5 Best Nanny Interview Questions—and Red Flags To Avoid

Choosing a caregiver can be difficult. Experts weigh in on what parents should ask and answers they should pay attention to.

Job interview

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For two years, my family of three was blissfully self-sufficient when it came to child care. I'd dote on my daughter all day, do some freelance work during her naps, and if I ever needed help with lunch or a particularly messy diaper, my work-from-home husband was always in the next room.

But with our toddler becoming more active, and a second bundle of joy on the way, we realized we needed help. So, one night after my daughter went to bed, I posted a job on a child care website.

With a detailed profile and a well-organized excel sheet for candidates' names and numbers, it may have looked like I was well-prepared. But I had no experience sorting through resumes or talking to job applicants. I quickly realized that I was about to select the person who would be in charge of my child's safety and well-being for hours every day—and I had no idea what I was doing.

My journey to finding a nanny was long and emotionally draining, but the good news is there are ways to make looking for a child care provider a bit easier. Experts agree on two basics: background checks and following up with references. Plus, here are five questions they also suggest asking a potential caregiver before hiring them—and which answers should give a parent pause.

What Is Your Approach to Safety?

More than anything, parents want to make sure their kids are safe with their caretaker. Jada Rashawn, a professional nanny and child care consultant for Sittercity, advises parents to set a requirement that all caregiver candidates be up-to-date with safety certifications such as CPR and first aid. Beyond that, she encourages asking specific safety-related questions in the interview process. She suggests parents ask for examples of how the caregiver has handled past crises, which will help reveal how they would approach potential future emergencies.

And it’s OK to be specific. After all, different homes have different geography, so parents will need to talk about how a caretaker handles everyday hazards like stairs, outdoor areas, playground equipment, pools or fountains, nearby roads, and so on.

It’s also important to gauge applicants’ ability to seek out medical assistance if needed, says Teona Amble, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist based in Seattle. “For example, do they know when to bring a child to urgent care versus to an emergency room? Are they knowledgeable of when you’d want to call the poison control center?” she asks.

Red Flag

If an applicant seems unsure, flustered, or unprepared when answering questions like these, this could be a sign that they're not up for the job.

What Is Your Motivation for Working in Child Care?

It might seem like a simple question, but how a potential caregiver answers can reveal a lot about whether or not they are a good fit. In fact, Travis Trautman, senior director of HR operations at KinderCare Learning Companies, a Portland, Oregon-based company that provides child care and education for ages 6 weeks to 12 years, says one of the first things he asks applicants is why they want to work in child care. 

"I want to understand a person's motivation for choosing this specific career path," he explains. "I like to hear answers about wanting to help children grow, develop, learn, be successful, and be confident. This also shows up in answers around children being the future, wanting to be a positive influence in children's lives, and enthusiasm to collaborate with the family."

Red Flag

Trautman says he'll start to doubt an applicant if they respond by saying that "kids like me" or suggests that working with children will be a "fun or easy job."

What Is Your Child Care Style?

Sara Fraser, Ph.D., a psychologist based in Los Angeles, points out that, when it comes to nannies, a big selling point for one parent might be a dealbreaker for another. 

"I wanted a person who was going to be able to be attuned, attentive, kind, and even-keeled," says Dr. Fraser of her own child care search. "I've known other people that really wanted someone who was creative and kind of daffy and playful. That didn't matter as much to me."

If a potential caregiver doesn't seem to match the style you want, it's OK to keep looking. But Dr. Fraser adds if parents aren't sure what kind of caretaker they're looking for, it could help to invite several people over for meet-and-greets and see how the child responds to them.

Travis Trautman of KinderCare Learning Companies

"I want to understand a person's motivation for choosing this specific career path. I like to hear answers about wanting to help children grow, develop, learn, be successful, and be confident.

— Travis Trautman of KinderCare Learning Companies

What Is Your Experience With Kids With Specific Needs?

