What to Ask a Potential Babysitter or Nanny

nannyquestionsMy family recently moved from Colorado Springs to Los Angeles. Sadly, we had to say goodbye to our wonderful part-time nanny, Traci. I was terrified I wouldn’t be able to find someone equally great to care for my 2-year-old twins while I worked from home (or from the local coffee shop) a couple of days a week. After all, Traci had been recommended by a friend whose kids she had cared for until they moved. In LA, we would have to find our new nanny all on our own.

Since several friends had had great luck on care.com, I decided to go that route as well. I created a profile and placed a job ad—and within three days, I was flooded with applicants. Since I was conducting my search while I was still in Colorado and couldn’t meet the candidates face to face (at least not until we arrived here), I had to make a decision based solely on telephone conversations. So, I had to be sure to ask the right questions to determine who was the right fit for our family. After doing some research, I compiled a list of questions to ask—and ultimately, I found a great new nanny!

If you’re on the hunt for a new caregiver for your children, here are some questions to ask:

1. Tell me about yourself. What do you like to do in your spare time? This will give you a glimpse into the candidate’s personality and interests, and give you a chance to determine whether he or she is compatible with your family.

2. Why did you become a babysitter/nanny? Some people babysit because they truly love children. Others do it simply for the money. You’ll want the former!

3. What is your experience with children? Any experience the candidate has had caring for kids—as a babysitter, a nanny, a camp counselor, etc.—is valuable. Be sure to ask specifically if she or he has ever cared for children the same ages as your kids. Bonus points if the person has a degree in or knowledge of early childhood education.

4. What kinds of activities would you do with my children? You want someone who will actively engage your children while they’re in his or her care. This means getting down on the floor and playing with them, reading to them, doing artwork, playing catch in the backyard, etc. Be sure to let the candidate know your stance on TV and other screen time.

5. Are you certified in CPR and First Aid? If not, ask whether he or she would be willing to take a class to become certified. You’ll may need to pay for it, but it’s worth it for the right person!

6. Have you had experience with a child with/who is        fill in the blank        Find out whether the candidate has had experience with—or would be comfortable handling—any special circumstance your child might have, such as a disability, a medical condition, a dietary restriction, etc. Since I plan to start potty training my boys soon, I asked my new nanny if she’d ever cared for children who were potty training, and if she’d be willing to help with that when the time came. (The short answer was “yes” to both!) I also asked if she’d had experience with twins. (She had!)

7. Would you be willing to care for a sick kid? You’ll want to be sure you won’t need to take a day off work if your child gets sick.

8. Describe a challenging situation you’ve gotten into while babysitting. How did you handle it? This question will give you an idea of how the candidate might react if your children are fighting, if your little one refuses to go to sleep, if your kid won’t stop crying after you leave, etc.

9. How would you describe your style of care? You’ll want a nanny who will match—or at least support—your parenting style, whether you are very strict, very lenient, or somewhere in the middle.

10. Would you be willing to   (cook, clean, etc.)If you want someone to prepare meals for your children or do laundry or housework, make sure the candidate is willing and able to do so.

11. Do you have a driver’s license and a car? If you’ll need the nanny to take your kids to and from school or activities, he or she needs to have a driver’s license and a car—as well as a clean driving record. Even if you’re simply looking for an evening sitter, it’s always nice to find one with his or her own means of transportation in case you have a few drinks!

12. Do you smoke? Secondhand smoke—and even thirdhand smoke—can be extremely harmful for kids. It’s up to you to decide whether you’re comfortable having a smoker in your home.

13. How much do you typically charge per hour? Before the interview, be sure to research the average rates for babysitting in your area. Care.com has a great babysitting rates calculator that gives you the going rate in your zip code based on the number of children you have, the amount of experience the sitter has, and the typical number of hours per week you will hire the sitter. If the candidate gives you an amount that’s too high and you decide you’d like to hire him or her, refer him or her to the site and ask if he or she would be willing to take less. If his or her number is too low, consider offering a little more money as a good gesture.

14. What is your availability? You’ll want to make sure this person can be available exactly when you’ll need him or her.

15. What are your plans for the immediate future? If you’re looking for someone long-term, you’ll need to know if the candidate plans to move away soon or is looking for a job in a different field.

16. Do you have any references? Try to get contact info for at least two other families the sitter has worked for. Then, actually call the references and ask them about their experiences with the candidate. If the references uses only generic language, such as, “She was a great sitter,” or, “My kids liked her,” that’s a red flag. Look for detailed information about why the candidate was a great sitter, like, “She did a different art project with my child every time she babysat,” or, “We never felt the need to call home while she was babysitting because we trusted her wholeheartedly.”

17. Have you ever committed a crime? The candidate may not necessarily tell the truth, but you might be able to sense if he or she is lying. If you can get access to a background check on the candidate, do so. Care.com runs a free preliminary background check on every caregiver that you can request access to, or you can also pay for a more advanced background check.

18. Do you have any questions for me? Pay close attention to the candidate’s response. Most of the applicants I interviewed asked questions only about their potential salary or workload. While those are valid questions, what set the girl I hired apart is that she actually asked questions about my kids! She was genuinely curious about their personalities and interests, whether they had any special needs or dietary restrictions, etc.

And finally, trust your instincts! You’ll know in your gut whether a sitter is right for your family.

Did we miss any questions you feel are important to ask a potential babysitter or nanny? Leave a comment here and let us know!

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Jennifer Marino Walters is a freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared in All You, Fit Pregnancy, Parenting, and several other magazines and websites. She’s the mom of adorable twin boys and the wife of a U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel. Though she and her family recently moved from the mountains of Colorado to the beaches of Southern California, Jennifer—a New York City native—is a city girl at heart. She writes about her adventures raising twins while navigating the military lifestyle on her blog, www.doubledutytwins.com

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