How can I improve my nannying situation?
July 14, 2011 7:53 PM   Subscribe

I've gotten myself into a nanny situation that I don't want to be in and need advice.

I'll try to be brief.

I just started a new nanny position at the beginning of this week. This is my first time nannying. Having spent hundreds of hours babysitting, volunteering with children, student teaching (for a Master's), and substitute teaching, I feel like I am in a good position to assess the words and actions of children. I am fairly miserable in my new job because the child is difficult.

I was led to believe that the child is misunderstood, shy, and prefers imagination to active play. I was told that they get nervous in new situations and were asked to permanently leave a Montessori school because they cried a lot from being uneasy. Mom wanted to find a caretaker who wasn't looking to "change" her child.

Child is six years old, very smart, and very imaginative. I can appreciate their good qualities and try to focus on them while I am with them. However, child's attitude is really getting to me. Child doesn't respond to my requests or commands. Child speaks to me in a rude and somewhat condescending tone despite my telling them not to. Child becomes agitated if things are not done exactly as they want them.

The most emotionally/physically draining aspect of the situation is that child expects me to play with them every moment that I am there and becomes pissy and hard to handle if I do not. I think mom wants me to play with them all day as well. Child stares at me while I eat my lunch, even after I have asked them to go play, and tells me to hurry so that I can play with them. Child's favorite game is lego. Not so much building but more acting things out with characters. Child demands that I be very actively engaged in playing (In the basement on a hard floor. I try to just sit on a cushion I brought while we play, but the child demands that I be active and move around). Child plays unfairly; grabbing things out of my hand, telling me none of my ideas are good, etc. Child does not want to go on any outings to the park, do any of the projects I have suggested, etc. All of my requests and commands are met with excuses.

Examples are as follows: "Wow, you're not very good at that, are you?" ~Bounces ball wildly near breakables, I ask them to stop or take it outside, they look at me for a moment and then continue. Repeat.~ "No, you can't use that bowl/toy/word because..." "You have to go to the bathroom again?" It's pretty obvious that they don't respect me.

My first inclination is to put my foot down and assert my role as caretaker. However, there is no discipline system in place. Their mother even told me it's okay if they don't eat breakfast or lunch because the child doesn't really like to and that I shouldn't make them. I have voiced a few concerns with her, but these are brushed aside with a "Oh kids are just like that" kind of comment. I would resign, but the mother just suffered a personal hardship and I would feel really bad putting her in the position of trying to find another caretaker for her child. She seems to be a nice and hardworking person who cares a lot about child.

In summary, I have a few specific questions. As a nanny, should I really be expected to all-out play with a 6 year old for five to eight hours a day? How can I show the child that their words and actions are not okay without a clear discipline system in place? How can I help myself to be less miserable and slightly resentful of the child? Should I quit? At this point, I don't really know if I can do this all summer long. I have come home each day more tired than I was during student teaching. Being paid $10 an hour with a Master's is already difficult enough without the other stuff. Any advice is welcome. Thanks.
posted by delicate_dahlias to Human Relations (23 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Mom wanted to find a caretaker who wasn't looking to "change" her child.

I've had a bad babysitting gig or two, and it's never the kids- it's the PARENTS. Bad parents make for bad kids. You say that, "Mom wanted to find a caretaker who wasn't looking to 'change' her child"? If that she's what she said, what Mom really meant is that she's looking for a caretaker who won't look to change her. This is your life, your summer, why spend it this way?. If you can quit (like, you won't be homeless tomorrow), I think you should quit. Give her a little advance notice so she can find another caregiver- a week, maybe?
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:59 PM on July 14, 2011 [10 favorites]

I don't think you are a good fit for this particular nanny position, you should give your notice and move on. What you are putting up with is not worth $10 an hour.
Keep looking and you'll find a good match.
posted by NoraCharles at 8:02 PM on July 14, 2011 [8 favorites]

Establish a clear discipline system. I babysat a lot and was a part-time nanny to several kids as a teenager. Regardless of what the house rules were, I had my rules, and I didn't hesitate to give time outs when they were warranted. In my experience, the "difficult" kids became much less difficult when a successful system was put in place. (I should add that I was a universally loved babysitter, by kids and parents, and always asked to come back, no matter what a "meanie" or "butthead" I was during time out time.)

Assert yourself. This kid is 6. S/he needs boundaries.

And no, you shouldn't have to spend the entire day actively playing with the kid. Since I was in school the entire time I was sitting, I always had homework to do, and would encourage the kids to play quietly by themselves, read, or watch a movie for a certain amount of time each day. Independent play is an important thing to learn.
posted by phunniemee at 8:04 PM on July 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: To begin, I employ a nanny. I live in a city where nannies are common. I am a freer flowing parent than some. I also believe in the mantra "whatever's working for you..."

