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Training your domestic worker

Text by Nikki Stevenson. Photography by Gallo Images / Getty Images; Louise Diesel

Source: This article was taken from the June 2011 issue of Living & Loving

The nanny is one of the most important people your child will have in her life. Here’s how to find and work with your own Super Nanny.

The nanny … a.k.a your child’s second mom: the person you choose to look after your child. She’ll get to know your child just about as well as you do, and your child will become attached to her too. As South Africans, many of us were cared for by a nanny when we were little, and truth be told, that person helped shape who we are today. So choosing the right person for the job and training her to do it properly is one of the most important things you can do for your child.

Mary Poppins or Cruella De Vil?

It’s essential to choose the right person to look after your child. You need to be able to trust your nanny with the most important person in your life, so hiring a stranger to care for your child should be treated as a serious matter. Here are some tips on where to start:

Use an agency

Using a placement agency is a great way to help you find the right person to hire. Most of them pre-interview the candidates and check their references before placing them in someone’s home. The nice thing about using an agency is that you’ll have an opportunity to meet quite a few potential nannies, and interview a few candidates until you find the right one. Visit www.supernannies.co.za for some insight on how these services work.

Keep it in the family

If you have a family member who’s willing to look after your child while you’re at work, you should consider this option. But be warned: this may seem easier and more cost effective, but can be tricky as well. When you hire someone, you’re the boss, and whatever the boss says, goes. With a family member, this isn’t the case. If you decide to ask a family member to look after your child, be prepared to be sensitive and diplomatic.

Love what you know

It can be a great idea if you already have a domestic worker and would like her to take over the responsibility of Nanny as well. Just remember that a higher salary should accompany the increased responsibility. Also, cleaning a household while trying to look after a little one is almost impossible, so it’s a good idea to employ someone to help her with the washing and ironing once a week. This way, she can also dedicate more time to your child.

Questions to ask

Whether you’re interviewing an outsider, your domestic worker or a family member, you’ll need to ask certain questions, and make sure you’re making the right decision. Don’t read their CVs only; take the time to check that their references are legitimate. With someone you know, it’s important that you’re both on the same page when it comes to what you expect from them and what they’re willing to do for you.

House rules

Once you’ve chosen someone to help you raise your little one, the hard work begins. Make sure that any routines you’ve set up for your child are stuck to while you’re not around. If you haven’t got a routine, now might be the time to introduce one – even if it’s a flexible one. A routine is important because it will give your nanny some guidance as to how you want to raise your child.

Introduce the nanny to your child first. Take two weeks or so to share the responsibility of looking after your little one during the day. You can then monitor how your child and the nanny interact, and your nanny can see how you go about things. This also allows your child to get used to the new nanny, and you won’t be leaving her with a stranger.

Here are some things to let your nanny know:

  • The basics: when your child eats, sleeps and baths.
  • What kind of entertainment and playtime your child likes. And no, teaching your nanny the Barney song isn’t beneath you!
  • Your child’s likes and dislikes
  • Stick a list of emergency numbers on the fridge, including yours, other relatives’ numbers and emergency services.
  • Provide a poison guide that tells you what to do according to what the child has ingested. (See the March and April 2011 issues of living and loving for first-aid checklists.)
  • Even if your child isn’t crawling yet, show your nanny some child-proofing essentials and they’ll turn into habits.
  • Your nanny needs to know what to do if your child gets sick. Either show her what medication to give in certain situations, or let her know that she should call you for your advice.
  • Have an open conversation about safety in the house. She shouldn’t let anyone in the house unless they’re expected, and you should say whether or not you mind the nanny having visitors over.
  • If you want the nanny to be able to properly stimulate your child’s mind and play age-appropriate games for educational purposes, consider sending her on a course in your area that specialises in teaching these skills.
  • Personal hygiene is important. If you’re adamant about washing your hands before you wash a bottle, let her know that she needs to do the same.
  • There should be a guideline on what to do and what not to do when accidents happen and if bleeding occurs.
Easy does it

Sharing the responsibility of raising a child doesn’t make the job any less strenuous, but there are things you can use to make both of your lives easier, and free up more time to spend with the little one, as follows:

  • A decent baby monitor. This is especially important if you ask your domestic worker to look after your child. She can listen out for any cries while moving around the house.
  • A bottle steriliser that works quickly. This saves a lot of time and ensures that everything is as clean as it needs to be.
  • Create different play areas around the house. Keep a few toys in different places. This will ensure that your child won’t get bored by being stuck in the same room the whole day.
  • Ensure that there’s pre-prepared food available. Whether you make it yourself or buy it, make sure it’s ready and available so that Nanny can provide good nutrition.
  • Sending your Nanny on a child-rearing course is a great idea that will put your mind at ease. She’ll learn so many useful things, including CPR and childcare.
True stories

Jackie, 33, realised that she needed help with her twin babies when she started working from home. “Instead of getting an outsider to come in, I asked our domestic worker to take on the extra responsibility. I decided that she was the best choice because I trusted her, and the children were comfortable in her company already.

But it wasn’t all easy going. There were a lot of boundaries to set and I had to learn to be more reasonable about my expectations. Looking after a household is tough; looking after children at the same time – well, there’s a reason Mary Poppins is only a fantasy character. We butted heads over a few things, but after I learnt that it was about compromising and not dictating, things started running smoothly.”

Rosina, 40, had been a domestic worker for years before the family that employed her asked her to look after their new baby as well. “Being a mother of four, I love children, and so I was quite happy to take on the role of nanny.

It was trial and error in the beginning, especially because I had to learn how to balance the housework with looking after a baby. But after a while, we were able to employ someone to help with the ironing twice a week and this freed up my time to look after the little one, and to focus more on stimulating him mentally. I did receive an increase in salary for the extra work, but seeing him smile at me every day and getting to know him as if he was one of my own doesn’t seem like extra work at all.”

What you should have learned…
  • Hiring a nanny is about choosing the best possible person to help raise your child.
  • Open communication is the only way to make it work. Both parties should have an input as to what could work for your child. So be open to suggestions.
  • If there are items or products you can get to make your nanny’s life easier, then get them! The more efficient your nanny is, the better off your child will be.
  • Don’t be scared to look around before deciding on who to employ.
  • If you choose someone you know, make sure you both agree on what’s expected from each of you.
  • Remember, just as you’re learning the right way to do things as you go along, so is your nanny.
  • Don’t overreact if your child is as happy to see the nanny as she is to see you. This is a good thing!

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