You need someone to care for your children – but do you need a babysitter or a nanny? If it’s an evening out with your spouse and friends, you need someone who will keep the children safe and put them to bed for the night. That’s easy – hire a babysitter. If you are looking for someone to care for your toddler at home while you and your spouse work – you need a nanny. But what about all the situations in between such as before or after school care, school holiday care, or summer care? In order to get the person with the right skill set – you need to understand how sitters and nannies differ.
Sitters provide for the safety and well-being of children for short periods of time. Family members are often nearby and available by phone. Usually working for a few hours in the evening or during the weekend, Sitters may supervise playtime, provide parent-approved snacks, and help children get ready for bed. Sitters may also do light housekeeping, such as washing the dishes and putting dirty clothes in the hamper.
Sitters are usually hired on a short-term basis, often once a week or once a month for a few hours at a time. They are generally younger and because of their intermittent work, they are often exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act and may not be covered by other regulations that cover wages, overtime, or workman’s compensation.
At a minimum, Sitters should be CPR and First Aid certified. When hiring a Sitter, ask if they have any basic childcare training, especially in areas such as emergency care, safety in the home, food safety and water awareness (if you have a pool).
Nannies may be full or part-time but differ from Sitters in that they are a consistent childcare provider over a longer period. Nannies usually have contracted, consistent work for a year or more, although there are some positions for shorter periods of time, such as summer nannies. Nannies are responsible for one or more children throughout the workday while family members are at their places of employment. In addition to providing for the safety and well-being of the children, a nanny may also provide meals and activities, take them on outings and providing additional support such as transporting children to and from school, from school to clubs, sports practices, playdates, and other activities. Nannies work autonomously and may have full responsibility to care for the children overnight or when families are out of town.
Daryl Camarillo describes the role of a professional nanny. “Families think of [professional] nannies as in-home professionals who do everything to care, nurture, and develop the children. These include household duties related to childcare and the upkeep of the home such as washing bottles, meal preparation for the children, emptying diaper bins, and the child’s laundry. Families are seeking nannies to take the child to activities and invest in their development and growth. They view the nanny as part of the childcare team.”
There are a wide range of nanny positions and the duties vary greatly. Some nanny positions are focused solely on the child(ren) and the nanny is responsible for chores associated directly with that care such as the child’s laundry, fixing meals for the child, washing bottles, ensuring the child cleans up their playroom and completes homework. Nannies also assist with the development of the children and should understand the age-appropriate basics of care as well as being able to identify developmental milestones for the children in their care.
Types of Nannies
There are many different types of specialization based on training and experiences that elevate a nanny’s skillset as a family assistant, early childhood educator, or special needs caregiver. Family assistants (sometimes referred to as Household Managers or Nanny Managers) perform childcare duties with additional responsibilities such as managing a weekly schedule, scheduling and attending doctor appointments, picking up the dry cleaning, planning and hosting birthday parties, household organization, shopping, pet care, meal planning, and preparing meals for the family. They are often committed to the role as their primary employment and have the maturity to work unsupervised while remaining responsible for several children and an allocated budget.
Specialist Nannies have varying qualifications that often include college degrees in Early Childhood Education, Special Needs Education, or Psychology with diverse work experiences as a nanny, in daycares, teaching, or advocacy positions. Specialists may also be travel nannies or have specialized training in Montessori, Resources for Infant Educators (RIE), or Waldorf child development approaches. Specialist Nannies are passionate about their work and are often leaders in the nanny industry. Many Specialist Nannies work for high profile and/or high net worth families and find themselves extremely desirable within the nanny market.
Like Sitters, all nannies, whether part or full time, should be CPR and First Aid certified. When hiring a nanny, ask if they have invested in childcare training that teaches age-appropriate growth, development, and activities from newborn through primary years. Nutrition, fitness, health, art, music, and communication courses provide practical skills to help nannies excel as in-home childcare providers. If not, discuss childcare training and consider investing in their education. The US Institute offers 5 levels of certifications and diplomas that are cost-effective and can be completed online in 4-5 weeks. These courses provide the skills and training to help nannies perform at their best.
Nanny jobs can be customized to each family and when nannies are hired, either part-time or full-time, the nanny is considered a household employee when they earn $2600 (in 2023). Thus, families who hire nannies are legal employers and are required to pay taxes and have worker’s compensation insurance.
If you would like additional information on hiring a nanny, the Ultimate Guide on How to Hire a Nanny is a free resource designed to help parents successfully navigate the hiring process.
So it’s most important to be clear from the start on what the job will entail and less so that they meet some definition of nanny or babysitter.