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Tips to Choosing the Right Nanny for Your Family

Tips to Choosing the Right Nanny for Your Family


Why spend hours choosing the best toys if you leave your child with a caregiver who is not engaging? Here are tips to choosing a quality nanny, handling the nanny-parent relationship, and communicating your needs to your child's nanny.

From the mom wracked with guilt that she is paying someone to love her child to the father who wonders what on earth the nanny does all day—not to mention the mother-in-law who sniffs that only the most extravagant of people hire sitters!—the nanny-parent relationship is a minefield. And that’s before she sees you in your pajamas.

And not to put the pressure on, but studies show that 90 percent of the human brain has grown by the time a child reaches the age of 3; with 1 out of 4 children being looked after by someone other than Mom or Dad, today’s parent-caregiver relationship is more vital than ever.

In Secrets of the Nanny Whisperer: A Practical Guide for Finding and Achieving the Gold Standard of Care for Your Child (Perigree/Penguin Paperback), noted child psychotherapist Tammy Gold explores this frequently complex and tense rapport. With an emphasis on the importance of stimulating your child’s emotional development, the book sets forth the simple rules that can guarantee household harmony and lead to a satisfying relationship among Mom, Dad, baby, siblings, and caregiver. “At some point every parent is going to have to call a relative or friend or babysitter for help,” Dr. Gold says. “Whether you want a sitter one night a week or 60 hours a week, you need to know how to find that perfect person. “

child on playground with nanny

Can you discuss the link between quality child care and emotional development?
Good caregivers can help kids feel safe in the world and have a lasting impact on their social, emotional, and intellectual development. Poorer quality child care, where only the basic physical needs are met (the child is safe, fed, and warm) does not allow the neural pathways to grow. So for those parents who are always wondering, “How can I make my kid smarter?” or “How can I get my kid into the best school?”…well, pick a caregiver who is positively responding to your kids’ needs! Why spend hours choosing the safest crib, the best stroller, the best toys and books, if you then leave your child with a caregiver who is not engaging or stimulating your child?

What are your top tips to getting the best out of a nanny, sitter, cousin, Grandma, etc.?
One major mistake parents make is not outlining their own needs and ‘musts’ at the very start. Do you need someone who can work at least one night a week? Are you expecting her to carry out household chores? Does she need to be able to drive? Also, when you interview your caregiver, be sure to ask [some] yes/no questions instead of open-ended questions. You need to ask how, why, and when. A nanny might have been a fantastic fit with her previous family, but your needs and values and wants have nothing to do with that family.



Why do you recommend communicating in what you call ‘Nanny Speak 1-2-3’?
As a therapist I was really overwhelmed by how many problems there are in the parent-nanny relationship. You’re at home, but it’s business. She’s an employee, but she’s part of the family. It’s complex! Some people have never been a boss before. You don’t want your nanny distracted because she’s too busy figuring out what displeases you. You have to tell the nanny exactly what you want from her, what you need for the children, and why you need it for yourself. For example, don’t say “If you have time, can you put a load in the washing machine?” Be specific. “Please put a load in the washing machine before you take Timmy to practice this afternoon. I will be home late tonight.” Write down your way of doing things, not only so that she can refer back to it but also in order to provide a constancy of care for your child: “This feels familiar, this feels safe.”

How has child care changed since our parents’ generation?
Most of us didn’t grow up with the type of child care we see now. There’s been a 180-degree change. Now, 75 percent of U.S. mothers work. One in 4 children is looked after by someone who is not family. We are different parents from the previous generation. We’re very hands-on. We had kids later, so we’re older. Today, there are many stay-at-home moms who decide to have a full-time caregiver because they want to spend time with their other kids. They don’t want to drag the baby to soccer practice. Moms and dads value the one-on-one time with their other children, the chance to reconnect with their spouse. Having a nanny is no longer just for royals.

Many parents have guilt about hiring a nanny. How do you advise parents to overcome this anxiety?
You’re still parenting your child if you are making time to do your own thing—go to the gym, catch up with a friend after work. You’re giving your child the gift of forming an attachment with someone. The more attachments they have when they are younger, the stronger the children’s emotional development. You’re teaching your kids that they are safe without you. Children who don’t leave Mom until preschool have a rough ride—they have real separation anxiety. They haven’t learned that when Mommy goes away, she always comes back, so when it happens at school it’s traumatic. It can make them not want to form friendships or focus on learning. It is hard to be a parent—sometimes we’re tired. But when you get a break, and you give your child less time but you are present and happy and ready to play, you are giving them your best self.

Tammy Gold, LCSW, MSW, CEC, is a New Jersey-based licensed therapist, certified parent coach, and author of The Nanny Whisperer. She has appeared often on Good Morning America, Today, MSNBC, and other national programs as a parenting expert.

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