Keeping Motivated During Down-Time

When the third grader is at school full-time and the toddler is napping it can be hard to be motivated to do another load of laundry when your favorite soap opera is on the flat screen and some leftover birthday cake is waiting to be tasted in the fridge.

Most nannies and au pairs have some down time to take a break each day. It is completely acceptable for caregivers to take a much needed rest while the baby is resting too. It gets tiring tidying the same Legos and same Polly Pockets in the same playroom each day while the child naps.
Even if the tasks below are not included as a job responsibility in the nanny’s or au pair’s contract, random acts of kindness are well noticed and appreciated. To keep motivated, we suggest in-home caregivers try some of the projects listed below while kids are in school, at activities, or napping.

Gratitude Journal:
Write down the funny things the children did that day. Even on the most stressful days children are funny. Not only does finding the humor in the children’s actions and words help you keep a positive attitude for your job, you can create a book of funny moments later to give as a homemade gift for the parents at holiday time.

Read a Childcare Book:
Although parents would love you to iron clothes or mop the kitchen floor while the baby naps, sometimes just allowing yourself to read for 15- to 30-minutes can be refreshing. Pick out books at the library or bookstore that discuss a topic you are dealing with at work. For example, The Happiest Baby on the Block by Harvey Karp is a quick and easy read, plus a very useful guide, for those caring for newborns. There are great resources for every stage of development. So, if you are dealing with discipline problems, finicky eaters, or potty training there are plenty of resources to motivate you.

Organize a Bookshelf:
Some chores are more noticeable than others. Some tasks can be done while listening to your favorite television courtroom drama too. Nothing looks better than a tidy bookshelf and it can be organized while listening to the television or radio. First, pull out books the children no longer read and put them in a pile for the parents to determine if they can be tossed or donated. The best looking bookshelves have books organized from the tallest book to the shortest book, from left to right. But, some families prefer keeping different categories of books on separate shelves or even in other rooms. Respect the family’s preference. Alphabetize extensive collections and sort by genre. Wipe off dust with a slightly damp rag. Reserve the most easily reached shelves for books, movies, and music the children enjoy frequently.

Cook a New Recipe:
Boys might love a recipe from the Star Wars Cookbook, girls might love the Strawberry Shortcake Cookbook, and parents will love if you try a recipe from Rachael Ray’s Top 30 30-Minute Meals for Kids. Better yet, make a turtle-shaped bread for the children’s snack later in the day. Take photos of your creations to add to a scrapbook.


Have a Healthy Snack:
Nannies spend most of their time preparing healthy snacks and meals for the children but forget to take care of themselves. Some lean protein, fresh fruit and vegetables, and a tall glass of cold water can make the hardest working nanny or au pair feel better.

Discard Expired Medications:
Most medicine cabinets are filled with outdated medications. First, ask the parents if you can throw out expired medications. Then, make a list of what items you will need to purchase to refill the supply. Finally, wipe down the cabinet and reorganize the remedies neatly. Nannies and au pairs should feel free to discard of the children’s medicines but should ask the parents before discarding their adult medications.

Tackle a Closet:
Parents love it when caregivers take the extra time to reorganize a closet. Never enter a parent’s private closet without permission, but feel free to organize the children’s bedroom closets, playroom closets, coat closets, and cubbies. Clothes the children rarely wear or toys that are broken should be the first things to go. Clothing that is too small should be donated. Damaged toys that are broken or no longer used should be discarded. Group “likes” together such as all long pants hang together and all long-sleeve shirts together. Then, arrange by color. Some caregivers prefer matching outfits be folded or hung together so that children can choose their own clothing to wear, but they are already paired in matching outfits. The items used most often by the children should be easy for them to access, so hang or store them no higher than eye level for the child.

Wash Stuffed Animals:
Not many caregivers think to wash toys or launder the children’s stuffed animals (while daycare centers are required to sanitize toys). But, is anything dirtier than the stuffed animals that sleep alongside the children? Most stuffed animals are chewed on, sneezed on, and full of germs. As long as there are no electronics inside the toys they can be washed in the washing machine, then dried lightly on a low setting in the dryer.

