100 Things to Know About Becoming a Nanny

Do you love children but perhaps don’t like the idea of working in a daycare or group childcare setting? Does the idea of working with a child one-on-one in his home really appeal to you? If the idea of becoming a nanny sparks your interest, consider these 100 things.

Requirements

When it comes to working as a nanny, in addition to a genuine love of children and a basic understanding of child development, there are other things required.

  1. If you decide to work as a nanny, most nanny placement agencies and even some states have minimum age requirements. If you aren’t 18, you’ll likely have to wait.
  2. In addition to age requirements, many agencies and parents will expect you to have at minimum a high school diploma. If you didn’t finish high school, you can look into getting your GED.
  3. In order to accept work legally in the United States, you must have valid work authorization. If you are not a citizen, you can look into getting a green card or work permit.
  4. A clear criminal history is essential to finding a nanny position. Most families will conduct background checks, and some will consider you a no-go even for a parking ticket.
  5. It may surprise you, but your credit history may be part of a background check. If you think all those late payments on your credit card only affect your ability to get more credit, think again: a bad credit history might make a prospective family feel you are too irresponsible to watch their children.
  6. Within your background check, prospective families will likely investigate how long you remained with previous jobs, childcare-based or not. If you have a tendency to job-hop, families might not trust you to settle in with their children.
  7. If you have a problem with drugs or alcohol, a nanny career isn’t for you. Even if a nanny has completely detoxed, families are reluctant to hire someone with a history of substance abuse.
  8. If you’re a smoker, quit. Aside from your own health, you need to consider the health of the children you may watch; most parents won’t hire a smoking nanny.

Education

Although becoming a nanny doesn’t require a specific degree, there’s no such thing as too much knowledge or experience.

  1. Certificates or degrees in child development make you far more appealing to families looking for a nanny. The International Nanny Association offers a Nanny Credential Exam nannies can take to test and prove their child care knowledge.
  2. Nannies with a minimum of a bachelor’s degree are qualified to work as governesses and offer an educational slant to the services they provide.
  3. EMT training or a nursing background can be very helpful on the job and will be seen as tremendously valuable to prospective employers.
  4. If you don’t already have a CPR certification, you need to get one before you start a job. Very few families will hire a nanny who is not CPR certified.
  5. A certification in first aid is also essential.  Skinned knees, bee stings and accidents are part of childhood and a nanny needs know how to treat minor injuries properly.
  6. Many children take medications for behavioral problems and minor ailments, such as asthma or allergies. You should know how to administer such medications as necessary, especially if you end up caring for a child who requires an Epi-Pen. Families should always provide written instruction and consent prior to a nanny dispensing and administering any medication.
  7. Familiarize yourself with the nutritional guidelines set forth by the USDA. Most nanny jobs require nannies to prepare meals and snacks for the children in their care.
  8. If you have a tendency towards unhealthy eating, you should strive to make healthier choices. Nannies serve as role models for the children in their care and should try to set a healthy example.
  9. Learn about special diets that you may encounter during your career as a nanny. Celiac disease, diabetes, and lactose intolerance all require alternative food choices and careful label reading. Being familiar with different types of vegetarian diets and how to keep a Kosher household can also help.

Experience

Some people begin their work as a nanny early in life, while others take on the role as a second career in their later years.

  1. The more experience you have with children, the more attractive of a nanny candidate you’ll be.  Consider your previous childcare experience and be prepared to articulate your duties and responsibilities with each one.
  2. Retired persons in fields of social work, education, and child development often become nannies.
  3. Individuals who have spent many years in the daycare field may take on careers as nannies.
  4. Some individuals take on a nanny career prior to a degree in another child-related field, such as pediatric nursing or childhood education.

Personality

Certain personal elements can make it easier to find the perfect nanny position.

