Trusting Your Instincts When Hiring a Caregiver

Feb. 26, 2018

Keep your child safe by asking yourself these 5 questions.

Remember Miss Clavel from the Madeline books? She would wake up in the middle of the night with the feeling that "Something is not right!" Miss Clavel knew that you should always listen to your instincts -- and she's correct.

Nothing is more important than keeping your children safe from harm. It's the single biggest responsibility of parenting. When parents entrust their children to a caregiver, it's the caregiver's greatest responsibility as well. Be open with your nanny or sitter by conveying any safety concerns and reinforcing them regularly.

Instincts are also very important when you're hiring a new sitter. Even if your potential nanny has a wealth of experience, sterling recommendations and everything looks good on paper, listen to your inner voice. If it's telling you something is off, trust it!

Learn more about instincts and what to do if you feel something isn't quite right. Experts weigh in on five key questions you should ask yourself about instincts.

  1. Can You Trust Your Instincts?
    Kathy Kolbe, an expert on human instincts and author of "Powered by Instinct: 5 Rules for Trusting Your Guts," says that our "instincts are rarely wrong." And when it comes to maternal instinct, your initial impressions should have a greater impact on how you react to a person or situation.

    "Maternal instinct is not a myth or simple phrase," says Chinthani Perera-Lunemann, child care expert and founder of Mom to Moms Advisor. "It's a scientific fact and exists in the real world for a reason. If, when interviewing a nanny, you feel that something is 'off' or not right, don't ignore it -- this is your instinct kicking in to protect your child."

  2. Why Do So Many People Second-Guess Instincts?
    Kolbe notes that it's difficult to distinguish between internal, instinctual messages verses messages that have been pounded into us from childhood. "That internal voice is often replaced by the recording of messages that were drilled into us often from a young age," she says.

    Another reason many people don't listen to the inner voice is that a fear of looking foolish, judgmental or rash overpowers the drive to act. Dr. Ramani Durvasula, a professor of psychology at California State University, Los Angeles, notes that, "Far too often, we 'talk ourselves out' of our instincts -- feeling that we are being 'too critical, too judgmental' -- and those are often famous last words. Our brain's ability to suss out harm in the environment can be quite prodigious."

  3. Should I Ever Hold Back From Trusting My Intuition?
    "By and large, instincts are a wake-up call that something doesn't quite feel right -- and I have yet to meet a person that said 'Golly, I wish I hadn't trusted my instincts,'"Dr. Durvasula says, adding that "where kids are concerned, erring on the side of conservatism -- of being overly cautious, especially when outside caregivers are concerned -- is just good sense. You could do all of your homework on someone, but if your spider senses say, 'This doesn't feel right,' then not only is communication critical, sometimes you just need to jump in."

    That said, if you find yourself continually turning away caregivers and being overly suspicious of everyone you come across, you may need to evaluate your reactions.

    "Start by asking yourself if it is truly instinct about caregivers or a true conflict about something else," Dr. Durvasula suggests, citing reasons like not wanting to lose your role as mom or ambivalence about returning to work as possible triggers. "However, by and large -- those instincts tell us something -- so trust them."

  4. How Should I Respond to Gut Reactions?
    "Some of these feelings arise when you're interviewing a nanny or caregiver because of an answer they may give or the way in which they delivered it," says Perera-Lunemann. "During the interview process be sure to be thorough. Ask follow-up questions and prompt for further explanation if you don't fully understand an answer or approach."

    If you're still uneasy after asking questions and communicating, Debra Holtzman, a child safety expert and best-selling author of "The Safe Baby: A Do-Yourself Guide to Home Safety and Healthy Living," says you should, "trust both your head and your feelings. If your gut says there is something wrong, don't hire and/or continue using this person to watch your child."

  5. How Do I Relay Lingering Concerns to My Caregiver?
    Communication is key, and you should never assume your caregiver interprets safety as you do. Dr. Durvasula suggests that parents, "Spell it all out and write it all down. Stay in regular contact until you are sure your standards are being met. Over time, your instincts will allow the delicate dance of letting go happen -- but initially -- too much information is fine."

    One major point Durvasula emphasizes is never assume. "It is those unclear communication spaces where problems happen. And if something doesn't feel right, address it immediately, it's the only way to create lasting change."

    Read about 6 Tips for Talking to Sitters about Safety »

Despite thorough background checks, references or even trial days where you're home observing a new sitter, if your inner instinct is still waving red flags, you shouldn't ignore it. After all, nothing is more important than making sure your children are completely safe.

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Meredith Johns is a freelance writer living in St. Louis, Mo. Her work can be found here.

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

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