September 15, 2017

Nanny Life 101

I have been working in childcare for 10+ years. I've shared bits and pieces of that side of my life here and there. It's a big part of who I am and I've learned a lot along the way. I get questions every so often about tips and tricks for nanny life, so I decided to consolidate my knowledge in one post to help my fellow child caretakers and maybe the parents that hire help.

Finding Families
I've connected with most of my families through the site It's useful because it's free for caretakers to make a profile (at least the last time I checked it still was). You can list all your experience, rates, references, and most importantly the type of job you're looking for (full time, part time, one child or multiple children, etc). Then you can look through job listings and apply to only the ones you're interested in.

During the application process, my biggest tip is be wary of families wanting someone to run their household for far below the worth of the services. I have had far too many people looking for someone to watch their children for eight hours a day, do the laundry, clean, and cook dinner for $45 a day. It's understandable, childcare gets expensive and it can really dig into a family's finances but hold to your worth. Set your rates and stick to them. Whether the conversation happens in person or through email, the following is the approach I usually take: "I understand childcare can get expensive but I cannot lower my rates. I promise I am worth what I charge. I have many years of experience and you can put your full trust in me. If you're willing to reconsider pay, I'd be happy to talk to you further." 

References are key to your resume. Reach out and ask for a small write up from anyone that you have worked for (or with). It really goes a long way.

Working With Parents
I've found in the beginning of working with a new family, I have to train the parents a little bit. Open communication is key. It's important to establish what is expected of each other. 

If you're caring for a newborn that has been primarily breastfed, it is important to insist that they start bottle training (along with you) immediately. In my experience, parents do not stick to it and it makes it pretty miserable for you and the baby. This is where expectations need to be discussed. I have had families that want me to let them cry it out and families that want a different approach. Keep reminding them that exposure to the bottle is the only way they'll learn and that you need to know how they want you to handle the situation. 

Some jobs, one or both of the parents are working from home while you watch their children. There is nothing wrong with that set up but it's something that is not for me. My job is made harder if/when a parent comes in and out. It's often confusing for the child. They get their hopes up seeing mom or dad walk in and then they leave again. It also makes it very difficult to have any kind of authority with a child if their parent is just out of arm's reach. I have established a rule when I am working that I need the parents to only come back when they're there to stay. I imagine this could still be coordinated with a parent working from home if there was enough of a clear separation. Again, it is preference.

Establishing discipline techniques is important. Ask about feelings on timeout and other tactics, and how much they want to know about any acting out. I usually choose not to tell parents about misbehavior unless it's really become a problem and I can't solve it without their help. I've learned that part of building a relationship with a child as someone in charge, it's important to problem solve yourself as much as you can before bringing in parental authority. 

Every family I have ever worked with, aside from one, has tried to cut hours we'd originally agreed on to try and save money. Don't be afraid to speak up and remind them that you need the set hours/pay you all settled on or we'll have to part ways. Some workers insist on set pay even if the family doesn't use the service. This is a fine system. I have never required this but if canceling work days became a habit, I would have to adjust. 

I have worked with parents that are really relaxed and trust me implicitly and helicopter parents that set schedules for our day and remind me how to do things although I've worked for them for a year. Create your own schedule. It's okay to take in what a parent suggests and adjust it to work for you and the child. What works for one parent isn't necessarily going to work for you. You're not mistaken to say, "This is not something I can do, but I will do this. This stresses me out and I need to adjust." Take care of yourself and the relationship you have with the child. Be the caretaker you are able and willing to be. 

Working With Children
The tactics you take working with children will vary with the ages of the children and the number of children you are with. 

0-1 years old- This age is fairly easy. Cuddle and love them, sing songs, peekaboo, sensory activities, etc. You're mostly sticking to the feeding and napping schedule. No disciplining and not too much need for organized activities. I usually keep a log of feedings, naps, and diaper changes for parents so there isn't any confusion of the schedule. Diapers should be changed every two hours unless needed more frequently. I always make sure a child is in a clean diaper when a parent comes home.

2-3 years old- This age is time for puzzles, reading books, play-doh, coloring/painting, water table games, etc. This is usually potty training stage. Make sure you're on the same page as the parents for this. Ask the child often if they need to go potty. Sometimes you must insist the child sit on the toilet even if they tell you they don't need to go. They're still learning and accidents are frequent. This can also be a difficult age to communicate with. They're learning how to talk and their words often sound very far from what they're trying to say. Be patient and listen to them.

4-5 years old- This age group can have more alone time play. This is getting to an age where they do not need you to entertain them all hours of the day: make believe play, art time, reading, museums and library trips, more outside play. This is usually where misbehavior/testing limits with a caretaker begins, especially if you haven't worked with the child in their earlier years. Stay strong and firm in your rules. Don't let a child walk all over you. It will take some adjustment as you get to know each other but eventually it will balance. Acting out won't be as fun for them. Kids from this age and on really love the phrase, "My mom lets us--" jump on the couch, slide down the stairs, any number of things. Your first instinct is to allow whatever it is because their parent does. First of all, majority of the time their parent doesn't actually allow said activity. Second, you are allowed to simply say, "That is great, but I do not want it to happen while I am here." Set your own rules. You can say no.

School age- This age often involves helping with homework. I usually have a "reading/quiet" time. It's important to me that kids are getting time to read. This age can be really great but also really tough. I've worked with school age kids that have been downright mean. This age is often aware that their parents are paying this person watching them and think it means they can abuse the caretaker. It's dependent on the situation: sometimes showing weakness makes it worse and other times showing that their words are hurtful helps them to drop the facade and be kinder. In some cases involving the parents in misbehaviors is needed.  

Food- Some parents have planned menus for the day and all you have to do is prepare each at meal time. Other times you're left to create food with what is in the house. It's necessary that you make healthy meals for the kids. I always make sure they have a main dish with a fruit and a vegetable.

All ages- It has always been important to me that I speak to the children I work with similar to how I would talk to a friend. By that I mean, no baby talk. No talking to them like they're unintelligent. The way that adults speak to children is the internal voice they will develop. They don't need you to talk down to them or as if they can't understand you. Children will surprise you with the concepts they can discern.

Never lie is a big rule of mine with children, and with the adults that interact with the children I work with. Adults often think it's harmless to tell kids little white lies, be sarcastic, convince kids of truths and then close with "just kidding". It's not okay. Don't do it. If you want a child to learn honesty and trust, you cannot talk to them in this way.

We live in a world of social media and I often see nanny friends posting videos and pictures of the children they watch for everyone to see. Keep in mind that a child can't consent to having their face and personal information posted all over the place for strangers to see. It's a good idea to consider that before sharing.

As a caretaker, often times you are spending more time with them than any other adult in their life next to the parents. You help teach them. It's a big responsibility. Gently teach them to be kind. Allow them a safe place to make mistakes and learn. Encourage them to be who they are (quiet, loud, shy, friendly, creative, methodical, energetic, easy-going). Building a relationship with a nanny can be one of the most rewarding experiences for both child and caretaker.

Tips for parents: Be patient and understanding with your caretaker. Most people in this field want the best for you and your child. Don't be afraid to communicate. It's important for us to know things going on when we're away. It's helpful when mothers tell me, "we're trying to teach--" or "please look out for--". 

There are probably things I have forgotten, so if you have any other questions you're welcome to ask in the comments.

1 comment:

  1. You sound like an amazing nanny!! I plan on hiring someone in a few years so this info is A+, thank you!