Setting Expectations

•  Start by writing a contract.  That details all the conditions of your nanny's employment, such as hours, wages, benefits, and instructions about caring for your child. But ideally you should also make a plan to meet and talk over everything before your nanny's first official day, since a document can't cover all the fine points of a parent-caregiver relationship. Be open-minded and remember, no issue is too small to discuss. Some topics to review:

•  Your childcare philosophy. Obviously, you and your nanny share some common ground (that's one reason you hired her), but do you part ways on certain points? Decide how you'll address a specific situation (for example, toilet training or temper tantrums) ahead of time. And go over big issues, such as sleep, nutrition, and discipline, in as much detail as possible.

•  The house rules. Your nanny needs to know how you run your home. Be sure and discuss the kitchen as well — is it okay if your nanny helps herself to the food in your home, or do you want her to bring her own?  Obviously, your rules extend to activities outside the home. So if your nanny has use of your car, make sure she knows the ground rules. (Remember to include your nanny on your car insurance policy so she's covered in an accident.) You may want to ride with her once or twice to make sure you're comfortable with her driving skills.

•  Ways to keep in touch. Decide ahead of time how you'll keep each other abreast of how it's going or bring up any questions or concerns. Schedules a weekly or monthly meeting to assure you are all on the same page. A collaborative dialog with open communication is essential for the relationship.

•  Pet peeves. Are there any habits you absolutely can't tolerate, such as tardiness or cell phone use? Be direct about it now to avoid tense discussions later. If your nanny is young, you may need to discuss personal-life issues — is it okay for her to meet a friend at the park with your child? This discussion should be a two-way street. Ask your nanny about her experiences with previous employers.  Knowing about these pitfalls ahead of time will help both of you avoid them.

•  A backup plan. Talk about what you'll do if your nanny is sick or unavailable due to an emergency.  Having a back up plan in these instances is a smart thing to do.