Having a nanny can be a truly wonderful experience. After all, a nanny is not simply an employee. It is quite possible she’ll become an integrated part of your child’s life, and yours too.

When your nanny first begins, you may realize there’s much more involved than you had ever imagined. Is she self-employed, or should she be claimed as an employee? Is a nanny contract really necessary? How do I get this right?

I’ve worked as a nanny with a variety of families. There are many things that make a world of difference in the lives of families, and the nannies they work with. Here’s a list of pointers that may come in handy:

Don’t underestimate the nanny contract

Laying out a contract for a nanny may seem unnecessary. Maybe you bonded instantly during the interview and it seems like you’re on the same page for everything. Or maybe you’re worried that suggesting one implies that you don’t trust her.

A contract ensures that you and the nanny have discussed terms, and come to an agreement on things like responsibilities, hours, pay-rate, overtime, vacations, holidays, sick days, and the like. Put it in writing so that it can be referred back to. That way everyone’s needs are explicitly stated and the chances of misinterpretation and feelings of frustration are minimized. It’s also helpful to review the contract each year together just in case updates are necessary.

Help her help you

When it comes to having someone else watch your children, the first thing on your mind is safety. That means making sure your nanny has everything she needs, not only to keep an accident from happening but to be able to handle one it does:

  • Keep an easy-to-access list of emergency numbers including Poison Control, the local hospital, your pediatrician, and a ranking of family members to contact.
  • Have a first-aid kit readily available in the home, and a small, portable kit for the nanny to toss in a bag, the stroller, or the car on outings.
  • As soon as your child is mobile, have safety locks and gates in place – especially gates on steps and to areas of the house that are off-limits.
  • Provide a secure place for the child to play while the nanny uses the bathroom, installs the car seat in her car, or cleans up a particularly fun (i.e. big) mess.
  • All safety straps for strollers and high chairs should be in place and fully functional, even if you choose not to use them.
  • If there is a dangerous new habit your child has picked up, pass that along to the nanny.

Morning updates are crucial

There’s no denying just how trying mornings can be. Getting out of the house on time each day may even seem like a recurring miracle. One thing you don’t want to forget is to give your nanny a quick morning update.

Just a few minutes spent filling her in on your ever-changing child can make a real difference in the day. For instance, has your child started potty training or teething? Are they having trouble napping, or suddenly prone to emotional outbursts? It’s a small way to ensure that your nanny is going in fully armed and ready for anything the day throws at her.

Keep the necessities out

When your nanny begins, let her know where things like jackets, shoes, sunscreen, paper towels, and cleaning products can be found, and keep these items located in the same easy-to-find spots. Your nanny doesn’t know your house like you do, and the time spent figuring out how to clean a spill or find the mittens is time your nanny isn’t spending having fun with your child.

Your nanny isn’t expecting a sparkling house. However, keeping things functional is helpful. If the toddler has just wet themselves while potty training and the baby is having a meltdown, your nanny won’t be able to respond as quickly if she then discovers that the way to the laundry room is blocked, the paper towels are gone, and the trash can is overflowing.

Be honest about when you’re getting back

Your nanny has a life after work, or in some cases, more work after work, and it can cause her to feel that her time isn’t valued if you’re consistently coming home late. If you are running behind, text or call to let her know so she can plan accordingly. If the lateness is recurring, then it’s time to revisit the schedule portion of the nanny contract. Of course, don’t forget to pay her for that extra time.

Responsibilities should be realistic

A nanny will typically complete tasks associated with the children, such as picking up toys, keeping their rooms cleaned, washing dishes used throughout the day, and doing the children’s laundry. If there are tasks required beyond that, discuss them with her and include them in the contract.

For the extra tasks, extra pay is expected. Also, keep in mind when considering extra chores that a nanny doesn’t get normal breaks. Overloading her with tasks can result in her feeling run-down, and unable to dedicate the energy level you hope for to your children.

A penny saved, could be a penny lost

If you’re expecting to take a lot of time off throughout the year for vacations, or family visits, inform your nanny before she starts. If you don’t have dates, an overall estimation of how much time throughout the year you will not need her will help. Always assume that your nanny is counting on every cent she earns because in most cases, she absolutely is.