Parents with a child with a disability, chronic condition, or any medical issue, likely have additional factors to consider when choosing a caretaker. Dr. Amble says that families should talk to applicants about their awareness when it comes to a child’s specific needs. “For example, if this is a child who’s living with autism, parents should ask potential caregivers about their awareness of autism, how it can affect a child’s development, as well as how it can affect their behavior and emotion regulation," she explains. "It’s important to find out how knowledgeable caregivers are of working with children who have particular needs.”

In that vein, Dr. Amble advises parents to ask particular caregivers about their educational background. “Ideally, you would want a caregiver for a child with special needs to have some type of training in education and [experience] working with children in this population," she says. "Perhaps ask if they’ve gotten any training in developmental psychology or done any type of certification programs around working with children with special needs.”

But she warns that even if an applicant has training or experience with a child’s specific condition or need, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the right fit. Every child is different, even if they have the same traits or diagnosis as another, she says.

“Parents should be mindful of whether the potential nanny or caregiver shows an interest in the challenges their particular child is experiencing, rather than generalizing,” explains Dr. Amble. “They’d ideally want a nanny who has a curiosity about the particular strengths of the child as well as the challenges that the parents have experienced.”

Teona Amble, Ph.D., clinical psychologist

Parents should be mindful of whether the potential nanny or caregiver shows an interest in the challenges their particular child is experiencing, rather than generalizing.

— Teona Amble, Ph.D., clinical psychologist

Will You Be Open to a Kid Test?

Experts agree that it's critical to let a child meet a potential caretaker at some point during the interview process, especially for what some like to call a “kid test.” For one of these “tests,” a parent would invite the candidate over on a day when they’ll be home so they can observe them interacting with the child. 

Anne Josephson, Psy.D., M.S.Ed, a New York-based psychologist, says depending on the age of the child, parents might want to do a combination of play and perhaps feeding. "When I had nannies interview for me, I had them come in during the end of my child's naptime and then I had them do a feeding," she explains. "I would model how I typically do it and then I would let them do it and I would watch how they interacted with my child after that. How were they engaging? How was my child responding? What did their body language look like?"

She notes that it's a good sign if a child wants to hold an applicant's hand or show them their toys when first meeting. "Those are great behavioral examples of them saying, 'I like this person and I want to let them into my world.'"

While Dr. Josephson acknowledges that not every child will warm up to a new person quickly, she says it’s important to look out for a child's negative cues when meeting each of the applicants. "Watch your child's facial expressions and their body language,” she advises. “Do they appear very tense and behaviorally inhibited? If so, this person might not be a good fit."

Red Flag

If a child has a negative response to the meeting, this could be a dealbreaker, says Dr. Fraser—even if the parent is impressed with the applicant. "There's something that they're responding to and it doesn't mean those people are bad or dangerous; it just might mean they're not a good fit for your particular kid,” she explains.

Once You've Chosen Your Caretaker

After a handful of interviews and kid tests, I'm happy to report that my family found a nanny. She's the perfect balance of fun and structured. She's always willing to play with blocks and slime, and my daughter barely misses me when I'm busy working or setting up the new baby's room.

But even with our wonderful nanny, my family did run into some snags. My toddler needed to adjust to having a new caretaker and displayed some symptoms of separation anxiety.

Dr. Fraser explains that an adjustment period, which may include separation anxiety, is normal after hiring a new caretaker. “Separation reactions can be quite intense but often subside relatively quickly once the kiddo is through the transition. A child may have stormy protests leading up to the separation from a parent but should recuperate after about 10-20 minutes. From then on, they generally function well in the absence of the parent.”

However, she adds if these reactions persist for four to six weeks, or if parents notice their kids having regressions, they should try a different caregiver. “If one person turns out not to be the right fit, you can make a different choice,” adds Dr. Fraser.

While reading profiles and conducting interviews again may sound tiring, Dr. Fraser encourages parents to go back to the drawing board as many times as needed, saying that they’re bound to find the right fit eventually. Once that happens, she says, "You'll be able to enjoy the time away knowing that you've chosen someone who is kind and attuned and attentive and that your kid is in good hands."

Explore More

As the cost of raising a child in 2023 continues to skyrocket, caregivers are leaning on their communities more than ever. Read more of Parents' deep dive into what child care really looks like for American families—plus tips to create your own child care village.

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