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Expert Insights with Deborah Tillman, America’s Supernanny

June 10, 2013

by Michelle LaRowe
Editor in Chief

Recently I had a chance to connect with Deborah Tillman, host of Lifetime TV’s America’s Supernanny: Family Lockdown. From the difference between a nanny and daycare center worker to her best advice for parents and nannies, here’s what Deborah had to say.

eNannySource: With your background in center-based care, what do you find the main differences are between center care and in-home care?

Deborah: Both center-based and nanny-based have their pros and cons.  In center-based care, your baby will be surrounded by other children in a stimulating environment, whereas a nanny is able to provide a tremendous amount of personal attention because she is not caring for as many children.  A nanny may be more flexible in terms of days and hours, whereas a center-based facility will provide designated hours of care.  There are more teachers and regulatory agencies on site in center-based care, which may make the parent feel more safe. The curriculum, daily routine, eating and naptime schedule is more structured in a center-based setting.  It really depends on what the parents are looking for.  The only way to really decide what is in the best interest of your child is to visit a number of centers and interview a number of nannies.  Once you have narrowed it down to a few options that work with your schedule and budget, go with your intuition and gut for the final decision.

eNannySource: What do you think parents should look for when hiring a nanny?

Deborah: When hiring a nanny, it is important to make sure they have education and experience.  It is also important that they have integrity and characteristics like patience, kindness and honesty, which play a huge role in working with children and families.  You want someone who shows up for more than a paycheck.  They must have a heart for improving the lives of our precious little ones.

eNannySource: Three most common mistakes parents make?

Deborah: First, not spending enough time with our children. Being a parent in today’s age leaves very little time for us to spend any time with our own kids. This is sad. There is not a child alive who asked to be born, so why do we neglect them so? So, if the parents do not have time to raise their own kids, who is to teach them discipline and respect? Who is to teach them right from wrong? What kind of morals will they have? What kind of person will they grow up to be?  The way to combat that is to make our children a priority.  Spend time getting to know and understand them.  If you don’t, someone else will. Another mistake is that there are no limits on technology. Television is a very dangerous force that is doing much harm in America today. We put our children in front of the TV for hours upon hours a day to babysit, and then get mad at the babysitter (TV) for not doing a good job.  Violent video games in the house affect children.  They mimic what they see because they are very impressionable. Cell phones and text messaging keep you from bonding, connecting and strengthening your relationship with your child.  Limit technology to zero time during the weekday and two hours on the weekends with the exception of school work. The third is not leading by example. We argue in front of our children, saying things we ought not. We lie and then tell them not to. We fall short of God’s standard by yelling, swearing and carrying out humiliating discipline techniques, knowing all the while that our precious children are watching our every move.  Finally, when all heck breaks loose, we wonder how did it all go wrong and say to ourselves, “is there any hope of changing the pattern of our bad habits?”  I am here to tell you that there is hope, mercy and godly wisdom waiting for all of us, but we have to do the work.

eNannySource: Do you think the skill set required to be a nanny is different than the one required to work in center-based care?

Deborah: The skill set required for being a nanny is not much different from that required by a center based Lead Teacher. They should both have the education, experience and professionalism.  Not all nannies are equipped to work with more than three or four children at one time, while a center-based Lead Teacher may have up to 10 children depending on the age.  They both should be certified in MAT, First Aid, CPR, Food Handler’s license etc., in addition to having the following qualities:


  • Nannies are generally hired to look after young children, and young children can be exhausting and frustrating to manage. Daily duties are apt to be long in number and may include feeding, cooking, games, putting the children down to nap, bathing, dressing, making lunches and helping with schoolwork. Both children and parents will have a variety of needs and expectations, and a person who is easily angered or who cannot handle stress well may not be suited to be a nanny.


  • Nannies need to be dependable for a number of reasons. Paramount is that nannies are entrusted with the care and safety of children for long periods of time. Another reason is that nannies cannot afford to be habitually late, as this may cost the parents wages, or to not fulfill the duties asked of them, as these usually pertain to the overall well-being of the children. Also, nannies need to be trusted to model appropriate behavior at all times. A nanny who sits and watches TV all day, uses foul language, drinks alcohol or spends time on personal errands or phone calls is not a suitable role model or caregiver for young children. Additionally, nannies usually have unrestricted access to the family home and may be given funds for lunches or grocery shopping; they need to be able to be trusted with the possessions and money of others. Families and lives are put in the hands of nannies; they must be trustworthy.

Knowledge of Early Childhood Education

  • It’s not a legal requirement that a nanny have training in early childhood education; however, some agencies and families may ask for it, and receiving such training will make it easier to understand children, as well as plan and execute appropriate games, meals and activities for them. Families who hire nannies want personalized, engaged care for their children, not just someone to make sure they don’t get hurt. The children will need to be involved in many social and physical activities, and nannies should be able to plan and take part in them.

Good Communications Skills

  • Nannies will need to communicate and report to the parents on a daily basis. Good communication skills are mandatory for working well with the parents and in representing the children. Someone who cannot articulate the child’s needs, accomplishments, behavior problems and daily activities will not work well with a family. Also, a nanny who cannot get along with the parents and listen to or implement their plans and ideas is not well suited for professional childcare work.

eNannySource: What’s your best three tips for new parents?

Deborah: First, set limits and guidelines so that children know what is to be expected and tolerated and what is not. Second, cling to consistency and follow through with consequences.

Third, ages 1-10:  talk, teach and train.  Ages 10-20:  Listen more, learn them again and love them through their mistakes.

eNannySource: What are your best three tips for nannies?

Deborah: 1. Be Patient and Professional 2.  Educate and Empower parents and children 3.  Set limits and boundaries with the children and families

eNannySource: What did you think of National Nanny Training Day?  Did you know there were so many nannies out there dedicated to continuing education?

Deborah: The National Nanny Training Day was informative and inspiring.  I always hoped that there would be so many nannies dedicated to continued education.


Deborah Tillman is the host of Lifetime TV’s America’s Supernanny: Family Lockdown. She is the CEO of the Happy Home Child Learning Centers and is working on writing a second book for children. She holds a master’s degree in early childhood special education from George Washington University. To learn more about Deborah, visit www.deborahtillman.com


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