Are you an A+ multitasker, who can manage a small army of tiny, belligerent soldiers, get from point A to point B on time, and deal with small-scale crises on a daily basis? If so, becoming a nanny might be the right career path (or the right-now career path) for you. However, being a nanny is more than just singing songs and teaching useful vocabulary like “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” It’s a path that requires a serious set of skills, nerves, and commitment.
What Does a Nanny Do?
Probably a better question here would be, “what doesn’t a nanny do?” On the most basic level, nannies are hired by families to care for children. They might be full-time or part-time, depending on the families needs. Some nannies live with their families, while others commute to work just like you would with any job. But don’t be fooled—a nanny isn’t just a babysitter. Often, they’re a stand-in parent for the kids in their care, acting as helper, feeder, nurturer, and rule-enforcer during work hours. Part teacher, part parent, nannies are often responsible for a range of domestic and childcare duties in the course of an average day.
For nannies in charge of younger children, the care might include feeding, pottytraining, and highly supervised play. For older kids, the nanny might be more of a schedule-maintainer, making sure everyone gets home from school and off to soccer/tuba lessons/birthday party #45 this week on time and in one piece. Children’s safety and comfort are usually the biggest priorities for the on-duty nanny. Depending on the family’s needs and their contract with the nanny, the nanny’s duties might also include some household chores (like cooking, laundry, or cleaning), usually related to the kids’ needs.
A full-time nanny’s workday is typically 8-10 hours, but this could include early mornings (pre-school), nights, weekends, or holidays. Schedule may vary by family, especially depending on whether the nanny is a live-in caretaker, or lives elsewhere.
What Skills Do Nannies Have?
Becoming a nanny is not for the weak of heart (or stomach, if you’re familiar with how kids operate). They aren’t your casual teenage babysitter, holding the fort (and the TV) down while Mom and Dad go out for date night. Being a nanny is a job that requires the ability to stay engaged and productive to make sure that kids’ needs and parents’ requests are being met as much as possible.
Some of the most important skills nannies should have include the following:
They Like Kids
This seems like a no-brainer, but it’s definitely a skill set you should be sure of before you think about taking a job as a nanny. Liking kids in theory is much different than spending all day with them. If you can roll with watching the same 10 videos on an infinite loop, and like coming up with fun projects to stave off the inevitable “I’m bored” periods, then you’re probably in good shape. If your idea of a perfect workday involves everyone sitting quietly and listening to NPR for hours at a time, then maybe this isn’t the right fit.
The nanny is often tasked with maintaining household routines and rules while the parents are out of the house. Being able to stay on task and organized, even when things get chaotic, is essential.
They're Honest and Trustworthy
Parents are entrusting a beloved natural resource—their children—to a nanny. It’s important to make sure they know they can trust you. This means making sure the family knows that when you’re at work, you’re at work—no personal calls, no abandoning the kids to the TV set while you play around with Facebook, no dragging the kids to a midafternoon coffee date with your buddies. It also means global on-duty no-nos like smoking, drinking, or swearing or behaving inappropriately. Nanny-ing may not be the typical 9-to-5 job, but all the same rules of professionalism apply. The nanny should also be very punctual and ready to work on time, because the family’s schedule might depend on it.
They Know First Aid
Life with kids can be unpredictable (everyone has a young relative who swallowed some weird object at some point, right?), and a nanny needs to be prepared for anything that happens—including medical issues and emergencies. Basic first aid and CPR are a must, and if the family has any special medical needs, like allergies or chronic medical conditions, the nanny should always have a solid medical plan in place, just in case.
They're Good Communicators
As the caretaker, a nanny needs to be able to speak two languages: Grownup and Kid. Grownup communication includes giving updates and daily reports to the parents, dealing with teachers, or passing along information from school, the kids themselves, etc. Speaking Kid means being able to communicate and enforce rules, and make sure that kids’ immediate needs are being heard and addressed.
They Go With the Flow
An engaged nanny is able to deal with whatever comes along. Whether that’s playing educational games to fill unexpected downtime, or dealing with curve balls like illness or delays, the nanny is a problem solver, and has to be quick on the feet to make sure his or her charges are safe and cared for.
They Go Above and Beyond
Parents are paying for someone to get things done without being directly supervised or asked. Whether it’s tossing in that load of laundry after softball practice, or making sure to ask what homework needs to be done, being able to fill the day with tasks (without ignoring the kids) is a very important skill set.
What Do You Need to Become a Nanny?
There are no hard-and-fast rules or certifications for all nannies, but there are some things you can do to prepare for your job as a nanny. Experience with childcare is almost always a must, whether that was in a babysitting capacity, caring for your own family, or in a daycare setting. Good references are key, because again, parents need to know they can trust the person they’re letting into their home to care for their children. You might also opt to join a nanny placement agency, which vets candidates before sending them out to households. Certifications like first aid and CPR are fairly essential for anyone looking to become a nanny, and background classes in areas like nutrition or early childhood development are resume boosters as well.
Otherwise, the necessary qualifications depend on the family seeking a nanny. Some families might require that the nanny is a certified childcare provider, or has a certain level of experience. A valid driver’s license might also be required, if the job includes ferrying kids to or from school, appointments, activities, etc. Each family has its own expectations about what the nanny’s role will be, so a bit of flexibility (and willingness to educate yourself in areas related to childcare) will be one of your best assets as you look for a nanny job.
How Much Do Nannies Get Paid?
According to PayScale, the median salary for nannies is $24,751 (compared to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’s estimate of $20,320 for childcare providers overall). The pay can also vary depending on whether the nanny is a live-in (in which case room and board might be included as well), and how much experience the nanny brings to the table. If you’re seeking a career with strong benefits, though, this might not be it—only about 10% of nannies receive medical or dental insurance through their employers. However, the field has some major pluses as well: nannies give high job satisfaction ratings on various employment surveys. Also, this is a field that continues to grow, as busy families of all kinds look for childcare solutions outside of the traditional daycare system.
Nanny salaries also vary depending on geographic location. In large cities, for example, demand is often greater for qualified nannies, and nannies tend to earn more.
If you love kids—and more importantly, are committed to spending many hours with them and helping them grow and develop—then nannying might be the right choice for you, either as a long-term career or as a job while you figure out what your next big career move should be. Good luck, and when all else fails, ask yourself, “What would Mary Poppins do?”
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