You want to find someone who can match your schedule without inadvertently sacrificing expected income. This also includes last minute days off and half days. Those can really add up. Losing your favorite caregiver is not in anyone’s best interest.

Understand what self-employment really means

Childcare is expensive. In an attempt to minimize expenses, many parents will choose to hire their nanny as an independent contractor. On the surface, this does appear to be a great option. The truth is, however, that when a nanny agrees to be self-employed, they are often getting the short end of the stick, and neither they or the parents realize it – until tax season, that is.

When a nanny is recognized as an employee, parents are required by law to withhold the nanny’s portion of social security and medicare taxes from her paycheck, and make contributions to social security, medicare, and possibly even state and federal unemployment funds themselves.

These taxes are known as “Nanny Taxes” or “Payroll Taxes.” But when your nanny works as an independent contractor, she is then expected to pay the entire amount of those taxes out of her own pocket and is no longer eligible for unemployment if she is let go.

It can be even worse if a nanny is informed of being an independent contractor just as tax season begins, resulting in a huge debt she has not had the year to save up for.

Misfiling in regards to your nanny could even be interpreted as tax evasion by the IRS. Sorting out payroll for your nanny may seem daunting. There are many resources online that make it simple to understand payroll taxes and how they affect your family. There are also payroll services that make calculating each week’s paycheck easy.  

Avoid cabin fever

Being a nanny is an immensely rewarding position. It’s not without its challenges, however. Spending hours alone with a child can be isolating and lonely at times. Be sure that you’re allowing her the opportunity to take the children to places where both she, and your child can be social. It will benefit not only your nanny, it will also encourage your child to be active, well-rounded, and to develop important social skills.

Don’t forget reimbursement and petty cash

Money for your child’s lunch, project supplies, or special activities should never come out your nanny’s pocket. Either have her keep receipts so that you can compensate her on payday, or have cash set aside in a special envelope or wallet that she can use specifically for the child.

Take it one step at a time

Life is crazy – I don’t need to tell you that – and your little ones are just as susceptible to feeling overwhelmed as you are. Sometimes, a lot of transition can be difficult and lead to aggression, regression, sudden outbursts, and separation anxiety.

Having a new person in the house taking care of them might prove to be more than they’re ready for. Consider making the transition easier by speaking to your child often about a nanny coming into the house and what this will mean for them.

You could also have the nanny come over for short visits beforehand to allow your little one time to become comfortable. You may even consider waiting on hiring a nanny until your child is in a better place to handle the situation.

Build a united front

When it’s time to hire a nanny, both you and your spouse/partner should be on the same page regarding key components of raising a child. If one parent is okay with your nanny letting the baby “cry-it-out,” but the other is not, this can lead to confusion and tension for everyone, including the child.

This also means reinforcing the nanny’s judgment calls. If a parent is regularly disregarding the nanny’s rules in front of the child, this not only undermines the nanny’s authority, but it teaches your child to do the same. If you don’t appear to respect her rules, the child won’t either.

Collaboration is key

Having a nanny is very much a collaboration. Communicating openly and often with her is key. That means considering your nanny’s suggestions, incorporating certain techniques that you notice work, and sharing with her any new tricks you’ve discovered.

It also means being honest with your nanny if you notice her handling a situation in a way that makes you uncomfortable, or that you don’t think is actually helping. This will help create consistency and allow you both to come up with more effective game plans that benefit your little one.

Let her know she’s valued

The families that best connect with their nannies are the ones that take the time to get to know her and show her she is valued. Just a few minutes spent talking about things other than the children with your nanny reminds her that you care for and respect her. Polite conversations about school, her family, or weekend plans will allow her to feel better connected to you and your family, which will make you more approachable if there is an issue.

If you see her going above and beyond to do something special for your child, let her know that you noticed it, and appreciate it. Bonuses and raises to reward her for her performance are important and should be considered, too. Everything she does is because she cares deeply. She wants to be shown the same consideration.

What do you think of the tips above? Have any of your own? Feel free to add them in the comments below.