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The Royal Nanny: Choosing a Nanny Fit for a King

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Prince William and Kate Middleton's rumoured due date, 13 July, is fast approaching.

Being a first-time parent is difficult for everyone, but with all their royal responsibilities, they'll likely need some extra help.

Princes William and Harry were just the most recent in a long line of royal children cared for by full-time nannies. Their nannies Tiggy Legge-Bourke and Olga Powell made a famously big impact on the young princes.

However, in a break with tradition, the Duke and Duchess announced that they do not plan to employ full-time help. Instead, they are reported to be considering Kate's mother Carole as a primary caretaker. (This will not surprise Americans; Michelle Obama's mother Marian has a suite in the White House and cares for Sasha and Malia.)

Then again, the couple famously planned ('insisted', as some sources have it!) on having no staff to help them keep house as newlyweds. Kate was seen grocery shopping and casually running errands, and Prince William was reported to do his share of cooking and washing up. But the road to Kensington Palace must be paved with good intentions; within just a few weeks of the royal wedding, they called in domestic reinforcements.

Plays Games, All Sorts
Whether the couple ultimately hires a full-time royal nanny when HM The Baby arrives or relies on a combination of part-time help and assistance from family, they'll need to select their nanny wisely. It's a tough process many new parents face.

As a professional nanny with over 15 years of experience caring for children in the UK, US, and Germany, I'm often asked for advice on how to find the right nanny. My clients' high-profile friends - from Wall Street bankers to English nobility to Silicon Valley entrepreneurs - want the best for their children. Here's what I tell them.

You're looking for someone who is: trustworthy, flexible, proactive, playful, organized, experienced, well-versed in child development, firm yet nurturing, and endowed with an uncommonly large supply of common sense.

On top of that, you need someone who fits your family. One bilingual household I advised realized it was vital that their nanny speak French. Another wanted their nanny to enjoy frequent family camping trips. Yet another needed a nanny with special training to prepare meals for two children with severe food allergies.

Beginning the Search: CVs
To find the perfect nanny, scan CVs from a reputable agency for a few key things. First, look for prior positions that have lasted at least two- three years; a long-held position is a vote of confidence. Also, check what certifications she has received. Nannies who take children's safety seriously will be trained in first aid and resuscitation procedures. Last, all nannies must have experience keeping cool under pressure, and those in high-profile positions with families of royalty, actors, or famous athletes should know their way around press and security.

Interview Once you've narrowed down the candidates, conduct an interview. I keep a list of interview questions for helping clients or friends choose a nanny, including:
  • How did you originally become interested in working with children?
  • What did you like most about your last position? What did you dislike?
  • What kinds of activities would you do with children this age?
  • What is your philosophy on discipline and boundary-setting?
  • What particularly appeals to you about this position? What is less desirable?

The single most important question to ask is what precautions would you take to keep my child safe? Give different scenarios: at home, at a park, in the car, in a crowded place.

Be sure to add any questions specific to your family or the candidate's resume. Remember, you're looking for insights into the candidate's personality, philosophies and experience, as well as to review the schedule, hours, and logistics of the job to determine if the requirements are a good fit for both parties.

Also ask why the nanny left previous employment, and compare answers with those given by references. There may be two sides to the story, but speaking poorly or divulging gossipy details about previous employers is a bad sign.

Legitimate nanny agencies will perform an initial background check. Still, always check references and run a complete check of your own. You are entrusting your family's crown jewels to this person, so take any red flags or negative hunches seriously. Do their financial records show irresponsible debt or tidy accounts? If you expect your nanny to drive your children, are there any accidents or violations on her record?

Trial Period
Once you find a candidate you like, invite her to work for a one-week try-out. If the nanny passes your high expectations, hire her on a longer three-month trial run.

Trust your instincts; if something rings an alarm bell, or if you sense your child feels uncomfortable, keep looking. Hold out for the nanny that puts your mind at ease and makes you feel 100% comfortable about leaving your children in her care.

Setting Clear Expectations
Robert Frost said that good fences make good neighbours. I say good contracts make good working relationships. Clearly set out hours, salary, a schedule for annual pay increases, perks (e.g., health benefits, car, gym), vacation time, and paid holidays. Talk through the contract and clarify expectations on both sides. As a veteran nanny told me when I first started, 'trust everyone - and get it in writing'.

Once things are underway, schedule a monthly meeting with your nanny. That will give you both a chance to check in on how things are going and nip any issues in the bud.

Keep in mind that your nanny is a professional. Help reinforce any boundaries that your nanny needs, including maintaining a professional employee/employer relationship, and remember nannies have lives as well. Children need consistency, so treat your nanny as a valued employee, and your children will reap the benefits of the healthy bonds that accompany a long-term nanny.

In their posting for a housekeeper, the Duke and Duchess noted that 'discretion, loyalty and reliability are paramount.' Those requirements are just as relevant for a nanny. I wish the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge--and all new parents--the best of luck caring for their precious baby. And, of course, if they find themselves needing a bit of extra help, they're always welcome to call me for a consultation!