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What Makes a Good Nanny/Family Match?

January 29, 2014

nannyfamilyIf you did the math, considered your options and have settled on hiring a nanny as the perfect solution for your family’s childcare needs, then it’s just a matter of finding the perfect person to fill that role. But what constitutes the perfect nanny is different for every family on the search.

Here are a few things to consider when making your mental wish list for a great match:


Although any nanny should follow the lead of the parents and honor their direct requests as far as how conflict or discipline will be handled, it makes it a lot simpler if they are already on the same page. Ask questions during the interview on how they handle problems, using specific situations that might pop up in your house. “How would you handle it if you catch Emma with a handful of swiped cookies hidden under her pillow?” “If Joey says he doesn’t have homework in order to play video games and you discover an incomplete assignment in his bag, what would you do?”

Helicopter vs Free Range

Ask if they are more of a “helicopter” or a “free-range” caregiver. If you believe strongly in fostering independence from child-driven experimentation and consequences, a nanny who is climbing up into the playground equipment to slide down with your five-year-old might not be an ideal match. On the other hand, maybe you have safety concerns and would prefer to be present when your child is dipping a toe into adventure; if so, a nanny who suggests your child take out the trash solo or scooter himself down to the corner and wait for her to catch up might not work for you.

Activity Level

If you have a high-energy child or it’s important to you to hire someone who can motivate the kids to get some fresh air and exercise, consider interviewing in person to ensure the prospective nanny shares your enthusiasm for sports and outdoor activities during her work hours. Email interactions or phone calls will be a lot less telling when it comes to gauging reactions to such requests. Ask what a typical day might look like in her mind. If she lists off board games, favorite books, gardening ideas or crafts and there’s nary a ball or playground mentioned, she might not be prepared or have experience with a kid who needs a good dose of active play to wind down after a busy day.


A typical interview might include a question for the nanny about strengths or weaknesses they feel they have. If they admit to struggling with organization and you’re a neat-freak-everything-in-its-box-dot-the-i’s type, you really need to consider if this will be a good match. Even without this admission, if a potential caregiver arrives out of breath from rushing due to having confused the address or has to reach out twice to double-check the interview time or location because they left their purse behind or forgot to record the details, they might be a little less put together than is comfortable for you (or might model behavior that goes against what you are trying to instill in your child). That is not to say that an uber-creative type might not rock your child’s world or give a little color to a more black and white world, but when it comes to finding a match you have to find someone you can work well with.


You need to have a handle on your own weaknesses, as well. If you say you’ll be home by 5, but need to run back into the office for a forgotten file or lose track of time during a conference call and reality may be more like 5:10 or even later without much notice, you need to be real about this at the time of interviewing and make sure your prospective nanny is okay with a (compensated) go-with-the-flow attitude. If you have work trips that pop up with little notice and need a go-to pro to call on, or even travel with you, run through these possibilities while interviewing. If she has children of her own or is a by-the-book type, the frustration she’ll feel with your schedule can turn the relationship sour and lead to shakeup in your child’s life if she chooses to move on.

Culinary Choices

This is usually more about an ideal match than a deal breaker (as any nanny should respond to your requests as to what the kids eat and when), but finding someone who shares your philosophy about food can be important. You might prefer the kids to only eat at mealtimes, but she might come from a position where snacking and grazing is encouraged. If you run a strict organic household (or more importantly vegetarian, vegan or kosher) and she has trouble adhering to your needs, it will be a challenging relationship. Even if she follows your directions for the kids, but then picks up fast food for herself or noshes on junk foods in front of them, it can cause confusion. Conversely, if you feel like an occasional sweet treat is no biggie and she’s militant in the other direction, confiscated birthday party cupcakes or holiday candies can cause serious upset.

Personal Choices

There also may be some things you feel you simply can’t ask, but might make a big difference in your comfort level. Personal interviews can give insight into the nanny’s philosophy without crossing any lines of impropriety. Saying “We have a strict no-smoking policy in our household or in the vicinity of our child, we are very sensitive to the smell and we are concerned about allergies,” can lead to a telling casual conversation.  Use open-ended questions (that aren’t answered in just ‘yes’ or ‘no’) and pay attention to their reaction.

The most perfect nanny in the world won’t be the right nanny for every family. The more you consider the qualities and traits that you’d like a nanny to have, the closer you’ll be to being able to select a caregiver who has them.


3 Responses to What Makes a Good Nanny/Family Match?

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Gwen Hines says:

Is it wrong to ask about religion when interviewing potential caregivers? How can you go about obtaining that information without being rude or insensitive?

Lisa B. says:

I prefer a ‘Free Range’ Nanny as opposed the the ‘Helicopter’ type. Someone who lets the child play independently when appropriate but still keeps a watchful eye on the of course.

FYI This site purports to put increase the odds of matching parents with the best nanny/babysitter. http://ReliableSitters.org

Thanks for the article. Keep em coming!

admin says:

Thanks for the input!! :) Glad you enjoyed the article!