  1. Have patience is absolutely essential to succeed as nanny. If you don’t have a high tolerance for childlike behavior, a career as a nanny is not right for you.
  2. Multi-tasking is always necessary with children. If you have trouble paying attention to more than one thing at a time, being a nanny may not be for you.
  3. Punctuality is important for nannies. Whether or not you live with the family, if you can’t be on time, you won’t have your job very long.
  4. The ability to communicate openly and comfortably with both the parents and the children is something a nanny must possess.
  5. Sensitivity to constructive criticism can make it difficult to be a successful nanny. Remember, you are the employee and the parents are your employer; there may be times where they don’t agree with your practices. You must be open to doing things their way and not take it personally.
  6. Are you organized? Do you write everything down, or at least take notes for future reference? Being organized can come in handy when working as a nanny.
  7. If you tend to be a nervous person, or a person who panics at the first sign of a problem in any aspect of life, a nanny career may not be for you. Remember, kids are unpredictable—there’s a good chance you’ll encounter at least one unexpected event during your nanny stint! The more easygoing you are, the more able you’ll be to adapt to the unexpected.
  8. As a nanny, you need to be flexible. While certain aspects of childcare require consistency and routine, don’t be too rigid. If you aren’t comfortable with spontaneity, work on learning to relax.
  9. If you have a tendency to use foul language, you may want to practice self-restraint ahead of time. Besides the initial interview, no family is going to want a nanny with a sailor’s mouth.
  10. Even if you have a wild streak, remember that you are applying for (and possibly being hired for) a job with children. You’re going to spend long hours with them, and you should dress comfortably and appropriately. Your hours as a nanny are not the time to show off your risqué new outfit.

Salary / Wages

When considering your salary requirements, there’s more to it than what you want to make. Nanny salaries are based on many things and as with any job, those with experience and education have the greatest potential to earn more.

  1. Salaries will vary greatly depending on where you work, the number of hours worked, the duties and responsibilities of the job, experience level, and whether your status is live-in or live-out.
  2. According to the 2012 International Nanny Association Nanny Salary and Benefits Survey, full-time nannies earn on average, $700 gross per week.
  3. The more education and experience you have, the more earning potential you have.
  4. Live-in nannies generally earn slightly less than their live-out counterparts.
  5. Nannies in large metropolitan areas generally receive larger salaries than nannies in suburban or rural areas.
  6. Areas in the U.S. with greater than average salaries include San Francisco, DC, Boston, New York, and New Jersey.
  7. It’s important to clarify if you are speaking in net (after taxes) or gross (before taxes) terms when discussing your salary requirements to avoid confusion.
  8. The Fair Labor Standards Act requires live-out nannies who work more than 40 hours a week to receive overtime pay (time and one-half).  Some states have laws that require live-in nannies to be paid overtime too.
  9. While it’s a popular myth that nannies are independent contractors, they are not. As a nanny, you are an employee of the parents for whom you work.

Interviewing Questions and Tips

To know if nanny job and family is right for you, it’s important to know the right questions to ask during the interview. Remember, you’re interviewing the family as much as they are interviewing you.