Clean Out a Junk Drawer:
Every household has at least one junk drawer. Ironically, professional organizer, Lea Schneider calls junk drawers “Necessary Drawers” because they tend to hold everything but junk. Dump out the contents of the drawer. Every junk drawer has some trash to throw out. Sort out the items that have “homes” somewhere else in the house and put them away (for example, a compact disc should be in the compact disc drawer next to the compact disc player). But the necessary items that you need often and quickly should remain in the junk drawer such as: a glue stick, scissors, a pencil, an ink pen, quarters, a Phillips head screwdriver, and so on. Cleaning out the junk drawer doesn’t take long and you can still listen to your favorite soap opera or listen to music while completing the task.

Clean Out the Fridge:
Expired food is unhealthy, stinky, and gross. Throw out gross or expired foods. Then, remove all the food from the fridge and wipe down the shelves with a solution of two tablespoons of baking soda to one quart warm water or a solution of one cup of vinegar and one gallon warm water to wash the inside of the refrigerator. Dump crumbs out of drawers, then rinse in sink or wipe down with solution listed above. Placing a box of baking soda placed in the refrigerator will also cut down on odors. The task shouldn’t take half an hour but will be appreciated. No one needs permission to dump moldy left-overs — just get rid of them!

What unexpected tasks do you do around the house that the parents appreciate?


  1. Hi,Normally during my downtown I fold laundry and put it away or start dinner for my charges! I rarely sit down when I am at work I am constantly doing something, but I do have those times I will watch a little tv or read a book. I take my laptop to work so I usually check my e-mails or other things I need to do! All the families really apperciate the extra things I do! I had one family in which I replaced their current Nanny! I started that Monday and the house was ridiculus, I couldnt believe they had a Nanny and she let things get so out of control! By the time Friday came I had organized the kitchen did all the laundry that you can tell had been weeks worth and organized the kids closets. The mom paid me that friday and she gave me a extra $200 bc she said she couldnt believe what a difference I was from all the other nanny she had!

  2. I think parents take for granted how tiring it can be working with kids 10 hours a day. So I def think it's ok to take a rest once in a while. I have fallen asleep in same room as baby when rocking her to sleep. I don't think there is anything wrong with that.But, I do agree that we have to take on a new project each week to keep us motivated to do the same job. I know part of my job is laundry but that does not mean I have to do it every single day. I do laundry Monday's and Thursday's and can tackle another project that way during the week, if there is time.I have read in Best Nanny Newsletter previously that if we are having a demanding week child care always is first priority over household chores. So, if she sleeps hours and hours I certainly have time to straighten a bookshelf. But if she's sick and cranky, I skip anything extra.Allison, Philly Nanny

  3. Sometimes if you take just five to ten minutes to clean out the diaper bag it makes the parents' life easier. I have also taken the car to the car wash to help out. Any drawer in the kitchen needs to be wiped out once in awhile (crumbs and such). I constantly refold the linen cabinet since the towels get unfolded. There is a drawer in the bathroom with toys I throw out the yucky onces and reorganize the others every once and a while.Colleen Johnson, Austin TX

  4. All my local nanny friends have the opposite attitude. They won't lift a finger more than necessesary. I prefer to help the family out if I can and do not get angry about cleaning out a junk drawer, for example. These are good ideas the parents will certainly appreciate. And it's the parents who gives us the raises and bonuses!Nanny Plus ExtraMelanie, Seattle Washington State

  5. I have the same problem as comments above that most nannies I know won't lift a finger to do extra work around the house. I do understand the concept of not starting something you don't want to do in the future (if you make the parent's bed then you will have to always make the parent's bed) but it's a bad attitude.I have a great salary and job because I am flexible and willing to help out anyway I can. I've noticed at nanny conferences that the nannies that share that attitude have better jobs and are happier with their jobs. I think we all want to feel good about ourselves and that we are doing a good job. To do a good job we must be appreciated and we are appreciated if we make the parent's life easier.Terri, San Fran

