A Resource for Nannies and Families

The Babysitter

A babysitter is kind of a junior nanny. A definitely part-time provider of child care for children in their own homes, babysitters tend to be occasional, and her responsibilities are accordingly limited. Her basic job is to keep children safe, but a good babysitter is fun to be with, too. A great babysitter is both dependable (on time, exercising good judgment, keeping commitments) and a welcome companion.


Babysitters may take your children to ball games or play soccer with them herself, give them meals or snacks as instructed, read to them, help with homework, or watch a favorite television show with them before putting them to bed. Her attention is on the children, not on the clock. Your children love her. This description of a babysitter sounds an awful lot like that of a nanny: she does all kinds of things with them, she’s there in their parents’ absence, she keeps them safe, and she loves them.

But a nanny is more than a babysitter. The difference lies in the scope and degree of her responsibility for children. Because she spends so much time filling in for parents, a nanny has a serious role in child development. As with a mom-at-home, the nanny’s role is not just entertainment (not to be sneezed at, but still, not the only concern) but helping children learn and grow. A good nanny is part of the family’s child-rearing team, working with parents to plan activities, set goals, establish discipline (otherwise known as developing in children a sense of responsiblity), anticipate needs. She’s the one right there, on the ground, when parents are elsewhere. And she, too, is beloved.

A nanny may also take responsibility for chores that a babysitter can ignore, e.g., sewing on buttons, arranging for playdates, shopping for children’s toys or clothes or gifts to take to birthday parties, not to mention washing up after their meals and seeing that toys are put away after play.

And a nanny may babysit, evenings for instance, or on weekends, for the same family or for others. She’s still a nanny by profession, but sometimes she’s a nanny who babysits. It’s a lot less work than nannying, more like a bus driver’s holiday, and it helps pay the bills.
Inversely, a babysitter may become a nanny by taking on a greater role in the children’s lives. Indeed, some women who call themselves babysitters probably have earned the title “nanny.” These “sitters” don’t do all that much sitting. Like a nanny, they work many hours each week for a single family, regularly helping with homework, preparing children’s meals, thinking up fun activities that children will both enjoy and learn from — caring for children as if they were her own, not only keeping them safe and entertained, but seeing to it that, even in their parents’ absence, their lives are as rich as any parent would wish.

In short, “nanny” is a term of respect, acknowledging the value of a person who spends so much time and gives so much of herself to your children. If your “babysitter” is really a nanny, consider calling her one!

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