The Relationship between Nanny and Child
When you hire a nanny, you check her background, references, and experience. You want the perfect person to care for your child – someone that he’ll love and want to spend time with. However, no relationship is perfect. In this article we will focus on ways to avoid or minimize some of the imperfections of the nanny-child relationship.
A child’s dependence on a nanny can become too strong. Over-dependence on a nanny prevents a child from continuing his healthy progression to independent adulthood. The child can focus all his social energy on his nanny, thus diminishing his interest in peer level friendships. Further, it can cause the child to supplant “mom” with “nanny”, thus causing hurt feelings in mom and potential conflict between mom and nanny. To avoid or minimize these problems, the nanny should be ever mindful of her goal: to help the child grow to be a healthy, well adjusted adult. The vigilant nanny looks for potential roadblocks to the accomplishment of that goal and seeks to remove those roadblocks with the blessing of the parents. The “over-dependence on nanny” roadblock can be removed by the nanny gently insisting that the child exhibit the independence that is appropriate for his age and development. If the child wants the nanny to carry him throughout the grocery store, the nanny should reply that the child is a “big boy” now who can and should walk on his own. The nanny can arrange peer level play dates and mommy-child bonding opportunities to emphasize the importance of a variety of relationships rather than the dependence on just one relationship.
The nanny may have a parenting style that differs from and conflicts with the parents’ parenting style. The parenting style of nanny and parents should be as similar as possible so as to avoid creating confusion for the child and the opportunity for manipulation for the child. However, not all parenting style differences are conflicting parenting styles. Some differences can exist in harmony. For example, a non-conflicting difference in parenting styles may exist if the parents believe in service work (i.e., a child having to wash dishes) as punishment while the nanny prefers time-outs as punishment. A conflicting difference in parenting styles may exist if parents believe in experiential childhood (i.e., letting children learn by doing things, even if things get damaged in the process, because the experience is seen as the teaching experience) while the nanny believes in a more preventative approach to childhood (i.e., telling children of the prospective harms and expecting the children to learn from being told). The parenting style conflict roadblock can be minimized by clear, consistent communication between parents and nanny, and by nanny following the directives given her by the parents. After all, a nanny is the employee of the parents, and she is paid to act on the parents’ behalf. The nanny is not acting on her own behalf. The child is not her own child. Her personal preferences are not as relevant as those of the parents. Thus, it is the boundaries, rules, and guidance from the parents that must shape how the nanny acts . . . because she is employed to act in their stead.
The child’s schedule will likely vary at least somewhat between nanny-guided days and parent-guided days. This can be confusing and disruptive to the child. This roadblock can be minimized by keeping the child’s sleep and wake schedules approximately the same each day and by approximating similar activity levels each day (i.e., ensuring that each day is not significantly more or less sedentary than is routine for the child). Where large differences must occur in sleep and wake cycles and/or activity levels, good communication up front is necessary and accommodating plans must also be made. For example, if the child is used to waking at 7:30 a.m., engaging in lots of fun physical play, having a two-hour afternoon nap, and going to bed at 8:30 p.m., an irregular day involving a wake time of 6:00 a.m. followed by a 12-hour car ride, and a usual bedtime would present a significant disruption for the child. In this event, the following steps should be taken. Good communication up front should occur starting about a week prior to the day in question and should be repeated every day between that day and the day of the irregular schedule. Parents and nanny should consistently reinforce a message such as, “On Friday, we are getting up early so that we can drive to Grandma’s house. I know it’s not your preference to get up earlier than you usually do, but the bright side is that you’ll be able to see Grandma that evening! It will be a long car ride, and I know you will be a good boy, sit still, and ride quietly. I will bring along some things you can play with to help you pass the time. We can also play some car games together along the way. Once we get to Grandma’s, it will be late. You’ll probably go to bed shortly after we get there, but, after that, we’ll have a whole week with Grandma! She can’t wait to see you!” Accommodating plans for the irregular day include adjusting the child’s diet to reduce intake of sugars and carbohydrates, packing games that will keep the child occupied during the long drive, choosing drive-time music or movies that are calming, and planning opportunities for the child to exert energy when the vehicle is stopped (i.e., exploring a rest area every hour or two).
By following the above tips, you can avoid or minimize some of the imperfections of the nanny-child relationship.