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Heading back to work?  Need a good nanny? Finding child care is a daunting task for a parent with an infant or toddler.  When a small child can’t communicate, it’s hard to trust a complete stranger.

In a sea of seemingly good candidates, how does a parent pick the nanny that is a good fit for them and their child?  Maintaining the minimum standards of safety is a must, but what about the child’s attachment with the caregiver? The child/caregiver bond becomes especially important when full time care is needed.  What does a parent look for to see if the caregiver is capable of having a healthy bond with a child and a good relationship with parents?

After selecting several candidates with good references, try the following interview strategy:

When meeting a new caregiver for the first time, invite them to play with your child while you take care of a few quick things before you sit down to join them.  You could offer to make tea/coffee/snack. During your “food prep,” worry less about the snack and more about observing casually how the caregiver interacts with your child.

Consider the following questions during your observation:

Does the person let the child take the lead?  If a toddler brings a book over to the caregiver and the caregiver takes a look at it with the child, and appears interested and friendly, then they are off to a great start!

Does the caregiver seem happy to see your child?  Does she look concerned if the child is upset? Or does the caregiver look overly anxious and distraught themselves? Assessing the caregiver’s emotional state and how they interact with your child is important.  One is looking to see if the caregiver understands the child’s experience and is able to support and “mirror” that experience back to the child for a healthy attachment. When a baby looks up at their smiling parent or caregiver, they see that people are happy and delighted by them.  If the caregiver looks concerned, but not overly distressed, when the baby is crying, the baby ‘sees’ their own worries through the eyes of the caregiver and knows that their caregiver is capable of understanding them and helping them. It as if the baby can say, “When I cry, I can count on people to be there even if they can’t make my tears go away.  When I smile, people smile back and I know I am loved and lovable.”

If the child is anxious or cautious around the visiting nanny, how does the nanny react? Do they verbalize what the child is feeling? If the nanny states, “It’s a little scary meeting new people,” then they are accurately reflecting back to the child that the nanny can ‘see’ them.  Or do they tell the child, in subtle ways, that they shouldn’t be feeling that way by saying, “Oh what’s all the fuss?” Do they ignore the child’s anxiety all together?

Does the nanny just talk to you or do they talk to the child like a person –even if that person is an infant!?  Some caregivers will greet a baby and say hello in a soft caring voice. Others may hold the baby but not acknowledge them or talk to them. Would you hire someone for a job that never said hello to you?!  If the caregiver is comfortable talking and singing with your baby, they are going to help the baby’s intellectual and social development.

A much more subtle thing to look for is something called, negative attributions.  Does the caregiver have negative interpretations/labels of the baby/child? For example, if the baby/toddler is upset and throws a toy, do they say in a teasing voice, “Don’t be naughty!” or “I can see this little one is a firecracker!”  Just because a child is upset in the moment, doesn’t mean they are a “firecracker.” If a baby is repeatedly labeled, “naughty” –even in a teasing way, guess what the child will come to believe about themselves? Now, you might feel that in the interaction your child is acting like a firecracker or is being naughty, but you may want to look for someone who isn’t going to be quick to assign negative labels or  verbally acknowledge negative behaviors. If the caregiver seems to have a natural gift for vocalizing positive behaviors and helping the child identify big feelings when they are upset, this is much more valuable than calling someone good or bad.   A skilled caregiver knows that just like all people, kids have their “at ease” moments and tough times too.

Finally, How does the caregiver interact with you?  Do you feel comfortable with them? Even if they’re wonderful with your child, if you have a funny feeling or a bad vibe, trust it!  If you are relying on this person for full time care and will see them everyday, you need to get on well!