How to provide child care while parents are home and make it work
As a nanny or babysitter, you know that each family is different, as is every child. But when you’re hired for a position where one or both parents are home regularly, questions and challenges may arise. Whether a parent works from home, is a stay-at-home parent or is just occasionally home during the day, it’s important to know how to navigate this potentially uncharted territory.
Here, nannies and child care experts share their tips on making an at-home arrangement easier for everyone and reconciling common challenges that may arise.
Establish authority and guidelines
Adjusting to a new nanny or babysitter can be difficult for children but even more so when one or both of their parents are home. Child care experts Devon Clement and Bridget McMullen, who work with at-home parents, agree their jobs are made easier when the parents let them have authority when they’re watching the kids.
“The parents trust that I have everything under control and respect my decisions,” says McMullen, who works for a family in Austin, Texas.
To establish this kind of trust and authority with your at-home employers, work with them in the beginning to help ease any confusion or tension that may come up.
"Clear delineation of roles is so important," says Clement, former career nanny and the CEO of Happy Family After, a child care agency based in New York. Work together to clarify who makes decisions in certain situations — from lunchtime to discipline — to help everyone better navigate the daily schedule.
"Make sure everything is discussed ahead of time," Clement says.
This might involve asking your employer questions like:
What times of day will you be home? Do you want your child(ren) home then, too?
How and when should I communicate with you when everyone is home?
Do you mind the children seeking you out?
What will we do about lunch times, bathroom breaks, etc. when you and the children will be in the same space?
Do the children need to play in a separate area of the house, away from your office or the space you’ll be in?
If you plan on interacting with the kids, how involved do you want me to be?
If the children are injured or need comfort, at what point do you want to be notified or involved?
Tiffany Trieb, a work-from-home mom with A Perfect Fit Nanny Agency, adds that she and her nanny have a process in place if a difficult situation with her children comes up.
“If [the children] are hurt, sick or so upset that the nanny is unable to comfort them, she texts me to let me know and I come to give my little ones comfort,” she says.
But if her kids just want to talk to her or share something with her, they wait until designated times like lunch or the end of the day. This way, Trieb says, she’s not interrupted and the nanny uses her best judgment to decide if the children’s mother needs to step in.
Create a routine
Establishing a schedule or routine is another way to help nannies, parents and children adjust to an at-home parent arrangement.
“Most parents will already have a routine in place for their kids,” says Trieb.
Working together can ensure the routine will still work when a nanny or babysitter enters the equation. Trieb recommends that nannies ask families about their current routine in the interview stage and “make sure it's something that works for you, too.”
In addition to scheduling things like meals, naps, playtime, activities and outings, it can also be helpful to establish “parent time” — a point in the day where there is a clear handoff of authority. While having a set schedule benefits the kids, Kristina Schlitt, a volunteer and stay-at-home mom with a part-time nanny from Commack, New York, says a schedule makes it easier for her.
“I could attend my volunteer meetings and also do laundry or home projects, knowing I had scheduled time to be home and present with my kids,” Schlitt says.
Whether your employer already has a routine in place for their kids and themselves or you need to create a new one together, consistency is key.
“If the parent plans on interacting with their child throughout the day, try to make those times as consistent as possible,” says Trieb. “This not only helps maintain a consistent schedule but helps children understand when ‘parent time’ is over and [the caregiver is] back in charge.”
The same goes if you’ll be caring for an infant or a child with special needs who requires their parent’s regular hands-on care or attention. The schedule might need a little more finessing, so work together to navigate the daily tasks at hand and any challenges that arise.
Stick to designated spaces
Depending on the layout of your employer’s home, discuss creating separate areas for the parents and kids. Not only does this help reinforce boundaries, but it can significantly cut down on distractions for everyone involved.
“There is nothing harder for a nanny than trying to distract a toddler who knows their parent is right in the next room," says Clement.
Work with your at-home employer(s) to address questions like:
Are there areas in the home that are off-limits for the kids?
Are there areas in the home that should be avoided to eliminate distractions?
Can we create a designated play area?
Do I have permission to take the children outside or travel to kid-friendly places?
Of course, in smaller apartments and older houses, this may require some creativity on your part, but it can make everyone's jobs a lot easier.
What should you do if the setup isn’t working? Schedule a chat with your employer outside both of your workdays to talk about playrooms, outings and activities, suggests Trieb.
“Discuss your ideas and why you think they would be beneficial to both the child and the family,” she says.
Be aware it may take longer to bond
Another challenge nannies might encounter, says Trieb, is that bonding with the children might take a little longer with parents around.
“It is only natural for a child to want his or her parents more than someone they just met," she says.
But how do you work through it? Trieb says it comes down to working with the parent to come up with ways you can build stronger relationships with the kids and engage them as much as possible. This might mean taking the children on outings to the park more often or asking the parents to give you the “inside scoop” on their favorite treats or games. Find ways to have fun and to distract the child(ren) from their parents’ presence.
“Kiddos always come around; you just have to make it through the transition period,” says Trieb.
Be prepared for parent pop-ins
“Having parents constantly popping in and out can make a nanny’s job that much more difficult,” says Clement.
Whether they’re just going to the bathroom, want to say “hi” to the kids or they need to walk through the house to get to their office or bedroom, these parent sightings can lead to a disruption in your activities and even to a meltdown. To avoid this, Clement says, keep to a schedule and maintain clear lines of communication.
Texting is a simple way for you and the parent(s) to communicate without the child(ren) being upset by their parent’s presence. As Schlitt says, she texts her nanny when she needs to leave the house or grab a snack so the nanny can make sure the child is otherwise occupied. If texting isn’t available, do a brief check-in each morning to hammer out schedules and what the parent(s) needs from you.
Remember: there’s always a learning curve
As in any child care position, communicating and working closely with your employer is key to ensuring a smooth transition. McMullen says the most important factor is being a team and making sure “everyone [is] on the same page and [has] the same goals for the child.”
At the end of the day, adjusting to an at-home parent situation may simply take time.
“It can be hard at first to get used to, and you might feel awkward and uncomfortable,” McMullen says. “There’s a learning curve for everyone involved.”
Thankfully, though, that curve eventually evens out.
“Just like other nanny positions, you will get into a comfort zone soon enough,” she says.