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Going Back to Work after Baby: Finding Mary Poppins

Qualities to look for and interviewing tips when hiring a nanny

Hiring the right nanny is a big decision. A nanny is someone who becomes part of your family and has an especially large role in your child’s life. She must fit well with your family, interact well with your child or children, and be someone you trust completely. There are 5 important things to consider when choosing the right person.

1. Experience: Look for someone with more than a few years’ experience, preferably with more than one family and with different aged children. Every family and every child is different, so having varied experiences will give a nanny perspective. Be careful, however, if she has worked only a short time for many families. Be sure to ask her reasons for leaving and check her references to make sure she isn’t the problem.

2. References: With the experience, comes the references. A good nanny should happily hand over a list of solid references for you to check out. The list should contain previous employers whom you can speak to before hiring her. This will help you get a feel for the nanny’s work ethic, background, experience, and any possible problems that previous employers may have experienced with her. Finding someone through word-of-mouth and especially from another trusted parent is really ideal, but not always possible. If she doesn't have any references at all to offer, err on the side of caution and don't hire her!

3. Patience: One of the most important traits for anyone working with children is patience. The nanny will be responsible for managing your children and keeping your home a positive, nurturing environment. As a parent you know there can be challenging moments when caring for your children and it can be easy to get frustrated. You want to a find a person who has plenty of patience and knows how to react in a difficult situation. You want someone who enjoys being with and entertaining children, and someone who has the ability to inspire children to cooperate and behave well in a gentle, positive way.

4. Communication: It is vital that you and your nanny are able to communicate easily and openly. This means that you must share a common language, both spoken and written. It also means that she must be prepared to learn and respect your beliefs and principles about how to raise your children. You need to be able to instruct, advise and correct her techniques without her being overly sensitive or set in her ways. You also need to trust that she will tell you if there are any problems with your children and not pretend that all is well. An open mind and an open heart are key qualities of a good nanny.

5. Dependability: You want a nanny who is dependable on all fronts. She should be on-time and aware of the importance of maintaining children’s routines and schedules. She should inform you when she is too ill to work, because you don’t want her passing germs to your children, but should not be calling in ill all the time or frequently taking time off for other reasons. You also want to be able to depend on this person in the event of an emergency. Is she able to stay calm, deal with the situation and summon the appropriate help? Is she able to problem-solve and use common sense when things go wrong? You want to feel 100% confident and comfortable that your nanny will be someone you can rely on at all times and in all circumstances.

When interviewing nannies:

1. Prepare yourself: Think in advance about what exactly you require in a nanny. Try not to go only with your first impression of someone. Although it is important to feel a personal connection to a potential nanny, you don’t want to lose sight of the necessary experience and skills you require just because you enjoy talking to a candidate. Have a set list of interview questions to help you narrow down the field of applicants and keep you focused as you hunt for the perfect nanny.

2. Phone screening: Speak to her on the phone long enough to determine if she can communicate in your language. If she can, you can also discuss some of your bottom-line questions. If she doesn’t answer those to your liking, there is no reason to conduct a face-to-face interview. It is also a good idea to exchange a few texts or emails with her to try to get a sense if she can read and write, use technology, etc. ​

3. Interview questions: Ask a mix of questions that help you to get a good feeling about the type of childcare provider the candidate is. Try to avoid "yes" or "no" questions: draw her out and try to get her talking so you can find out how well she communicates and whether she is a good fit for your family.

Ask about her last place of employment, especially if she was a nanny for another family. Understanding how she worked with that family and why she left will help you evaluate how she might fit into your family.

What experience has she had in caring for children of your children’s ages? Ask her what sorts of activities she usually does with children. Ask her what she would do to provide new experiences to enhance your child’s mental and physical development? If your child is present, give them an opportunity to interact. Observe her closely. Does she seem interested in and comfortable with children? Do your children respond well to her?

