How to Handle Tough Conversations with Your Nanny

Working with your sitter

Management may or may not be part of your job description at the office, but if you have a nanny, you’re the boss. Complicating this particular employer-employee relationship? She’s in charge of your most precious project — your child.

In most cases, parents who hire nannies have done their homework, extensively interviewed candidates, vetted references, and chosen a qualified, trust-worthy caregiver. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be some bumps in the road. Whether it’s a difference in discipline style, a minor misunderstanding, or she’s disregarded direct instructions, here’s how to tackle tough talks with your nanny.

Set clear expectations.
An ounce of prevention, right? It’s much more difficult to approach your nanny about tricky topics when she’s unclear on your expectations. Defining your nanny’s duties as well as house rules and general guidelines in a job description (yes, an actual document that outlines her position) can help avoid misunderstandings. And, while it won’t solve all problems, a job description also provides a starting point for conversations and can even be added to when needed.

Keep the lines of communication open.
Don’t just talk to your nanny when something goes wrong — that’s a surefire way to make a potentially uncomfortable conversation more unpleasant for both of you. Instead, set up formal, weekly discussions — 15 minutes should be sufficient — when you and your nanny can touch base about your child, ask and answer questions, and troubleshoot issues. A weekly conversation ensures that your worries won’t fester for too long, which could lead to more emotionally charged accusations rather than a productive two-way dialogue. Put any concerns you have at the top of the agenda and talk about those first. That said, if your concerns include a safety issue or something more serious that needs to be addressed a timely manner, don’t wait. Speak with your nanny ASAP.

Reframe the discussion.
Do you dread the idea of confronting your nanny? That’s normal, but nerves and anxiety can lead to a more difficult discussion and a lingering sense of awkwardness. Remember, taking care of young children who are constantly changing and developing is a challenge both you and your nanny face. Try to see these conversations as constructive — an opportunity to get on the same page, understand each other’s point of view, and recalibrate the relationship. If your nanny is the right fit for your family, she will take your concerns to heart and make the necessary adjustments to her routine with your child.

Think about what you’ll say before you say it.
Situations involving our kids play on our vulnerabilities and with good reason, but the most productive employer-employee conversations happen when emotions are checked at the door. To help ensure a positive outcome, carefully consider how you want to approach your nanny. Be clear and direct and use neutral language as much as possible. Avoid phrases like, “I hate to say this…” or “This is difficult for me to bring up…” and don’t apologize. Not sure about your strategy? Practice on a trusted (and level-headed) friend who can offer feedback and suggestions.

Listen.
Communication is a two-way street, so it’s important you give your nanny time to speak as well. Actively listen to what she has to say and let her know you hear her by being empathetic and repeating key phrases. For example, if your nanny allowed your 1-year-old to watch Sesame Street when you’ve clearly stated no screen time before 2, respond to her with understanding, not accusations. Try this: “I know it was a tough day and the usual methods that sooth our toddler weren’t calming him down. However, our pediatrician has recommended no screen time until 2, and it is important to me that we follow those guidelines.” This will put your nanny at ease and help you move on to the next step of the conversation — problem solving.

Focus on brainstorming solutions together.
You and your nanny are a team, and she is a key player when it comes to ensuring your child’s health and happiness. She also spends a lot of time with your child and is your eyes and ears on the front lines. Her input is valuable, and when problems arise, it’s important that these discussions are solution-oriented. Be open-minded about her ideas and observations, brainstorm together, and make a plan about how your nanny should handle the situation the next time it happens. That said, as the parent, you have the final say, and if you and your nanny ultimately can’t see eye-to-eye, she may not be the right fit for your family.

Deciding to let your nanny go.
If you’ve set clear expectations and attempted to productively work through problems, but you can’t get on the same page, it might be time for you and your nanny to part ways. Choosing to fire your nanny can be an anxiety-ridden decision — it’s upsetting to terminate someone’s employment, children are often attached to their nannies, and you’re going to have to launch a new search for the right caregiver.

If you determine that letting your nanny go is the best option for your family, start by determining a back-up plan before you deliver the news. This way, you won’t be scrambling to avoid a gap in childcare. Approach your nanny with your decision in a direct, but compassionate way. Make sure she understands when she’ll receive her final check as well as if she is entitled to any unemployment benefits, such as two week’s pay. If you are firing your nanny for performance reasons, she is not entitled to a severance; however, you should have documentation of these issues.

Finally, be honest about whether or not you’re willing to give her a recommendation. If you’re not parting ways because of a safety issue or serious infraction, and you feel comfortable with her skills as a nanny, giving her a recommendation can be a tremendous help when she’s applying for new employment. Remember: She may not be the right nanny for your family, but she might be perfect for someone else.