  6. It is so true that we need a break during the day too. In every job employees get an hour lunch break. We don't always get one hour straight but throughout the day can get a moment here and there to rest. Eating healthy food while baby is napping is an important point. I make hard boiled eggs on Mondays and keep them in fridge for quick protein during the week. We don't have to eat mac n' cheese with the kids.Nanny Maryanne6 yrs experienceMiami

  7. TAKE A WALK! Babies and toddlers love napping in a stroller why you push them around the neighborhood and get exercise and fresh air!Nanny Gia Smithton Greenwich CT

  8. I used to be the type of nanny that watched tv any chance I would get. But I became bored and don't enjoy being bored. So, I have started doing more around the house even when not asked because I feel good helping out, even when not asked to. I think more nannies should try this approach. But, I also see a NEED to rest when you can especially with young children. The day is long and work tiring. I certainly have taken cat-naps with babies and toddlers because we do get tired. That cat-nap is productive, but watching soap operas is just boring. But listening to them while being busy is ok too.Nanny NicoleCleveland Ohio area

  9. I am a parent who has been trying to find opinions and info on what nannies do in their downtime. Sorry to intrude on your discussion, hope you don't mind!!! Our nanny is lovely but she rarely does anything extra or unexpected, and sometimes I even have to ask her to do small tasks like cleaning the toys, which she is contracted to do. She works an 8-hour day but the kids sleep for two to three hours so she has a long break, during which she naps and surfs the internet. We have told her her we will give her an annual bonus, and now she's asked for a raise. We appreciate how wonderful she is with the kids and I know that it is tiring looking after them, but in this economic climate when we do not expect raises ourselves it is hard to get enthusiastic about adding to our expenses. It's nice to see that there are nannies out there who do believe in doing a bit extra to help out in their downtime, and we would definitely be willing to pay more bonuses or give a generous pay increase to someone like that.

  10. Dear Mom above:I think you just have to list what you would like done during the week so she knows what you want done. As long as she doesn't perceive the work as housekeeping. I have found MOST not all but most nannies really are insulted if asked to do extra housekeeping. The thing about cleaning toys, I think that's reasonable once a season, but some might think that is above and beyond their duties. Is she doing laundry during naptime? Does she cook dinner or prepare food for kids during their nap time? I think an hour to eat, nap, watch tv, surf internet sounds reasonalbe, but after the hour she ought to organize a bookshelf or clean the toys like you suggested.I think you need to write it down in a list and give her plenty of time to do it. Watching kids is exhausting but 8 hours a day is much less time than most nannies work so an hour to rest should suffice.

  11. I think the mom has to make a list of stuff to do. I don't think it is fair to assume she knows what you want done, especially if she has never done it in the past. Also, if you expect her to go "above and beyond" I hope she is compensated handsomely. I know plenty of nannies that watch tv all day and still make good salaries. Although I think we all should be happy to be employed like you explained I think it's hard to be motivated making $10 an hour sometimes. And it's certianly hard to do extra if not compensated.Most importantly, she isn't a mind reader. Don't assume she knows what you want her to do. Just tell her.

  12. Top priority for childcare providers is care of the children (not organizing or cleaning the home). But, if the 8 hr a day nanny isn't pulling her weight I wonder ss the nanny who can't read minds a transitional nanny? Is she someone not choosing this line of service as her career, or is she just doing this until something better comes along, she finishes college, or to see the parents part of the country? I ask because if she's looking towards something better than your trying to motivate her will be in vain. But if you love her and she appreciates your family you can list stuff to do without being nasty.I admit I am currently unmotivated with kids back in school. I feel a little lost. I like playing with kids not being alone at their home. But I'm not running my errands on their (my employer's) time like many others. It is just sometimes hard to know what to do. Just kindly mention stuff you could use help accomplishing around the home if she has free time.Maria LopezMiami Florida

  13. To respong to the parent comment,Treat her as you would want to be treated. If you can ask nicely and respectfully and compensate well than go ahead and ask for help. I agree that she can't read your mind so thinks she's doing a great job. Also consider, what do you do during boring times at work? Also note kids outgrow naps. Priority list making care of children first, then other tasks only if time and energy allow sounds good to me.Cara WingLA CA