What is her style of discipline and her thoughts about other important childcare topics? Does she have an opinion on relevant issues such as letting a baby cry or picking it up immediately, having children clean up after themselves or doing it for them, dealing with a picky eater, etc. Again, you will instruct her on what techniques you require her to use, but if you are in general agreement on childrearing it will make things easier.

Does she have any special education, skills or interests? Perhaps she can mend or make clothing, cook or bake particularly well, sing or play an instrument. Can she swim or ride a bike? What does she do for fun? This can help you get to know her, and will also let you know if she can offer anything additional to your children and your family.

Ask her hypothetical questions to gauge how she reacts to difficult situations. If your baby suffers from stranger anxiety or cries a lot when you leave him, how will she handle him? If your toddler is going through a phase of having temper tantrums, how will she react to this? Toilet training? Bickering siblings? Difficulty staying focused on homework? Fighting bedtime? Whatever your individual family needs, don’t hesitate to ask her what she would do. You can instruct and advise her to a great extent about your children, but it helps if she has good instincts, common sense, and some tried and true experience.

Ask her if she has any training or experience in First Aid and CPR. Would she be willing and able to take a course if you decided to send her? Has she ever experienced an emergency situation? What did she do? Ask her hypothetical questions about a baby or child choking while eating, going under in the pool or tub, falling and hitting his head, a fire in the house, etc.

If she will be responsible for transporting your child in a pram, stroller/pushchair, bike, baby carrier, car, taxi, bus or metro, discuss your expectations and any required safety measures. Is she comfortable using buckles, seat belts, car seats, helmets, etc?

Inform her of what else you expect from your nanny. Do you need her to do housework as well? Cooking? Pet care? Car washing? Gardening? What are your priorities? What are the hours you will expect her to work and the pay and other benefits you can offer? What days/holidays will she have off? What arrangements for accommodations or transportation will be made? Does she have a spouse or other family member who needs accommodation with her? Can you meet them?

Try to find out if there are any potential problems. How long is she planning to work as a nanny? Does she have any other family obligations that may affect her ability to work for you or require her to take extended leave? Does she have or plan to have children of her own? Does she have any medical problems, physical conditions, or disabilities? Is she taking any medication on a routine basis? Are there any duties or tasks that she is unable to perform for any reason (for example, heavy lifting, cleaning dirty or smelly messes, using particular cleaning agents or chemicals. etc.)

4. Be Clear about Expectations and Plan to Review: Once you have chosen a nanny, draw up a specific contract outlining expected duties, hours, salary, accommodations, health insurance, paid vacation and flights, other benefits, sick leave. Establish a review date within a few months to discuss how the arrangement is working and to fine-tune the agreement. Observe the nanny’s interaction with your child routinely and unexpectedly. Provide the support she needs to be happy in her work and home life, including opportunities to meet other caregivers in the area.

5. Warning Signs: Remain alert to any of the following:

  • The nanny has lied to you or stolen from you.

  • She does not answer questions about the daily routine.

  • You come home to find your child unsupervised, unclean, etc.

  • The nanny does not respond appropriately to your child.

  • Your child becomes moody or withdrawn or has problems eating or sleeping (without other explanation.)

  • Your child suddenly becomes upset about being left with the nanny.

  • You simply have a bad feeling about the nanny.

Trust your instincts--if that little voice is telling you that this isn't the right person to leave your most precious possessions (your children) with, listen to it and make other arrangements!

We had a number of nannies over the years who were an integral part of our family and certainly played an important part of my daughter's lives--one of the most beloved (and missed) is pictured above with my younger daughter and her doll. If you take the time and put some real thought into your selection process, you can definitely find your Mary Poppins. What has your experience been and are there any other tips you have picked up on choosing the best nanny for your family?

This has been part 3 in my "Going Back to Work Series." Read my other posts on "Stressed About Going Back to Work: 12 Tips to Ease the Transition" and "Choosing Childcare in the UAE: The Pros and Cons of Nannies vs. Nurseries." Stay tuned for my next post on choosing a nursery or childcare center for your child.

Good luck and let us know how it goes!

Amy x

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