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7 interview questions to ask when hiring an after-school nanny or sitter

Emily Starbuck Gerson
Jan. 18, 2019

You work full time, and your kids have to be at different after-school activities before your work day ends. How’s that going to happen? Well, you might decide, like many busy families, to hire an after-school nanny or sitter to help. If this is what your family needs, it’s time to start the interview process. But before you set up a meeting with your candidates, it’s critical to know in advance what questions you will ask so that you cover all your bases and find the best caregiver for your family’s needs.

Aquila Mendez-Valdez, a busy communications professional, adjunct professor and mom to a 3- and 7-year-old in San Antonio, Texas, has used an au pair in the past, in large part to care for her kids after school. But not just any caregiver would do. For Mendez-Valdez, it was important to find an after-school care provider who was “very positive, happy and upbeat,” as well as “able to turn the afternoon into a fun time instead of the dreaded ‘witching hour,’ as they call it,” she says.

Ready to line up your own perfect after-school child caregiver? Use these interview questions to find the right person to help with homework, shuttle your kids to activities and keep them safe and happy in the hours before you get home.

1. How dedicated are you?

Lindsay Heller, aka “The Nanny Doctor,” is a former nanny, a licensed clinical psychologist and a consultant to caregivers and families. Taking care of children in the post-school hours requires a unique set skill set, she says, so a great place to start in an interview is these questions:

  • What do you like most about being an after-school nanny (or sitter)?

  • What do you most look forward to in the job?

It’s important to ensure that after-school child care is something they actually specialize in and are passionate about, she adds. You don’t want someone who’s just taking the job because it’s an opportunity at that moment or until they find a full-time job elsewhere, she says. Their excitement about after-school care should come across in the interview, which helps ensure a good fit and longevity for the job.

2. What is your experience?

Elizabeth Malson, founder and CEO of Amslee Institute, a nanny training program, says it’s important to recognize that there’s a difference between nannies and sitters. She says a nanny is typically more experienced, often with more training, certifications and skills under her belt. And while babysitters may not have formal education or training, they are typically more affordable and may be exactly what you need for your after-school care.

She says it’s important to be clear on your expectations, including compensation, and how you want the caregiver to engage with your children in the after-school hours, as that can vary depending on the nanny or sitter. Malson suggests asking:

  • How much experience do you have as a nanny or babysitter?

  • Do you have any official qualifications?

  • Have you had any formal education or training that taught you how to care for kids in different age groups?

  • Tell me about a time you had to handle an emergency.

3. How do you handle homework?

If your children need homework help, it’s crucial to hire an after-school nanny or sitter who has a healthy, positive attitude toward homework, Heller says. She says caregivers can help shape the child’s values around work ethic, learning and  homework and learning priorities, and if she has a poor outlook on it, it can negatively impact your child.

In the interview, Malson recommends asking these questions to see if the potential caregiver’s homework philosophy lines up with yours:

  • How do you approach homework?

  • Can you tell me about a time when you helped a kid with homework? What did you do and what were your expectations of the child?

  • How did you a handle a situation when you could see the kid was struggling with homework?

If you’re looking for a caregiver who is more invested in your child’s learning growth and style of learning, Malson says it’s ideal to hire a nanny who has specific experience and/or training. Here are some questions she suggests:

  • Have you taken a class on helping with homework or reading literacy?

  • Can you tell me about a time when you helped a child through a reading lesson?

4. How do you structure time with kids?

Whether you just need someone to keep your kids safe and entertained after school or you’re looking for a nanny with more skills and a higher level of engagement with your kids, it’s helpful to determine a caregiver’s ability to create some level of routine and structure. Keep in mind that a nanny might be more skilled in this arena than a sitter.

Heller suggests asking these questions and recommends you listen for a plan:

  • What kind of activities they enjoy doing with kids?

  • How do you plan to ensure homework and any other school duties are done on time?

  • A lot has to fit into the time period of time between school ending and bedtime; how do you like to plan or structure after-school time?

  • How do you prioritize?

Malson says to ask a potential nanny a question like this: “If you had half an hour to fill, what outside activities would you encourage my kid to do if it was in the middle of winter?”

“If they stare at you with a blank face, then they’ve never done it before,” she says. “If they can answer, it’s a higher-level nanny.”

When she was hiring her au pair, Mendez-Valdez said it was important to her to find someone who was excited about learning and reading and who could think up things to do besides just watching Netflix. She made sure to ask if the nanny was crafty to ensure she could help keep the kids entertained without TV and if she enjoyed cooking since she wanted her to help prepare after-school snacks for the kids. Think about what’s important to your family and make sure the after-school nanny has the right skillset.  

5. How’s your driving?

In addition to after-school child care at home, many parents need a nanny or sitter who’s willing to pick children up from school and drive them to and from extracurricular activities. If that’s the case, it’s important to make sure the candidate is comfortable driving the kids whatever distance is needed. Not every caregiver will be up for a 30-minutes-each-way commute to flute lessons, Malson says.

She also suggests asking these transportation-related questions for peace of mind:

  • What type of car do you have? Is it a newer model with safety features?

  • What type of insurance do you have?

  • Are you open to a background check on your driving record?

  • Do you know how to install a car seat? Have you taken a car seat installation course?

  • Are you comfortable driving one of our cars, or do you need to drive your car?

  • Are you comfortable having a tracker in your car so you that we know how many miles to reimburse you for? Is there an app you’d be willing to download where I can understand where you and my kids are?

6. How do you approach to discipline and responsibility?

It’s likely at some point that every nanny or sitter will deal with cranky kids who don’t want to do homework, go to sports practice or do their chores around the house.

Malson says it’s smart to ask candidates these questions:

  • How would you handle it if my child didn’t listen to you?

  • What would your response be?

  • How do you approach responsibilities and chores?

As with the other questions, the caregiver’s answers and approach here will likely differentiate the nannies from the sitters, Malson says. Whatever her approach, just make sure the candidate is ready to meet the expectations you have.

7. The best ‘bonus’ question

It can take some time and work to find the right after-school caregiver, but it can can do wonders for your peace of mind.

“It’s tough as a working mom not to feel guilty; once they’re out of school, you feel may feel like, ‘I should be the one to be with them,’” Mendez-Valdez says. “So it’s awesome if you can find somebody who is going to be just as energetic, happy, positive and excited to be with them as you would be so that you can keep on plugging away at what you’re trying to do and not have to feel guilty about it.”

So when you do find the ideal nanny or sitter, make sure to ask this final and incredibly important question:

  • Are you available for additional night or weekend help if we need it?

Many parents with school-age children, says Heller, want a caregiver who can step in on occasional nights or weekends when the parents want to go out. A “yes” answer to this question could be the “bonus” you need as a busy parent.

Read next: 25 after-school activities for kids

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