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Tiffany Smith

Do you need a nanny or a babysitter? Learn what type of sitter you need to hire to best fit your care needs.

What Is the Difference Between a Babysitter and a Nanny?
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As you've probably noticed, there are endless types of care providers out there -- the most common of which are nannies and babysitters. That said, the distinction between the two types of caregivers isn't always clear; this, in turn, can make it confusing both for the families who are looking for child care AND for the child care providers who are looking to get a new job.

Before you throw yourself headlong into the process of hiring either a babysitter or a nanny, you first need to understand what they have in common and what they don't. Once you understand how to distinguish one from the other, you'll have an easier time choosing the child care option to fit your family's needs. 

What Is a Babysitter?

What Is a Babysitter
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According to Merriam Webster, "to babysit" means, "To care for children usually during a short absence of the parents." As such, a babysitter is someone who temporarily cares for children on behalf of the children's parents or guardians. A babysitter may also be referred to as a "sitter," and they generally take care of children of all ages who are in need of supervision. Most babysitting jobs are considered part-time jobs that are paid by the hour, and are either scheduled regularly (e.g., every day from 3-6 p.m. or every Saturday night) or for special occasions (e.g., New Year's Eve).

Babysitters are generally responsible for planning activities for your children (e.g., games, sports, arts and crafts, etc. ) or supervising playdates. However, some sitters may be willing to take on additional responsibilities (e.g., cooking, light housekeeping, driving children to and from scheduled activities, and helping with homework) for extra money. Just make sure that you make those expectations clear to any babysitter candidates you interview. 

Above all else, though, a babysitter is responsible for the safety and well-being of your children while they're in her care. 

What Is a Nanny?

What Is a Nanny?
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A nanny is someone who is fully invested in a child's development and well-being. Generally, a nanny will care for children full-time while both parents work. It's a nanny's responsibility to create daily schedules and engage in activities to ensure healthy mental, physical, and emotional growth in the children they care for. Most nannies will be tasked with preparing meals, helping with household work (e.g., dishes, laundry, etc.), driving the children to and from activities and assisting with homework.

Typically, nannies have more responsibilities and duties than a babysitter does (and, because of that, a bigger salary). In addition to basic safety classes, they may have had advanced child care training or many years of nanny experience. Often, nannies earn a weekly salary (based on hourly expectations), have taxes deducted from their paychecks, and work year-round for a family. It's expected that nannies receive at least two weeks of paid vacation and earn holiday pay as well.

Nannies often become part of the family, bonding with the children in a different way than parents do. Some families consider their nannies co-parents or partners in parenting, getting info from their nannies on their child's development and interests or asking their nannies to help their kids cope with losses and stress.

Because the job of a nanny is much like that of a parent, most families and nannies work together to create a nanny contract that lays out all terms and conditions of the job, including vacation time, sick days, and much more. To learn more about what's included in nanny contracts, read Do You Need a Nanny Contract?

Believe it or not, but there are many different types of nannies, depending on whether you’re looking for part-time, full-time, live-in, or live-out care.

What Is a Full-Time Live-In Nanny?

A full-time live-out nanny works “full-time” (i.e., five days a week, usually 45-50 hours) and their duties focus exclusively on child care (e.g., play, bath time, meals, activities, homework, transportation, etc.). They do not reside in the family's home, and do not perform any non-child-related cleaning or housekeeping. Many full-time nannies are professionals with extensive training or education in childhood development, which makes them a valuable asset. If they are using their own car to help with nanny duties (such as picking up kids from school) or working extra hours, that will affect their rates, as well. Most full-time nannies are paid a weekly or salaried rate, which you can negotiate during the initial interview.

What Is a Full-Time Live-Out Nanny?

These nannies share the same responsibilities as live-out nannies, but they reside in the family's home. Live-in nannies typically are provided with a furnished room, private bath, sometimes a cell phone, and access to a car. If a family has a nanny live with them, it typically means that their care costs are reduced, but you should be sure to draw specific boundaries about work and non-work hours.

What Is a Nanny Housekeeper?

A nanny housekeeper does it all. They handle the same child care duties as a live-in or live-out nanny, but also are willing to perform housekeeping duties during nap or quiet time, or while the children are at school. Keep in mind that a nanny housekeeper may charge more (whether hourly or salary) than other nannies because she’s providing additional services.

What Is a Part-Time Nanny?

Some families need a mix of babysitter and nanny. They need someone to care for their kids a few hours a week (maybe only Monday through Wednesday or only after school). But they want a child care provider who will be more involved that a typical babysitter. A part-time nanny is usually the answer. This option can provide the best of both worlds for families trying to juggle responsibilities.

What Is an Au Pair?

An au pair is a unique type of nanny. Typically, au pairs are young students from foreign countries who provide child care and light housekeeping in exchange for room, board, and a weekly “stipend.” Au pairs generally stay with a host family for one year and synchronize child care with their school schedules. This is a very affordable option, but keep in mind that it usually requires a full year’s payment upfront. There are also immigration requirements and program expenses related to connecting with your au pair.

Interested in learning more about au pairs? Make sure to read our article, "What Is an Au Pair? Here's Everything You Need to Know."


Tiffany Smith has written for All You, Time for Kids and the Boston Globe. And as a former babysitter, she knows a lot about fun games to play with kids. Follow her on Twitter at @tiffanyiswrite. 

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