  14. To Parent Above,Did you know this is National Nanny Recogntion Week? Did you see the list of nice things you can do for your nanny?Be nice to her and she will be more likely to return the favor.Care of the children is number one priority. Nap times change as do the needs of the children. So for a few months they are sleepig and napping for a long time but this time next year they won't be.Most nannies also have the attitude of don't start what you won't be willing to do in the future. I hear this complaint (or warning) all the time. If she starts a demanding task not only may you expect her to complete it in the future but when the kids napping schedule changes she might feel overwhelmed taking on too many tasks.For example, if she starts making the parents's bed then they will expect her to do that always. (Of course making the bed is not demanding). Yet, making the bed was never mentioned in her job description and she isn't paid more for the task. So that could be part of the issue. If she does a difficult task once (washing dirty windows let's say) will you then expect her to do that in the future without extra compensation?

  15. Annual raises should be based on performance. Use a performance review sheet when annual raise time comes. In filling out the review sheet you may find she's doing more than you thought and she might see she's doing less than she thought.You might be trying to be nice by not complaining to the nanny about her performance. But, if you just do not give the nanny a raise without a discussion about job expectations, she might go on a work strike — making the entire situation worse. By not communicating clearly with your employee using a performance review sheet you risk resenting that she isn't accomplishing tasks she used to. Meanwhile, she will resent that you aren't living up to contractual expectations of giving her a raise or just not being as nice as you used to be.I like the idea of using performance review sheet because it makes the discussion less PERSONAL. It covers the job tasks of being an employee rather than personally attacking the employee in any way.Just email me privately and I can send you a performance review sheet this weekend.

  16. If the extra jobs for the day are done I don't think it is a problem to relax during naptime. If the laundry is folded and put away and the chores are done then I see no problem in emailing friends. While a load is in the washer and kids are napping she ought to be allowed to read a book. If there is a pile of laundry to fold and she's chatting with a friend on the phone than her priorities are not quite right. But once the job is done she should be allowed to relax and pace her day.

  17. I agree with the newsletter to use a performance review to dicuss job expectations.The discussion about not having a raise in this economy means you cannot afford to give her a raise and that is a separate conversation.If you have enough money to pay for the raise but you plan not to give a raise due to poor performance then her performance won't change because she is being told you don't have the money to give her the raise, not the truth that she is being lazy. Use a job review to determine what tasks are or are not being done. Good performance is rewarded with money/a raise. Not being able to afford to give a raise is a completely differnt discussion. To say to the nanny that you cannot afford to give her a raise in this economny does not change her job performance — it's just a reason to ask her to be sympathetic to your financial situaion.If you can't afford her then she can decide to leave to work for someone who gives her more money.Of course during performance review if you both discover she isn't willing to clean toys on her down-time while kids nap then you can both decide if the issue is worth firing her or finding a new job over.But dancing around the issue by using not being able to afford to give her a raise as the reason for her not getting a raise won't improve her job performance because she won't know she isn't getting the raise because she is on computer too much or napping too much.Honesty is best policy. Separate job responsiblities and bad economy. Bad job performance and bad economy are not the same thing. Also realize if she is arriving on time, willing to be flexible, completing her tasks, kind to the kids, following your discipline choices…she might be too precious to nit-pick. But if she's blatantly not getting her chores done it's important to re-evaluate what you need with her. Annual performance review, with raise for good performance are best way to do this. Melinda in Yardley PA

  18. I know it's late in the conversation but I know the mistake I have made is cleaning and organizing things that the mother could care less about. I wasted many hours on areas she doesn't care about like the linen closet or mudroom cubbies. Problem is I was spending so much time getting all of that organized and clean when she really would have preferred the pantry organized or stuffed animals laundered. But it took me a long time to figure that out. Shoes are a big pet peeve of mine still and I still spend more time organizing shoes and putting them in pairs away more than I should since the parents don't seem to care. But I still do it which doesn't mean it's bad, just dumb because I'm wasting time on unnoticed work.

  19. I think the mother comment should look at this article too. The author lists qualities great caregivers should have and many are not tangible but more important than perhaps a load of laundry being cleaned.