  1. When you first interact with the children (often at the end of an initial interview), remember to talk to them like children. They aren’t adults, and they’ll connect with you more if you understand what’s interesting and important to them. You’ll also want to look them in the eye and engage them at their level.
  2. Discuss the children’s sleep habits with the parents. Naps in young children can improve behavior later in the day and help with cognitive function. Well-rested children tend to be better behaved children.
  3. Gather as much information as you can about the children. Ask about the number of children in the family, the children’s ages and their interests. This may sound like a no-brainer, but don’t assume that there aren’t more children than you immediately see in the home.
  4. Is the family looking for a live-in nanny or one that leaves at the end of the day? Every family has unique needs, and you want to be sure that you are willing to fulfill them.
  5. Clarify if there are any non childcare related tasks. You’ll want to define any housekeeping tasks that the parents are requesting prior to accepting the position. Generally, nannies are responsible for keeping the children’s areas neat, clean and organized, preparing the children’s meals and doing the children’s laundry.
  6. Discuss the number of hours you’ll be expected to work, potential days off or vacation days, and how to handle any scheduling conflicts.
  7. Ask about transportation. Many families ask that a potential nanny have his or her own car and a clean driving record. If you’ll be transporting the children, you’ll want to check with your auto insurance provider to be sure you have proper coverage.
  8. Discuss a petty cash fund. Prospective families may or may not set aside a certain amount of money for you to take children out to the movies or out to lunch.
  9. If cooking is part of the job description, inquire as to whether you will be making meals from scratch and if you’ll be creating the children’s menus.
  10. Sometimes, errand running might be expected. If you are asked to perform grocery shopping, discuss a budget and a detailed list of what is and isn’t to be purchased.
  11. Find out if any of the children have special needs. If you aren’t capable of handling a special-needs child, it is better to bow out gracefully ahead of time.
  12. Ask about treats or small gifts as rewards. Some families may not agree with such a practice, while others may respond enthusiastically.
  13. Remember to ask about disciplinary procedures. Some families will be happy to let you take a role in the process, while others will prefer you consult them.
  14. Find out if you are allowed and expected to transport to children to and from play dates, appointments, or school. If you are using your vehicle, you’ll want to ensure you are reimbursed according to the IRS current mileage reimbursement rates. If using your employer’s vehicle, you’ll want to be sure that you are covered on their policy and given funds for gas.
  15. Discuss benefits other than salary. You may want to ask about health coverage, paid vacation days, and performance bonuses.
  16. If you are expected to clean, it might be wise to ask what areas of the house are considered your responsibility. You may only have to supervise the children in their own cleanups (or clean the room of very young children), or a family may expect all-over housekeeping. Be sure to avoid vague terms and ask for a list of specific tasks.
  17. If you are interviewing with a blended family, inquire as to whether any absent parents have visitation rights. You don’t want to be caught off-guard in the middle of an activity with the child.
  18. Check if there are pets you are expected to care for in addition to the children. Some childhood pets, such as goldfish, require little work. Other animals may present a problem if you have allergies or a fear of certain animals.
  19. When you discuss salary, be sure to discuss tax responsibilities. As an employer, parents are responsible to pay their portion of Social Security and Medicare (FICA), State Unemployment, Federal Unemployment and any other required state taxes and to withhold and pay their nanny’s portion of FICA, Federal Income Tax, State Income Tax and other state taxes are required.
  20. If you are going to be a live-out nanny, find out if you are required to pack your own food. It may seem petty, but some families won’t be thrilled to discover you’ve been raiding their pantry.
  21. If you live a great distance away and are interviewing for a live-in position, inquire about relocation assistance.
  22. Ask how long the family wants you to commit to the job.  Some families prefer a minimum time commitment, usually about one year.
  23. Offer your references before you’re asked for them. If you are forthcoming with your past references, prospective families will feel you have nothing to hide, and look forward to the praise delved on you by past families/employers. If you attempt to brush aside any inquiries about past jobs, it can signal your parting on less than amicable terms.
  24. Discuss which day of the week would be designated as payday, as well as the frequency of payday—either weekly or bi-weekly.
  25. Question whether or not you will need a work cellphone. Many families will provide their nanny with a work cell phone so that they can stay in contact.
  26. A calm demeanor is important during and after the interview. Fidgety behavior, nervous action, and talking too fast can give the family the impression you’re too high-strung to be their nanny.

Tips for Being a Great Nanny

If the children don’t enjoy your company, your job may not be secure. It’s important to know how to engage the kids, not entertain them and supervise them.

