6 criteria to evaluate when hiring a nanny

Sept. 27, 2018

When hiring a nanny for the first time, I knew we had to agree on rates, coordinate schedule availability and make sure personalities gelled. I didn’t think to ask about the best qualities in the nanny we found: a degree in early childhood education and a special interest in children with extra needs. Thankfully, we landed a nanny that had everything we wanted and more.

Sometimes we first-time parents just don’t know what we don’t know. What are those special considerations you should think of when trying to find the right nanny? What, in fact, do you need in a nanny?

To help you decide, first step back and think about your goals for your children, says Marcia Hall, the executive director of the International Association of Nannies in Milwaukee.

“For instance, if the parents want a nanny long-term, selecting an individual who is in college might not be the right choice, because that individual would be less likely to commit to them indefinitely,” Hall says. “If the parents’ goal is for the nanny to be able to keep after-school activities and supplies well organized, the parents will want to make it a priority to find a caregiver that has experience juggling a lot of activities.”

As you write a job description, list your three must-haves, then list out your would-like-to-haves, suggests Lisa Lewis, a pediatrician in Fort Worth, Texas.

“The nanny who meets all three must-haves plus the most would-like-to-haves is the best candidate,” she says.

While every family’s requirements will be different, here’s what you should think about when hiring a nanny.

1. Interest in working with children

This may sound obvious, but a nanny should delight in being around children, above all else.

“A genuine desire to invest in the life of children should be the first requirement parents have for a nanny,” says Hall.

Wendy Sue Swanson, “Seattle Mama Doc" pediatrician and chief of digital innovation at Seattle Children’s Hospital, says to trust your intuition on whether a candidate has this quality.

“If something feels awkward, dishonest, wrong or unsafe during your search or interviews, follow that feeling and walk away from that candidate,” she says. “Delaying a hire is always better than making the wrong hire.”

2. Safety certifications and child care training

“First and foremost, any nanny or babysitter should learn CPR certification through the American Heart Association,” says Lewis, also the author of the book “Feed the Baby Hummus: Pediatrician-Backed Secrets from Cultures Around the World.”

Other training and certifications to look for may include:

  • Water-safety instruction.

  • Baby care, child nutrition and child development classes.

  • A driver’s license with a clean driving record.

  • First-aid certification.

Lewis says degrees don’t necessarily have to be must-haves. What’s most important is having good references and experience.

3. Special needs training

If your child has special needs, whether those needs are from a disability, allergies or otherwise, it's important that the nanny you hire is capable of handling that particular situation — though it’s not necessarily a requirement to have past experience with the same need or even special certifications.

“Parents should look for a quick learner and someone who is eager to learn about the need,” says Hall. “If the parent has an initial interview with an individual and by the second conversation, that person has already done some research into the special need, that show of initiative should be highly sought after.”

Lewis advises asking the child’s doctor how a caretaker would obtain some extra instruction for the needs at hand, since every child’s situation is different, and Hall suggests offering to pay for any extra courses or certifications.

4. Caregiving philosophies

A lot of parenting philosophies are floating around these days: free-range parenting, attachment parenting, authoritative parenting, slow parenting. If any of these are important to you, it’s good to know your nanny is aware. Ask specific questions about your preferences, such as favorite type of carrier if you value baby-wearing, and you’ll get a good sense of their prior knowledge and current interest.

Also consider a candidate’s philosophy on screen time and even whether they’re willing to set their own phones down while caring for the children.

“Unless specific monitored screen-time requirements are in place, it's best to keep the household screen-free while the nanny is taking care of the children,” Lewis says.

If there are any philosophy clashes, it’s not necessarily a deal-breaker.

“The relationship between parent and nanny is really a partnership and just like all partnerships, each person has strengths and weaknesses, but all should be on the same page about the overall goals and rules of the house,” Hall says.

5. Ability to take on additional household responsibilities

While care of your children should be your nanny’s first priority, you may want your nanny to take on some household chores, too. Halls says reasonable chores to ask a caretaker to do  include:

  • Doing the children’s laundry and linens.

  • Cleaning dishes the children and nanny use.

  • Basic cleanup and organizing of the children’s toys and rooms.

But some families may want additional household duties performed, and they can negotiate for that with some nannies.

“The employer can determine together with the nanny what responsibilities might be,” Hall says. “A detailed explanation of them, including extra compensation, should be included in a work agreement.”

6. Personality similarities and differences

A personality match between nanny and employer is much like dating and can make or break a working relationship. So how do you know from an interview whether opposites will attract or repel? You need to ask the hard questions Lewis says, such as, “What will you do if my child cries?”

Other good questions to ask a prospective nanny:

  • Do you tend to keep a more structured or a more spontaneous schedule when you take care of a child?

  • What kind of discipline technique do you prefer?

  • What do you like least and most about caregiving and why?

  • What kind of play do you enjoy with children?

And then ask your own children to talk with candidates. Even if the kids are shy, you’ll get an idea of how the nanny will interact with them.

“Children are instinctual and will likely have a good or bad feeling about a candidate,” Swanson says.

Recognize, too, that a nanny’s personality can complement your own and benefit the children in a special way; it doesn’t necessarily have to be the same.

Rest assured, even those who have hired multiple nannies have a hard time prioritizing their wish list. But Swanson promises that it gets easier.

“I've just completed another search for support from a nanny and this time, for my older children, it was smooth and the least stressful it’s been for me,” she says, as she was more confident in her priorities and sticking to them. “If this is your first search, it will undoubtedly cause a little queasiness. I think like all things, we get better at this the more we do it.”

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

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