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Searching for your Mary Poppins

Anita Kulick guides you through the process of finding the right nanny for your family, from how to start your search to staying engaged once you hire someone.

Today's guest blogger is Anita Kulick, President & CEO of Educating Communities for Parenting in Philadelphia. ECP offers a variety of programs and services for teen and adult parents, adjudicated delinquent youth, young adults aging out of the foster care system, preschoolers, and children at grave risk of becoming victims or perpetrators of violence.

I think every parent searching for a nanny is looking for their very own Mary Poppins. Why not? She has all the qualities that you want in a nanny – caring, creative, engaging, and loving.

While hiring a nanny or babysitter may be the best child care option for your family's specific needs, it also places a huge responsibility directly on your shoulders since it entails taking on the additional responsibilities of being an employer.

And just like all employers seeking to fill a vacancy, you need to find qualified applicants, conduct extensive interviews, and do thorough background and reference checks. In addition, you must document, in writing, all job requirements, responsibilities, pay, vacations, and benefits. Finding your own Mary Poppins is possible, but where do you begin?


  1. First, you'll need a clear job description that includes the following: required days per week/hours per day; the number, ages, and genders of your children; household pets; special needs; if car and/or driver's license is required; and basic job responsibilities.

  2. Advertise using a variety of sources such as newspapers, online job listings, and postings at area colleges, houses of worship, community centers, and libraries.

  3. Ask other parents, neighbors, and friends for recommendations.

  4. Register with professional nanny placement services. The International Nanny Association, a nonprofit organization that serves as an umbrella organization for the in-home child care industry is a highly regarded resource.


EverydayFamily.Com and BabyCenter provide some excellent open-ended questions to ask during the interview, including basic work related questions and the more important child focused questions:

Basic Questions:

  1. What type of experience do you have?

  2. Is your schedule flexible? If necessary, will you stay overnight?

  3. What salary range are you expecting?

  4. Would you be willing to perform other duties such as cleaning and cooking?

  5. Do you drive? Is your driving record clean?

  6. Do you have any formal early childhood development, childcare training, or certifications?

  7. Why are you looking for a new position?

  8. What do you like best about being a nanny? What do you like least?

  9. Describe your ideal family/employer?

  10. Do you have any special peeves about parents/children/pets?

  11. Would you ever be available to work evenings or weekends?

  12. Would you be available to travel with our family for weekends/vacations?

Child Focused Questions:

  1. What is your child rearing philosophy?

  2. What got you interested in being a nanny?

  3. How would structure a typical day?

  4. What do children like best about you?

  5. How do you comfort children? How do you deal with separation anxiety?

  6. How do you discipline children? Give me an example of a previous discipline problem and how you handled it.

  7. Would you be willing to follow my rules and disciplining/comforting strategies even if they're different from yours?

  8. What will my child be doing on any given day? What are your favorite activities to do with a child the age of mine?

  9. If I'm working in the house, will you be able to keep my child happily occupied without involving me?

  10. Would you be willing to keep a daily log of all activities including meals?


When you've narrowed down the list of candidates to your top choices, it's critical that you conduct thorough and extensive reference checks on each one. Questions to ask include:

  1. How do you rate the quality of care your children received?

  2. What are the nanny's strengths and weaknesses?

  3. Why did the nanny leave?

  4. Would you hire the nanny again?

You should also require criminal record clearances including; state police, child abuse, and FBI.


Once you've completed the selection process, there is one more essential step – confirming your choice. There's no better way to do this than with a trial run. Invite the finalists to spend a day with you and your family. Remember, no matter how good someone looks on paper, how well they interview, or how highly they're rated by references; nothing is as reliable as observing them in action with your family for an entire day, from the early morning until your child is in bed for the night.


And remember, finding the right nanny for your child and your family is only the beginning. You have an essential and ongoing role in your child's daily care – monitoring the situation, the services provided, and your child's growth and wellbeing. Some things to look for are:

  1. Is your child happy to see the nanny arrive?

  2. Does the nanny practice and teach good hygiene: hand washing, bathroom practices, keeping food preparation and play areas safe and clean?

  3. Is your child excited to tell you about the day and the things she did?

  4. Does your child show you pictures he drew? Does he sing a new song he learned?

  5. Does your child seem content and secure

While Mary Poppins may only exist in fiction, with organization and hard work on your part, you may very well come close to finding someone with her qualities – except the ability to fly!

Read more from the Healthy Kids blog »