  20. Whatever the parents chooses to do she should do it kindly, respectfully, and soon. If you ignore issues the relationship can sour quickly. Better to kindly nip it in the bud before you both resent one another. Always better to talk about issues because you both might be blowing things out of proportion.If there is something that is important to you that will affect her raise she wants to know! I think she'll fix and do what asked if she likes you and you are fair.There is a potential she will get angry and then you can both find a different arrangement.But the worse thing you can do is ignore the issue because she'll be getting angry about not getting a raise and like others said, go on a work strike.Things can sour so quickly (and stupidly over so little). So just talk to her how you would want to be treated. Begin and end conversation with a lot of compliments!Kellie White Chicago

  21. Everyone has down times at their jobs. If we were in retail we would be reading books and magazines during the work week. I think if her chores are done then she can relax. We all need to sit down eat lunch even take a nap, just not for very long stretches of time. I think if the nanny is super wonderful emailing friends shouldn't be a super big deal. The kids schedule will change and she will need to adjust then too.

  22. Hi – This is the mum who posted a little while ago. I really appreciate all the helpful comments that have been posted since then, it has really helped me to put things in perspective, you have all been so amazingly helpful. Thanks so much!!!!!

  23. My thought for the mother is to ask herself what are the most important qualities of a nanny?Unfortunately I think most nannies and au pairs are not happy with their jobs. I know, I know I shouldn't say that here where the best of the best in child care learn about being a great nanny. I don't mean the nannies that communicate here. I am talking about the majority of nannies I know though.If the caregiver's intentions are good and she is enjoying the hard job of being a domestic employee maybe that might be the most important quality a nanny have.I know so many that take advantage of employers on purpose. I am not sure if your nanny is actually trying to take advantage of you. Sounds like once she's done with her work for the day and kids are napping is her chance to unwind. I really agree with the nannies that say the children's schedules always change as the children grow and develop. IF you don't give your nanny a raise and in a nice way she might leave.

  24. I don't think the chores listed above are what make a great nanny. They are acts of kindness that are not considered to be a nanny's role. To the mother asking how to motivate her nanny to do extra should consider if the children are happy, healthy, developing well. Those are the role of the nanny to keep them safe, healthy, happy and developing. I think sub-standard care would be ignoring you kids and being emotionally abusive. If the nanny's extra chores are complete and the kids are napping she ought to relax. Other have said the child's schedule changes as they do. Worry about if your kids are thriving. Don't worry if the bookshelf is organized.

  25. Here is the thing. we make diddly. We are underappreciated or not appreciated at all. I understand parents will spend as little as possible since it is only natural to try to save money. But, how do expect to get quality care but not give a raise?!! The job can really suck most days (especially on a Friday like today and the kids are being brats). Let the parents try this 50 hrs a week then get minimum wage, no overtime pay or benefits, and get no raise!

  26. Want to lose a good employee? Don't give her a raise! Want to lose a good nanny? Make her do household chores.You want to keep a great nanny?1. Appreciate her relationship with your child. Forget about disorganized bookshelves and linen closets.2. Give her a raise as expected.Even if parents "bite their tongues" and blame the economy as reason for no raise, why would she stay if you don't give her a raise?Melanie M Bay Area

  27. These comments for this mother keep continuting so time for me to make my points.I wish the mother above would consider that she hired a childcare provider. Remember what her responsiblities were when you hired her. Also consider if you would accept more job responsibilities at your job with out a raise.If you add more work you need to compensate her for it or she will resent it.In general, nannies aren't paid high salaries. Even the best paid nannies aren't making 6 digits. So not giving them a raise for extra work is really insulting.I think parents might take on more job responsibilites or stay late without extra compensation because they are in a completely different salary bracket. Big mistake to squeeze every ounce of work out of your nanny, she may burn-out.

  28. The sure fire way to UNmotivate a nanny is to not give her a raise!! Nearly 20 yrs of experience and no raise = stop working and a nanny with an attitude!! Worst thing to do is not give her a raise.What you should do is say that if she wants to do tasks a,b,c you will give her a raise. If she chooses not to take on additional tasks a, b, c then no raise. Putting it in her court.

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