Finding the Perfect Nanny

For most parents the decision to go back to work and leave their children in the hands of a caregiver is terrifying – especially if the childen are not even old enough to talk.

However, if you do your homework, ask the right questions, and trust your intuition, it is possible to find a great nanny that is honest, reliable, and loves your child.

Bobbie Rhoads, mother of two daughters ages 7 and 3, living in New York City, made the decision to go back to work full-time when her oldest daughter, Jackie was only three months old.

"It was really hard going back to work so soon," Rhoads said. "My husband and I were very proactive in finding our nanny and made sure that we covered all the bases before we left Jackie in her care."

So, if you're ready to start the process of finding the perfect nanny for your family, the first step is being clear on what a nanny's role is within the home.

According to the American Nanny Agency Directory (ANAD), a reputed online nanny service, nannies are more than just a babysitter, because they participate in the social, emotional, intellectual development of your children on such areas as language development, potty training, social manners, and homework.

A good nanny, ANAD claims, should be like a friend to your children and comfort them when they have had a hard day at school or are sick, as well as set a good example.

Nannies, however, do not and should never be expected to take the place of a parent.

Rhoads added it is also very important for the nanny to work as partner with the parents, communicating clearly on their children's accomplishments and hardships.

"The hardest part about being away from your kids all day is missing out on the little things," Rhoads said. "It helps you feel more connected to your kids if the nanny fills you in on what they experienced that day."

Here are the two most recommended ways of finding a nanny and their pros and cons:

Option #1: Searching on your own either by placing an ad in a local publication, online, or getting a referral from a trusted friend.

— Pros: You are fully engaged in the entire process of hiring the nanny, therefore finding the perfect nanny for your family's needs.

— Cons: Takes lots of time and energy, not the best option for over-committed families.

Option #2: Go through a nanny agency that will find a nanny for you.

— Pros: Less time consuming on the parents end, because the agency does most of the pre-screening and legwork for you. This is a better option for families that are short on time and need a nanny quickly.

— Cons: Less engaged in the process and therefore may go through several unfit nannies before the agency finds you the perfect one.

Rhoads warns parents not to be misled into thinking that going through an agency is always the safer and more secure way to find a good nanny.

"The agency we went through asked us very vague, and frankly, not very relevant questions. In retrospect, I think that finding a nanny through your own personal network is the most trusted way to go."

So what do you look for in a nanny, and what questions should you ask during the interview process?

Here are five things that Rhoads considered when interviewing nannies that every parent should keep in mind.

— Strong initial connection with parents and kids. Rhoads explains that "you can tell almost immediately when he or she walks in the door. It's like an innate sense – an intuition parents have whether or not the nanny is a good match for your kids."

— Being on time. "If the nanny is late for the interview then you can assume that he or she will be late picking your kids up from school, lessons or play-dates, and are over all not reliable," Rhoads found

— Appropriately dressed. Rhoads felt that, "if the nanny shows up dressed in such a way that he or she cannot play in, then that is a good sign that their cell phone will get more attention than your kids."

— Asking lots of questions. Bobbie advises, "make sure you ask all the tough questions that you feel very strongly about during the interview process. For example, we always ask, how they would discipline our children; what would they do if there was an emergency; how would they deal with our children if they cannot sleep at night, etc."

— Get your kids opinions. "My husband and I always meet with the prospective nanny first without the kids, and then later with the kids," Rhoads said. "We take their opinions very seriously because their intuition is usually right on – and after all, it is very important that they are happy with their nanny too."

ANAD recommends that after you do a personal interview, follow up by checking with the prospective nanny's references, and make sure they are legally able to work in the United States.

Parents should ensure that the potential candidate is healthy, and is not carrying any diseases such as tuberculosis that could be communicated to their child.

Also, parents should conduct a "working interview"- one where the nanny comes and spends several hours with your children and the parent supervises their time together.

This gives you the opportunity see how he or she interacts with your children, and allows you to get a sense of how the nanny handles your kids in different situations.

Finding the perfect nanny can be an overwhelming process and a bit scary at times.

But, whether you do it yourself or go through an agency, the more involved and proactive you are, the more success you will have.

Getting your kids' input on who they would feel most comfortable and safe with is also a great way to make a hard decision. But don't stop there. Ask teachers, friends and neighbors for feedback once you have decided on a new nanny. And at the end of the day, listen to your children, they will always be the best informers. health writer Kyle Ellen Nuse contributed to this report.

Click here to check out Dr. Manny's book The Check List (Harper Collins, 2007), from which this article was excerpted.

Dr. Manny Alvarez is the managing editor of health news at, and is a regular medical contributor on the FOX News Channel. He is chairman of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Reproductive Science at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. Additionally, Alvarez is Adjunct Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at New York University School of Medicine in New York City.