Childminder vs au pair vs nanny vs babysitter (with duties)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 17 April 2022

An individual who gets paid to look after other people's children can have various different titles. Some people might call them a childminder or an au pair, while others refer to them as a nanny or babysitter. Although these four roles have overlapping duties, they are not the same. In this article, we explore each of these distinctive job titles and outline the skills required to work successfully in a child-focused position.

Childminder vs au pair vs nanny vs babysitter

If you're considering a career that involves looking after children, it's important to understand the difference between being a childminder versus an au pair versus a nanny versus a babysitter. These roles serve different functions and cater to the diverse needs of modern parents and guardians. Some parents like to entrust their children to a suitable caregiver each day. Others prefer to find someone to live in and care for their children in their own homes. Some families require childcare on weekdays, while others only require it sporadically. Let's explore these four different, yet related, positions:

Childminder

A childminder looks after other people's children in their own home. They usually provide care for full days or for parts of a day, such as mornings or afternoons. Their duties include changing nappies, feeding and playing with the children and collecting them from school. Childminders are self-employed and make their own tax arrangements and pay rates with the parent. A childminder can care for children from different families up to certain limits. If they mind four or more pre-school children or seven or more school-age children, it's necessary to register with Tusla.

Tusla performs regular inspections and requires registered childminders to undergo Garda vetting and to hold a basic childcare qualification. It's good practice for all childminders to take out insurance and many undertake training in areas like first aid, health and safety and child protection. If they transport the children anywhere by car, it's essential to fit appropriate car seats and to inform their motor insurance company of this fact. It's also important that they're aware of planning legislation. If they care for more than six children in their home, it's necessary to apply for 'change of use' planning permission.

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Au pair

An au pair is typically a young person who comes from abroad to live with a host family in a type of cultural exchange. The au pair carries out childcare and light housework duties and has the opportunity to learn the language of the host country and experience a new culture as they attend language courses. In exchange, the host family provides the au pair with their own room and access to food and also pays them regular wages. Some au pairs stay with their host families during the summer months only, while others may stay for a year.

Au pairs are domestic workers and benefit from the same protection under Irish employment legislation as all other legally employed staff. It's a good idea for both the au pair and host family to agree on the au pair's working hours, wage, tasks and days off in advance of their arrival, ideally in writing. It's important to remember that au pairs are employees. Many host families only expect them to work about 30 hours per week, including babysitting respecting legislation about rest days. When the arrangement works well, the host family regards their au pair as a temporary family member and they enjoy meals and outings together.

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Nanny

A nanny goes to another person's home to care for their children. They usually look after the children of one family only and typically work set hours each week and some live-in positions are available. They may also babysit the family's children outside their core working hours for extra pay. If you recruit a nanny, you effectively employ them, so it's necessary to register as an employer with Revenue and make the appropriate tax and pay-related social insurance or PRSI payments. As employees, nannies can avail of certain employment rights, such as paid maternity leave and holidays.

A nanny's duties might include cooking the children's meals, doing laundry, bringing them to and from school, helping them with homework, keeping their bedrooms and play areas clean and tidy and taking part in their activities and excursions. Most employers expect nannies to have at least two to three years of childcare experience and to supply references from previous jobs. They might also look for childcare and first-aid qualifications. In addition, it's beneficial for nannies to have a full, clean driving licence.

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Babysitter

A babysitter is often a teenager or young adult who takes care of children for a few hours in the children's homes. A babysitter typically supervises the children, plays with them, entertains them and puts them to bed. They sometimes prepare the children's meals or help with their homework. Babysitters generally don't possess any formal childcare qualifications or have previous experience in this area. Parents usually pay babysitters by the hour.

Some schedule babysitters regularly, such as every Saturday night or Tuesday afternoon. Others schedule babysitters for special occasions, such as birthdays, anniversaries or New Year's Eve. Babysitters often work for multiple families at the same time. Babysitting is an effective way for young people who are not yet in the workforce to earn a regular, part-time income.

Top skills

If you're working in any child-focused position, such as a childminder, au pair, nanny or babysitter, certain skills and attributes can help you succeed in your role. These include:

  • Communication: when you work with children, it's essential to have good communication skills and to understand the importance of body language. This helps you explain new ideas and give instructions in an easy-to-understand way and ensures you can respond to children's complex and ever-changing needs, even if they're unable to express them.

  • Creative thinking: creative thinking helps you plan fun activities, devise ingenious games and stimulate and motivate the children in your care. It also helps you find new and interesting ways to instruct them.

  • Compassion: to work effectively with children of any age, it's necessary to have empathy and compassion. This skill helps you relate to children in a positive way and form trusting relationships with them.

  • Organisational: if you're looking after more than one child, organisational skills are critical. It's often necessary to coordinate different meal times and play schedules and to ensure everyone gets equal attention.

  • Physical fitness: when you care for children, physical fitness and stamina are important. You're often on your feet for long periods of time and may find yourself supervising playground activities and playing lively games.

  • Decision-making: it's important that you can make quick and sound decisions when children are in your care. This can range from choosing the best game to play to acting decisively in an emergency.

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Useful qualifications and certifications

Whatever childcare role you engage in, you're likely to earn a higher salary if you have some formal qualifications or relevant training. Here are some courses that can help you develop your career in this area:

QQI (Fetac) level 5 in childcare

If you want to work as a Tusla registered childminder, this is the minimum qualification necessary. The course is widely available at further education universities around the country. It prepares students for a career in a variety of early childhood care and education settings and equips them with the skills to work effectively with young children. During the programme, you can study topics such as child development, early childhood education, play and child health and well-being. Upon course completion, you can progress to the QQI level 6 award or apply through the CAO for a degree in a related discipline.

Paediatric first-aid training

It's beneficial for anyone who works with children to complete a paediatric first-aid training course. This type of qualification teaches participants lifesaving skills and explains how to deal with medical emergencies in relation to young children. You discover how to deal with events such as allergic reactions, choking, broken bones, bites, stings and learn how to carry out CPR on a child.

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Bachelor's degree in early childhood education

If you wish to earn a higher qualification in childcare, a degree in early childhood education could be a good choice. Students on a degree programme in this area usually study child development and early years' education. Students spend a significant amount of time in professional placements, where they work with children from a variety of backgrounds. In the final year, they complete a dissertation in an area of interest.

Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.