The Differences Between a Nanny and Babysitter

Nannies and babysitters both provide child care, but there are some key differences between them. Keep reading to learn about the pros and cons of each.

If you're reading this article, you probably have or need child care—be it for work, a doctor's appointment, or even a social function. But selecting the right option for you (and your family) can be a challenge. There are a lot of choices available, and each comes with its pros and cons.

Working parents who want child supervision in a structured setting often choose daycare centers. Those who prefer in-house care, either full time or part time, might to go with babysitters or nannies. But what are the differences between a nanny and a babysitter? We've got you covered with our explainer.

What Is a Nanny?

Employed on a part- or full-time basis, nannies are child care professionals—usually with educational backgrounds and/or training. Nannies meet many of a child's needs, caring for children physically, socially, and emotionally. Some nannies help with homework while others complete cleaning-related tasks, like laundry or tidying a child's room, and nannies can live in or out of the home.

An image of a babysitter with two babies.
Getty Images.

What Is a Babysitter?

While nannies are employed on a regular (or semi-regular) basis, babysitters tend to be as-needed caregivers. This means they are hired to watch children after-school or while parents enjoys an evening out. Their duties also differ, i.e. a babysitters main focus is watching your child—and keeping them safe.

What Are the Pros and Cons of a Nanny?

There are many pros to having a nanny. They provide consistent child care and they work set hours, usually in your home. Nannies give your child one-on-one attention and attend to all of their physical, social, and emotional needs, and they're generally more flexible than, say, a daycare center. They also expose your children to fewer germs, which is a concern for some parents. That said, there are cons to nannies, including:

  • Cost. Nannies tend to be more expensive than daycare centers and babysitters.
  • Socialization. Because your children are being watched in the home, they will get less socialization than their daycare-bound peers.
  • Lack of privacy. Some people do not like the idea of having an outside person in their home for so many hours most days of the week.
  • No backup option. While daycare centers are open whether or not your child's teacher falls ill, the same is not true with nannies. If your nanny is sick—or on vacation—there is no backup option.

What Are the Pros and Cons of a Babysitter?

While nannies provide numerous benefits, at least for some families, a babysitter is the right choice for others. Sitters are usually available on short notice. They can sometimes be called upon for the night before care is needed—or even the day of. Sitters are flexible and work nights and/or weekends. They also cost less than a nanny, as they are typically employed for shorter windows of time.

The cons of babysitting include:

  • Scheduling. If you are looking for a full-time child care provider, a nanny or daycare center is (more likely than not) a better choice.
  • Experience. Most babysitters are not as experienced as nannies (many are teenagers or individuals looking to make extra money).
  • Other problems. While most sitters will respect your house, boundaries, and rules, some disregard things like screen time limits. Others will bring third parties into your home. For this reason, it's important to screen and hire a sitter you know and trust.

How Do You Find the Right Option for Your Family?

While selecting a nanny or babysitter is a big job—this person will be in charge of your child, after all—there are a few things you can do to make the selection process easier. First, know what you need. Determine how many hours of care you will require and when. Also, set up a schedule and a budget. This will help you to determine if a full-time nanny or part-time babysitter is a realistic proposition. Then, when you're ready, start the interview process.

Interviews should be conducted at home, and with your child present, to let you see how the prospective sitter or nanny responds. Trial periods are often recommended too. Have the sitter or nanny work a shift or two with you present or at home.

Finally, ask for professional references. Current or former employers or fellow parents will be able to give you a good idea what you should (and should not) expect. You may also want to conduct a background check.

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