  1. Always keep the number to Poison Control handy. You never know when a small child will swallow something that they shouldn’t, and Poison Control can instruct you in the proper steps to care for the situation.
  2. When dealing with children, hygiene is important. Practice proper hand washing techniques (at least 20 seconds in warm water) and try to monitor your charges to ensure that they do the same.
  3. Consider creating your own first-aid kit. A personal kit will eliminate the frantic search for bandages or insect bite ointment.
  4. If the children you watch have food allergies, you’ll need to acclimate yourself to reading food labels. Allergens may be hiding in the most innocuous places.
  5. Create a simple recipe book of healthy, tasty snacks for children. Kids love to snack, but they often choose empty calorie junk food. Parents will appreciate your efforts.
  6. If the parents okay an occasional fast food meal, try to help the kids make healthier choices. It’s difficult to find healthy fare at a fast food restaurant, and even more difficult with children, but the parents will be grateful for your efforts.
  7. If the parents are adamant about the children’s diets, and the children are adamant about not eating something healthy, try the stealth technique: chop or grate up the offending food in something they normally eat and enjoy.
  8. If you’re caring for multiple children all day, it may be difficult to stick to a schedule; however, try to maintain one at least for mealtimes and naptimes. Well rested and well fed children tend to be better behaved.
  9. Neighborhood parks are great to visit and are free. Be sure to visit age-appropriate playgrounds.
  10. If the children show a particular interest in a subject, suggest an outing or activity that highlights that interest.
  11. With prior parental permission, set up an “art” studio outdoors, or indoors if there’s newspaper or a drop cloth available. Non-toxic finger paints and watercolors are good for younger children.
  12. When it comes time for the children to clean up their rooms or perform an activity they hate, turn it into a game.  Having fun is a great motivator for reluctant kids.
  13. If going to the movies isn’t in the fun budget, for a special treat bring the movie theater to them! Put in one of their favorite movies, pop some popcorn, grab some juice, and turn down the lights, just like a regular theater.
  14. Local libraries and bookstores often have story hour for children. Check the schedules and take the kids for a trip.
  15. With older children, you’ll need to carefully monitor screen time.  Discuss with the parents what they deem as an appropriate amount of screen time each day.
  16. Designate one day a week as “cooking day.” Get the children to help you make healthy snacks for the week.
  17. Teach the children about reusing old items as craft projects. Make milk carton bird houses, pinecone bird feeders, or aluminum can pinwheels.
  18. Make a Play-Doh volcano, complete with baking soda and vinegar. Teach them about science and have fun at the same time.
  19. If there are multiple children with varied interests, consider using themes to incorporate everyone’s age and skill level.
  20. Have the children select a favorite book and put on a play of the book. Kids love playing pretend and dress-up. Let them be creative!
  21. If you are with children who are older, show interest in the things they do. If they like sports, play with them. If they like arts and crafts, make a point to do projects.
  22. Try create-your-own story time. Start telling a story and have the children pick up from where you left off.
  23. Go “camping” inside. Use blankets and chairs to create a tent and use a flashlight as a campfire.
  24. Have a picnic. You can do this inside or outside. Just lay out a blanket and serve up some healthy, tasty snacks. Kids love anything that deviates from a normal situation (eating at the table).
  25. For young children, try memory games. Purchase or make sets of matching cards (keep pictures and colors simple), and have the children make pairs based on similarities.
  26. Play space explorer. Use an old cardboard box and have the children decorate their “space ship.” Set up a hallway with “space obstacles”, such as other boxes or toys. Let them push each other in the ship and see who can avoid the most obstacles. Whoever avoids the most wins a small prize.
  27. Mutual respect is essential. If you give your employer’s respect, you’re more likely to get it in return.
  28. Belonging to a local nanny support group or organization can help you connect with other nannies who understand the work you do.
  29. Be sure to get out! Since nannies work along, working as a nanny can be isolating. Be sure to ask the parents if you’re able to attend play groups and get together with other parents, nannies and children.
  30. Keep phone time to a minimum. During working hours, only take and make essential phone calls. The children in your care need your attention.
  31. Ask your employer about weekly meetings. Having a set time to connect can prevent hurt feelings from building up.
  32. Be safety minded in all that you do. Be sure to check for hidden dangers around the home, to follow recommended safety practices, to ensure proper car seat safety and to choose age-appropriate activities.
  33. Strive to provide personalized care. All children are different. Work to understand each child’s personality, temperament, interests and style. Adapt your care giving style to the child.
  34. Be willing to give and take. Successful nanny and employer relationships require give and take.

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