We’ve all heard the nanny horror stories—tales of shaken babies and stolen goods and caregivers who, quite literally, were asleep on the job. The fact remains, though, that as more families rely on two incomes, additional help is often required for the kids. When it really does take a village to raise a child, choosing the right person to care for your baby in your stead becomes all-important. Here’s how to get it right the first time—nanny nightmares not included.
1. Determine your needs first.
You wouldn’t buy ingredients for a recipe without first checking the recipe to see what you actually need. And so it goes with hiring a nanny, says Tammy Gold, a licensed therapist and parenting coach and author of Secrets of the Nanny Whisperer: A Practical Guide for Finding and Achieving the Gold Standard of Care for Your Child.
“So many times, parents look for and hire a nanny first, and then figure out their needs after they realize it is not a good match,” says Gold. “[Before you hire a nanny], outline what I call your ‘musts’, which are the physical pieces of your job (hours, days, salary) and the emotional pieces of your job (your needs as a parent and your child’s developmental needs). I have so many stories of moms hiring someone who could do one and not the other.”
Justin Baram-Blackwell, a parent and founder of the nanny monitoring service NannySure, agrees. “It is key when coming up with interview questions that you first identify what it is you’re looking for in a nanny,” he says. “What characteristics in a nanny will complement your own parenting philosophy? Make a list of what is most important to you and incorporate these points in your interview questions. For example, you may want to make sure your nanny is on board with your approaches to naps, discipline and screen time.”
2. Cast a wide net.
Hiring a friend or relative as your family’s nanny may not be the best option, though it will likely be convenient. To overcome any temptation to settle, Baram-Blackwell recommends searching high and low for the perfect nanny. “In addition to asking your family, friends, coworkers and neighbors, search local parenting forums,” he says. “There are Facebook groups, Yahoo groups and Meetup groups for most any geographic area and parenting philosophy. Commercial websites are another option and include Care.com and Sittercity.com. Larger cities also have nanny placement services that focus exclusively on nanny placement.”
3. Consider professional and personal qualifications.
Just because a prospective nanny looks good on paper, with a stellar resume and recommendations to match, doesn’t mean that she will be a good fit for your family. “Finding a nanny has two key components: personal and professional,” says Baram-Blackwell. “The professional aspect includes reviewing resumes, running background checks, calling references, and the like, but both are critical. The personal aspect is whether you have a good feeling about the prospective nanny. How does he or she interact with your child during the interview? Does your child seem to like him or her? How about you—do you like him or her? Does anything about the person make you feel uncomfortable? It’s important to trust your gut.”
4. Ask the right interview questions.
In a nanny interview, some questions—like how much experience she’s had with infants or whether she’s CPR trained—are standard. But to ensure the perfect nanny match, Gold recommends more targeted questions that are specific to your family’s unique needs.
“For example,” says Gold, “if you ask a reference, ‘Did your family like Norma?’ The answer may be, ‘We loved Norma! She was the greatest nanny; we had her for five years and our kids adored her!’ Most people would think, ‘glowing reference, lets hire.’ However, if you ask targeted questions that are open ended and that pertain to your needs, like, ‘I am a working mom, and I would need Norma to do a lot: drive carpool, fix dinner, help with homework…’ The same reference may respond, ‘Oh, Norma was at home with our wife at all times. She is also older and would not have the physical or emotional stamina to run the house alone or help with homework. She also does not like to cook very much.’”
5. Try before you buy.
“Interviews can be wonderful or they can mean nothing, so doing trials are a key part of my Gold Standard Hiring Process,” says Gold. And it’s not just about making sure you’re choosing the right nanny, Gold adds. Trial runs allow candidates to get a better feel for the position and determine whether they’re really interested in working with your family.
“Make sure you do a real day trial so that the nanny can do the commute both ways and really see if the job is too much,” Gold says. “You are not looking for how well the children react, as that can take time or people can make mistakes as all of us do. You are looking to see if they can do as they say and how they respond to your direction or redirection. So many moms have turned down nannies after a trial by seeing that the nanny did not help with any of the baby stuff or laundry, or the nanny was very defensive and rude when she showed her how they like to do a bath.”
6. Prepare for follow-ups in advance.
Most of us are used to our employers following up with us and monitoring our work, and it should be no different with the nanny you hire to care for your child, says Baram-Blackwell. To further illustrate his point, he mentions a mom who hired a family friend to serve as a nanny, only to become extremely upset when, while visiting the gym one day, she found the nanny dropping her kids off in the gym’s childcare center so she, too, could work out.
“When interviewing a potential nanny, ask him or her how they feel about being randomly observed,” says Baram-Blackwell. “Nannies are professionals. They deserve respect as our employees, and they should know that we expect them to carry out their jobs professionally.” And when it comes to monitoring, consistency is key, he adds. Whether it’s at the beginning of the day, end of the day or some time in between, be sure to check in regularly.