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What does a Nanny do?

By Sheri Cyprus
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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The main responsibility of a nanny is to provide safe, nurturing care for one or more children. A nanny is employed by the parents either on a live-in or a live-out basis. As opposed to babysitters, who often look after the child on occasional or ongoing evenings, nannies usually work full time during the day for about 8 to 10 hours. Patience and a responsible attitude are absolutely crucial qualities of good nannies.

Nannies usually start work early in the morning, as they must arrive in the family's home before the parents leave for work. Live-in nannies have a set work schedule and must be prepared for the workday on time, just like any other job. A live-in nanny may have cleaning and cooking responsibilities, but these must be paid for separately or made up for with room and board. Being a nanny is about providing child care and the cooking and cleaning associated with that is very light, such as preparing a child’s soup and sandwich for lunch and cleaning up afterward.

A nanny helps children through their day with patience, kindness and a genuine concern for their safety and well-being. Nannies aren't merely babysitters, but actively help with things like potty training, table manners and homework. They may drive or walk children to and from school. Nannies follow the parent's rules.

When parents hire a nanny, they expect that person to provide safe, personalized care for their child or children. Nannies are expected to interact with the children rather than using television or computer games as a babysitter or engaging in those activities themselves. Teaching the children a ball game in the back yard, playing a board game to learn numbers or working on an arts and crafts project together at the kitchen table are all activities that nannies could do with children after tasks such as chores and homework are completed.

Most parents, especially those who choose to have live-in child care help, want nannies to be a part of the family and prefer at least a year or two commitment to the job. A work schedule with the duties and expectations of the nanny job should be agreed on and signed by nannies and employers. Having the expected tasks and house rules in writing can make communications between nannies and employers much smoother. It's also easier for both parties to negotiate a fair wage after all of the expectations and exact duties of the nanny position are written down.

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Discussion Comments
By latte31 — On Jul 28, 2011

@Cafe41 - I wanted to add that believe it or not, I do know some stay at home moms that also have nannies. Some of these stay at home moms have a nanny share arrangement with some of their friends and the nanny only works part time for a few different families. So I think that even stay at home moms can benefit from nanny help once in a while.

By cafe41 — On Jul 27, 2011

@Suntan12 -I know what you are saying and some people never make time for their children and use the nanny to step in for them. But there are a lot of other parents that work because they love their jobs and are better people because they work in their fields.

It might be difficult if you have a couple that are doctors and one leaves a prestigious position like this to stay home. It takes a lot of effort to get to a position like this, and in this case, a nanny makes a lot of sense.

By working also they are teaching their children that working is also an option when you have children and the extra income can probably allow for a lot of luxuries that most kids would not have.

So I think that going through a nanny finder is the next best thing when the parent cannot be around.

By suntan12 — On Jul 27, 2011

I have to say that I never thought of getting a nanny for my kids because I chose to stay home and raise them myself.

I had a career that I gave up to raise my kids and I am so happy that I did. My children are lucky that they go to a great private school, and I will say about 90% of the children have fulltime nannies because both parents work in high powered careers.

I remember that there was this little girl that was in my daughter’s class that wanted her mother to spend some time with her and begged her to voluntary at the Christmas party that the class was having later that day.

The mother, who owns her own law firm, promised to be there and never showed up she sent the nanny instead. I was at the party and I felt so bad for this girl.

I realize that having a nanny can really help busy parents cope with raising children, but I think that the nanny actually gets to do the fun stuff with the kids that I am not willing to give up because my kids are only going to be little once.

Both my mom and dad worked a lot outside the home and I guess, I had a different perspective on what was best for my family. I think that it is sad when the nanny is the one to go to the children’s functions at school.

I know that not everyone that has a nanny does this, but when they do it really breaks my heart because they are missing out on special memories that they will never get back.

By seag47 — On Jul 27, 2011

During my time as a nanny, I did clean my employer’s house. She did not ask me to do it. I did it just because my personality is such that I can’t leave a mess lying around, and I feel a compulsive need to neaten.

On my first day of work when the mother came home and saw that I had vacuumed, mopped, and did the laundry, she got so happy! Without even telling me that she was planning to, she added an extra $75 each week to my check. My voluntary cleaning services had freed up quality time for her to spend with her child. She later told me that I was a sanity saver for her, and that is how she showed her gratitude.

By StarJo — On Jul 26, 2011

I thought I had it made when trying to find a nanny, because my neighbor just down the street had worked as one for many years and was unemployed at the time that I needed her. I interviewed her, and she seemed normal enough. She began working with my child, but within a month, I had to fire her.

My son had never been one to make stuff up, so I believed him when he told me that she had taken to slapping his hand with a ruler when he gave the wrong answer to a study question. There were other issues as well, and when I confronted her, she said her methods had helped to raise honest boys in the past. I told her that my boy was already honest, and I no longer required her services.

