it comes to pay. Amber S. says she felt uncomfortable asking to be paid her hourly rate when working overnight because the children were asleep by 8 p.m. She says she found it best to charge hourly during the day and implement a per-day rate when it came to overnight stays. Be sure to ask the following about your payment:

  • What and when will I be paid? Make sure you have a clear understanding of your hourly or weekly rate, including how overtime or holiday pay will be handled.

  • Will you be taking taxes out of my pay? Ask whether your employer is withholding your taxes or if you’ll be working as a 1099 employee.

Above all, it’s crucial to have many of these details listed in your contract. Make sure you’re asking all the right questions and including as much as possible in a contract that both parties can agree to in order for you to have the best experience possible as a caregiver for this new family.

Tips and stories from parents and caregivers who’ve been there.

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