Nannies develop a plethora of skills through the years that are entirely necessary, but just aren’t…advertisable. The following list is a collection of those skills from myself and my nanny friends. Maybe you can relate with some of these and maybe you have your own secret nanny skills to share.
1. How to judge a family for compatibility within the first interview
This is crucial for a nanny! The families you work for can either make or break your career, but the scary part is that you often won’t know until you’ve been with them for a few months. I had to learn this the hard way. I got so lucky with the first few families who employed me full-time. Then I got stuck in a situation that seemed great at first, but proved an oversight on my part. It was made clear to me that I didn’t ask enough of the important questions during the interview.
My advice, now that I have more experience?
Pay close attention to their response when you ask about their parenting and discipline styles. Even if they tell you something that sounds amazing, notice how they interact with their kids. That will tell you more than their words. If either of those clash with your own style, that family likely won’t be a good fit for you and vice versa.
Other things to pay attention to include personalities, cleanliness, and belief system. You want to like and be liked by your family as more than just their nanny. That’s important. You also don’t want to work in an environment that makes you uncomfortable because of pet peeves like cat hair on the furniture (You are in their home A LOT!) or a family member undoing your hard work organizing the children’s toys. It’s often a sign they don’t respect you or your time. Although a family with differing beliefs could turn out to be a great fit for you, be sure that neither of you have strong opposing feelings toward the other’s beliefs that could make your work environment unnecessarily tense.
Aside from parenting and personalities, it is also important that what you are looking for in a family matches their needs. For example, if you aren’t willing to work in a home where a parent works from a home office, ask about that. If they seem to only need someone to keep the baby’s schedule, they probably aren’t looking to employ a professional. And obviously, a family looking for a part-time nanny isn’t going to fit a full-time nanny’s needs. Keep in mind, vague or contradicting answers are usually a sign of poor communication and difficulties down the road.
2. How to have instant comfort with all kids, and in anyone’s home
Kids to a nanny are like plants to a gardener. They’re not all the same, but they typically follow the same general rules, making them comfortable and natural to work with. If a random kid you don’t know brushes up against your leg, it usually goes unnoticed until Mom embarrassingly says, “Oh, I’m so sorry!” We’ve wiped enough butts and runny noses that it really doesn’t matter anymore. Nannies know how to talk to kids and what to talk to them about so that the kids become comfortable with the nanny. It’s a necessary skill for getting hired and starting to work with new kids. How miserable would it be if the kids didn’t like or respect you? Yikes!
On the topic of becoming comfortable in anyone’s home…yeah, it can be a bad thing when it’s your new neighbor who just invited you over for the first time and you’re helping yourself to their cabinets and taking out their trash. But again, it’s necessary for a nanny’s first day on the job. Because a nanny is so intimately a part of the family she works for, she’s isn’t a guest in her work home. Emergencies demand exigent retrieval of first aid gear, and potty training accidents call for a ready towel and sanitizing wipes. If her job requires her to launder her employers’ underwear and put it away in their room, she does it. She finds where everything belongs and where all the necessities are pretty quickly. The awkwardness gets left at the front door.
3. How to have perspective
Nannies learn to see things from the perspective of the families who employ them. It’s important to recognize that people do things differently and that isn’t always a bad thing. A little self-check is imperative every once in a while to see a situation through the parents’ eyes. Conflicts will always arise, but nannies develop the skills necessary for defusing difficult situations. Maybe even more important, nannies often recognize the difference between a disagreement and an issue that warrants a conversation. Having perspective allows a nanny to come at a situation in the most understanding and genuine way possible. The hard conversations are always uncomfortable, but they are an inevitable part of working in someone else’s home. Knowing when they are necessary and how to approach the matter is essential to every career nanny’s success.
4. How to be sneaky
Most parents or people who work with kids know that the ability to smooth out the day with expert sneakiness is vital to balancing behavior and the entire tone for the day. We have to know when to grab a toy that could cause or was causing problems. We have to know how to distract crying kids when their parents leave. We have to know where to put something so the kids can’t see or reach it.
Just this week, my 2 year-old nanny-kid found a golf ball that belongs to his dad. I expected that if I let him play with it, it would get lost under the couch with the rest of the small things that roll, so I waited. I knew sooner rather than later, he would drop it. So, I watched. Sure enough, he dropped it in only a matter of minutes. I instantly distracted him with something else, causing him to look in the opposite direction of the ball. Then I swooped in with my other hand, grabbed the ball, and quickly got up to put it away. He forgot that ball ever existed.
5. How to talk to the parents through the kids
Not that it’s a very useful skill, but talking through a child to an adult is something that most people who have been around kids long enough will start to do. I’m not sure why this happens. Maybe we’re trying to include the child in our adult conversation that isn’t actually happening. But, it looks like this:
Dad leans down to kiss his kiddo goodbye while he paints. In the event, Dad gets paint on his nose. So, I say to the kid, “Did Daddy get paint on his nose? That’s so silly.” Now, Dad knows he has paint on his nose without me actually having to tell him, so he can wipe it off before heading to work.
See? Pointless. Why wouldn’t I just say to the dad, “You got paint on your nose”?
In the words of Dr. Seuss,
I don’t know. Go ask your dad.
I often wonder what parents would think of me if I listed these five skills on my resume. As important as they are, parents want to see words and phrases like “multitasker,” “safe driver,” and “efficient” listed under an applicant’s skillsets. No doubt, a nanny who can multitask efficiently while driving sounds wonderful (yet, extremely unsafe), but have you ever seen a nanny pro-sneak a child out of a tantrum? That’s skill! Now, we’re separating the nannies from the Nannies.