How to look for a good nanny

Finding a good nanny is hard work, but the key is not to get discouraged. You’ll probably meet a lot of clunkers before you find a nanny you feel comfortable with and would trust with the care of your beloved baby. To make sure you don’t feel pressured to compromise, start your search early and be thorough.

Here are a few other tips to guide you through the nanny-finding process:

  1. The job description: Before you do anything else, sit down with your partner and figure out what you’re looking for in a nanny and what the job responsibilities will be. Make a list of priorities: Young and energetic? Mature and experienced? Do you want someone who will take your direction or a self-starter who will come in and run the show when you’re not around? Is a certain level of education or training a priority, or are you just looking for someone warm and nurturing? Creativity? A sense of humor? Flexible schedule? Someone who lives nearby or who can work longer hours in a pinch if you get held up at the office? Do you want someone who speaks a particular language? Do want someone who already has infant CPR training, or are you willing to pay for the right candidate to take a course? Will there be any responsibilities apart from childcare, like light housework or cooking? Getting it all down on paper will help clarify your expectations.
  2. The search:One of the best ways to find a nanny is through word of mouth, so don’t be shy about telling people – friends, relatives, neighbors – you’re in the market for a good sitter and take names and numbers or give out your contact info. A nanny who’s recommended by a friend or relative who knows them already has a leg up on the competition – though of course you need to trust your own instincts about whether someone is the right fit for your family. You can draw up a flyer and post it at your local hangouts: the gym, local universities, your favorite cafe. If you see a great nanny in the park with another kid, ask her if she knows anyone wonderful who’s looking for a gig. Check local websites, forums, listservs and your school alumni association newsletter, whatever.If you’re more comfortable consulting a nanny agency (which may prescreen candidates to make sure they don’t have a criminal background or are in good health), feel free to go that route, though you will have to pay a fee for their services. You might also call local universities and see if they have placement services for students in an applicable field: early childcare education, child psychology, nursing, the arts. You may also want to look at websites like 4nannies.com, eNannySource, newaupair.com and Au Pair Care or use a service like NannyNetwork.com. Just get the word out: You never know where you may find your dream nanny, but you’ll recognize her when you see her.
  3. The interview: While it’s a good idea to prescreen applicants over the phone or via email as much as possible before talking to them, you really never know who you’re going to click with until you meet them. Someone who looks great on paper can be a dud in real life. And some people’s charm and talents just don’t come through until you meet them, at which point they shine. The questions you ask – and the way a candidate answers them – are important, but more important is the way a candidate interacts with your child, so be sure your child is present when you interview. Some of the most gifted child-care providers in the world are downright shy with grownups but are spectacular with children. Does the candidate get down on the floor and play with your toddler? Does she hold your baby with obvious care and tenderness? Trust your instincts. If someone doesn’t seem right for you, she probably isn’t. And if you feel an instant connection, well, that’s telling you something too.
  4. The reference check: This is a vital step to take when you’re down to just a few final candidates or think you’ve settled on The One. You can learn so much by listening to the experiences of families who have had experience with a candidate. Pay careful attention and ask the hard questions: How long did the nanny work for them and why isn’t she working for them anymore? Do they have any reservations about recommending her? What kind of situation do they think she’d be ideal for, and what sort do they suppose wouldn’t suit her? Ask them about specific concerns you might have. Follow up on anything you’re curious about. And be sure to ask not only about strengths, but about weaknesses as well. You’d be surprised how many warning signs you may be alerted to. A glowing reference is useful, too, so make sure to call more than one former employer. You’ll get a clearer picture with each call you make.
  5. The try out: Before you make a commitment to a nanny, have her come to your house to babysit for a few hours or a few days, depending on her availability, to see how things go. Stick around to watch how she interacts with your child. (You don’t have to hover the whole time, obviously; sort through the baby clothes or do something else within earshot.) Pay her for her time. You’ll learn a lot by seeing how the nanny functions on the job.

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