By kylee07drg — On Jul 25, 2011

I had a young nanny growing up who seemed more like an older sister to me. What I loved most was that she really spent one on one time with me. As a young child with no others my age around, it could be hard to get grown-ups to play. My nanny always had time for me, and she even seemed to enjoy our games.

She stuck around for about three years. Then, she got married and pregnant. Her new responsibilities meant she could no longer be my caregiver. I cried for weeks, but my parents let me visit her now and then to help make the transition easier. I started staying at a daycare facility, and it could not compare to the individual attention that a nanny can give.

By cloudel — On Jul 24, 2011

After graduation, I was having trouble deciding what to do with my future. Everyone had always told me that I was great with kids, so I decided to become a nanny.

I worked for five years for a rich family with a five-year-old daughter. The parents had to travel a lot for work, and they needed someone who could stay overnight as needed. With no children of my own, I was free to be at their beck and call.

I really enjoyed my time teaching and caring for their daughter. I taught her things that I loved to do as a kid, like different art projects and games. I also simplified her homework by explaining it in terms she could understand. That time in my life rewarded me as much as it did her.

By Mykol — On Jul 23, 2011

If you are in the process of looking for a nanny for your children, there are several agencies who can help you in your nanny search. I know if I was going to be hiring someone for this position I would do extensive background checks and very detailed interviews.

There are some people who hire a nanny and are still around most of the time, while others are away from home for a big part of the day. Either way, you need to feel very comfortable that your children are in good hands.

We often hear of the bad stories that happen, but there are many loving, qualified people who will do a great job and really take excellent care of your kids.

By SarahSon — On Jul 22, 2011

My cousin gave birth to twin boys shortly before she turned 40. Up until that point she had been going to school and graduated with her medical degree. Her husband had his own business and they were in a financial position where they could easily afford a nanny.

For a few months she had three different nannies - a day, evening and a night nanny. I couldn't imagine being fortunate to even have one nanny, but she was able to have one for every hour of the day!

When the boys were sleeping better through the night, she scaled back to just having a nanny during the day time hours. She spent a lot of time researching and interviewing before she hired the people who would spend a lot of hours with her sons.

By golf07 — On Jul 22, 2011

My daughter began babysitting as soon as she was old enough, and all of her high school jobs involved some kind of child care. After high school she wanted to travel to another part of the country and work as a nanny.

She looked at several different nanny websites and finally went with a local agency that could help her find work in other parts of the country.

She met with two separate families in different states before deciding on the one she wanted to work for. This arrangement was a live in situation which was a great help since she didn't know anybody where she was moving to.

She was the nanny for two girls and worked for them for three years. During that time she was on the east coast and got to travel and see many things with the family that she would not have had the opportunity to do otherwise.

By manykitties2 — On Jul 21, 2011

@highlighter - I think that your fears over placing your child in another person's hands are completely normal and you really need to get comfortable with the idea of a nanny.

For starters, if you go through an agency you can easily get things like a background check done and certification is entirely up to you. Be aware that the more education a person has the more you are going to pay for them.

As for references, I would say at least one other long time position in order to get a feel for the nanny. It is also best to talk to someone who also had a special needs child.

If this all seems like too much, often staying at home can be cheaper than paying someone else to be a nanny. You may want to consider all your options carefully.

By letshearit — On Jul 21, 2011

@parmnparsley - I have always found it interesting how stringent parents are when searching for a nanny, when they themselves are required to have no screening whatsoever when it comes to being allowed to care for children.

I would personally take a person with years of experience raising children over a person who just had a degree in early child care education and a few extra pieces of paper.

It seems to me like society expects a lot from nannies and doesn't pay them enough for their services. The trend to hire cheap labor from abroad seems to emphasize this.

What does everyone think the most important things a person should have to really qualify him or her for looking after children?

By parmnparsley — On Jul 20, 2011

@Highlighter- When I was searching for the perfect daycare, I made a checklist of the things I wanted to ask. You might want to do the same while searching for your perfect nanny. A background check is the most important thing. You can easily obtain a background check for a nominal fee. I would also consider asking your nanny for a fingerprint clearance card. These can be obtained from the police station for a nominal fee.

After you have researched the potential nanny's background, it is time to ask the questions about education, discipline style, and philosophy. You might look for a nanny with a degree in early childhood education or experience working with special needs children. Your child will need someone there to guide him or her through the different stages of development while you are not around.

Finally, you should make a safety checklist. You may want to ask a nanny for a copy of his or her driving record if the job involves driving your child around. You should also ask about CPR, first aid, and infection training. A nanny can be a life saver, but ensuring you are hiring the right person is entirely up to you.

By highlighter — On Jul 20, 2011

What should I look for when I am hiring a professional nanny? I am a first time parent and I need a nanny for my daughter. He is special needs, so he has trouble communicating certain things. I have been having a recurring nightmare that the new nanny is beating my child, and my child cannot articulate the problems to me.

Can I perform a background check on person even though I am not a business? Is there some type of certification that I should look for in a nanny? How many references should I check? Should I opt for a nanny service or a private contractor? Finding childcare is overwhelming...

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