I sought the opinions from fellow nannies, my own employer, and the internet, and here is what I came up with: A babysitter is considered someone who provides childcare – from watching a sleeping child to feeding and playing with the child – for a family on occasion and is usually contracted for one day/night at a time. A babysitter may have a regular schedule with the family, but usually provides care on a weekly to monthly basis. A babysitter can have extensive experience and education, but this is not usually expected or required.
A nanny is considered someone who provides childcare on a daily basis and is usually contracted for a year or more. A nanny provides learning, fun, nutrition, physical activity and structure for their charge. Nannies are generally expected and in some cases required to have extensive experience and education relating to children and childcare.
So yes, traditionally, babysitters tend to be of the teenage persuasion and nannies of the 40-50 year old persuasion, but times have changed, people! The distinctions between babysitter and nanny are based on the amount of time spent with the children and the level of involvement in their development and home life.
Why does this matter? Because defining the job correctly is a large part of defining expectations. If you want your nanny to approach the job like a professional, call her a nanny. If you want her to view the job as a casual, once a week or once in a while thing, call her a babysitter. Chances are, she knows the difference between the terms and will respond subconsciously to the expectations implicit in them. If you aren’t sure, ask them what they consider themselves to be. The fact that I was asked certainly got me thinking, and I know the next time someone wants to know what they should call me I won’t be caught with a blank look on my face thinking of Mary Poppins!