by Michelle LaRowe
Editor in Chief
Many caregivers with backgrounds as daycare workers or preschool teachers are a bit surprised to learn that while their care giving skills transition seamlessly to working as a nanny, the work environment takes some getting used to.
While nannies, daycare workers and preschool teachers all provide childcare, the similarities between them really stops there. Unlike daycare workers and other types of caregivers, nannies work in the private homes of their employers and are hired to provide individualized, customized and highly personalized childcare. Their work environment is quite intimate, and the relationships nannies have with the parents of the children in their care can be quite complex. Given the nature of the job and work environment, it’s not surprising that even the most highly qualified nanny won’t be the right nanny for every family.
So for those thinking about becoming a nanny or those who are new to the profession, what can you do to successfully transition into your new role?
Here are 10 of my top tips:
1. Wait for the right job with the right family. It can be tempting to jump at the first job offer – but don’t. For new nannies, especially ones with daycare experience, the higher salaries nannies tend to earn can be quite attractive. But as any seasoned nanny will tell you, all that glitters isn’t gold. It’s much better to accept a position that’s the right fit and pays a little less than it is to accept a higher paying job that makes you miserable.
2. Have a written work agreement. Most new nannies make the mistake of not having a written work agreement in place. If that’s you, take heart and commit to starting your next position with one in place. A written work agreement outlines the employment agreement between a nanny and her employers and details the specific duties, expectations and responsibilities of each party. Since a work agreement addresses many issues, it helps to prevent misunderstandings and miscommunications down the road.
3. Know your rights. While it may seem like working as a nanny is a casual form of employment, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Nannies are non-exempt employees of the families and are protected under the Fair Labor Standards Act. What does that mean practically speaking? Nannies are required to be paid at least minimum wage for every hour worked, and live-out nannies, and live-in nannies in some states, are also required to be paid overtime for all hours worked over 40 in a 7-day period. Since nannies are employed by the families for whom they work and are not independent contractors, employment tax laws also come into play.
4. Learn to say no. When you work as a nanny and you’re the only caregiver your work family depends on, it can be hard to say no to any request. But the reality is, in order to keep your sanity and to avoid burnout it’s important that you do say no when you need to. While you’ll naturally want to be flexible and accommodating when you can, you don’t want to end up working every weekend when that wasn’t part of the original commitment or plan.
5. Take care of yourself. If you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be able to effectively take care of your charges. As caretakers, nannies tend to take care of everyone but themselves. It’s important for nannies to meet their own physical, emotional and social needs, otherwise they can’t meet their charges. Eating healthy, getting exercise, getting enough sleep and carving out time for friends, family and personal interests is vital for nannies who want to be in the business long-term.
6. Establish boundaries. When your boss asks what you did this weekend, she doesn’t really need or want to know every. single. detail. While it’s certainly fine to let her know you went out to dinner with friends, she doesn’t need to know when you’re fighting with your boyfriend or that you’re still recovering from staying out too late.
7. Be a good communicator. Communication is the key component to a successful nanny/employer relationship. Open and honest communication based on mutual respect is essential for longevity of the relationship. Keeping a journal, checking in once a day, and having weekly meetings can help keep the lines of communication open. While confrontations can be uncomfortable, addressing issues and concerns as they arise will prevent resentment and hurt feelings from settling in.
8. Be professional. When it comes to being a nanny, if you want to be treated like a professional, you have to act like one. Having a work agreement, being paid legally, showing up on time, dressing appropriately, limiting cell phone and electronics usage, and being completely present when on duty are ways you increase your professional identity.
9. Have a good attitude. Nannies are in the childcare industry but they are also in the private service industry. Nannies have no HR person, no supervisor and no manager. It’s just nannies and their boss, CEO of parents, incorporated. Nannies can’t hide out with their bad attitudes in the bathroom and hope no one catches on. While of course you may have your bad attitude moments, you can’t really afford to have bad attitude days. Not only will your boss pick up on them, the kids in your care will too.
10. Love the kids like they are your own, but know they are not. A good nanny loves the children in her care, advocates for their best interests, even when doing so is uncomfortable, and gives them enough snuggles to last a lifetime, but she also respects, honors and supports the parent/child relationship, heeds the direction of her employers, and knows when to step back and allow the family time together without being offended.
Since most nannies typically have at least two years of childcare experience under their belt before diving into the world of in-home care, it’s rarely the childcare aspect of a new nanny position that trips them up when searching for or starting a new post. If fact, most of the problems that arise have nothing to do with providing care for the children, they have to do with managing the unique relationship that parents and nannies share.
Being a nanny can be a truly rewarding experience on so many levels. Setting yourself up for success can help to ensure that your nanny experiences are good ones← Expert Insights: Dr. Jim Sears on What Nannies Need to Know About the Flu | Pop Quiz: How do you get a toddler to have a tantrum free day? →