Tips for Beginning Babysitters and Nannies: Lessons I've Learned the Hard Way.
Try your best to be mom and dad's remote-controlled robot.
As a babysitter or nanny, your job is to follow orders EXACTLY as given by Baby's parents. The problem is that sometimes they have expectations that they don't verbalize, which causes tension as they mentally question your actions. If you aren't sure what time a kid needs to go to sleep at night, what they should be eating at meals, whether they're allowed snacks, when they need to be doing homework-- it is so much better to ask if the parents have a preference than to do whatever seems best to you.
When in doubt, ALWAYS ASK what's expected of you.
One of the most difficult moments in my nannying career was when a parent had to sit me down and explain all the things I was doing wrong. I was thoroughly mortified. Among their complaints were the following:
Be more interactive. Don't just be a "sitter." Be an educator and a playmate.
A three-month-old baby really can't do much. The little girl in question couldn't crawl, walk, talk, or even emote much at all. I could never make her laugh, and if I tried really hard I could get her to smile for a split second once a week. Even more difficult was getting her attention to make eye contact; I suspected that she couldn't actually tell the difference between my face and the wall. The frustration of being unable to connect with her had eventually led me to become... shall we say, "lazy." I'm not a naturally outgoing person at all, so when I got no feedback from her I thought it was a futile effort... so I started watching the TV more than attempting to play with her.
This was definitely not what her parents wanted.
Find creative ways to reach Baby at her own developmental level.
They advised me to talk to her more. When I explained that it was hard for me to think of enough one-sided conversational topics to last hours, days, and weeks (I didn't use those exact words), they said I could read books to her. It would help her develop even if she couldn't understand any of what I said. Even if she really didn't seem to notice I was there, her little baby brain still desperately needed every bit of human interaction available.
Her parents wanted me to use my Spanish skills to help her learn the language while she was young. I had been having trouble with this because... well... she wasn't doing much to hold up her half of the conversation. So after her parents gave me a talking to, I went to the library and picked up some Spanish children's books. This helped a LOT, because I no longer had to constantly pick my brains to find things to ramble about all day. I could just read the books when I was at a loss for words, and when I ran out of books I could just get more for free from the library! Easy.
ARRIVE PUNCTUALLY every day--
-- even when they don't.
I was told to show up at 8:00 every morning, but usually when I got there, Baby's mom was still breast-feeding her upstairs. I would end up waiting ten minutes or more until they finished up and my job began; this caused me to believe (very mistakenly) that it wasn't that important that I be exceedingly punctual every day.
It was an early-morning job and a half-hour commute, so I frequently showed up a few minutes late. However, Baby's mom and dad made it clear that if I was paid to start at 8:00, then I had better be there at eight or sooner. It wasn't up to me to decide what time they needed me to show up.
ALWAYS clean up after yourself.
I was accustomed to cleaning up after myself during evening babysitting jobs after the kids went to sleep. However, during my daytime job, I would sometimes forget to pick up toys and dishes because I was distracted by Baby. It definitely earns points with the parents if you clean up without being asked-- and if you clean up messes that were there before you even arrived, you'll be mom and dad's babysitting superhero.
Cash checks promptly!
This one caught me by surprise. Apparently it really bugs people if you hold onto a check for a week so that you can take two to the bank at once. Is that weird? They said it helps them keep their checkbooks balanced. Maybe someday I'll understand, once I actually start using a checkbook.