I don't know what part of the country you're in, but in my urban area, $10 is a pretty low nanny wage for 1 child. It would be more like $15-17 AND include benefits and taxes.

Next, I'm ALL for a nanny stepping in and setting some rules. Child is having problems because Mom/Dad have not set any boundaries or discipline system. (I find it terribly irritating when kids are like this too.)

If you feel like it, institute the rules that you believe in. You're the one that has to deal with Child all day long. Tell Child that s/he must eat his/her meals in a particular way/place/whatever. Determine a system for punishment (I'm a fan of 1-2-3 Magic.) Work on ways to get him/her to do more independent play.

Who cares if Mom doesn't follow it? I bet you $10 that if it works for you (and child's behavior changes), Mom will follow your lead. (In my case, our nanny has instituted a few rules that I think "wow - that's awesome... thanks Nanny!")

You'll need to work hard to make it appear that you're not directly disobeying Mom's orders and not piss her off. Do as you do while Mom's not there and be careful how you do it when Mom is there.

For $10/hour it might not be worth it to you to try to "fix" this family, but if it is your primary option, I encourage you to go full force with it.

At this point, our (awesome) nanny has made a huge improvement in my (nearly 3 year old) kid's (and our) life. Specific examples -- she kicked our asses into having a more consistent bedtime (cuz she was the one who had to deal with the consequences the next day, right?), rules about cleaning up his own toys, getting him to use his words, eating more veggies... And we follow right along happily cuz it makes everyone happier (and better behaved, rested...).
posted by k8t at 8:05 PM on July 14, 2011 [10 favorites]

Best answer: The parents have put you in an impossible position, in that they believe your job is to be what their child wants you to be all day long. That is not a nanny gig; they are essentially paying crap wages for a daily adult friend for their unsocialized kid.

Having said that, you have a right (and responsibility) as an adult and a caregiver to set the boundaries. If you think it's time for a walk or a trip to the park, do it. If you think there are activities the child could do with others in her/his peer group, then bring the child to them. No more of this lego-all-day nonsense. If I were you I would do this experiment for a week. If the kid has a meltdown every day and the parents won't back you up, it's time to go.
posted by contessa at 8:09 PM on July 14, 2011 [9 favorites]

Best answer: PS, both you and Mom need to think about what a nanny is versus a babysitter. When Mom tells you to do what kid wants, she's treating you like a babysitter (and she's paying you like one too). A nanny is career, not a job. A nanny is concerned about child's wellbeing and is an active participant in the molding of the child. A nanny is entrusted by the parents to make day-to-day choices about child's wellbeing that a babysitter never would. Furthermore, a nanny (IMHO) is a household member with input into the goingson in the household. A nanny is someone who a parent can trust to be thinking about lots of things too.

Example: "Hey babysitter, just feed kid nuggets and juice so he gets some food into him before we get home." versus "Nanny, please let me know weekly what food you want and what food you are interested in introducing to Joshua. Let's have an active dialog about what he is and isn't eating, what sort of nutritional choices we're all okay with."

Example 2: "Hey babysitter, Toy Story's on the TiVo if she is getting a little antsy and tired of playing." versus "Nanny, these are our views about TV. What are your thoughts? How does Lauren behave before and during and after watching TV in your opinion?"

Example 3: "Hey babysitter, she usually naps from 2-4, but if she's having trouble going down, do what works." versus "Nanny, what do you think about the length of naps that Maisie is taking? Do you think that she is getting enough rest? I've been having some trouble getting her down at night, so maybe we should put the nap up to 1pm?"
posted by k8t at 8:22 PM on July 14, 2011 [24 favorites]

The child is spoiled, and it's the
parents fault -- and I doubt they will support you trying to give the child the discipline they need.

You should quit this job, and tell the parents why. They should then put the child in a regular day care where they will be forced to obey rules, listen to adults and play nicely with the other kids, before they become truly insufferable.

/I'm no disciplinarian - I went to a wacky hippy high school - but listening to your caregiver and playing nicely and co-operatively are things every child needs to learn.
posted by jb at 8:25 PM on July 14, 2011 [4 favorites]

You're an experienced professional, employed to apply your knowledge and experience. Go to it and run the business (ie nanny the kid) in the way you think best. Inform the business owners (ie the parents) how you're running the business and why.

See also if you can focus on outcomes for the child and family - ie growing the business. An owner will support short term change with the prospect of longer term gain. In this case, an example could be that this kid is going to have a rough time at school - in socialising with peers, in sitting down and doing homework, in following direction from teachers - unless they're prepared to not constantly receive attention, and hence these changes are necessary.

Remember, business owners hire professional managers not just because they don't have the time to run the business themselves, but because they are looking for experise (and the biological and legal nature of being a parent doesn't mean you're an expert at childcare!)

Equally, this will suck for a while, just as taking on a shabby business does. This kid will melt down for days and weeks while you institute change and be firm about it. You may quite reasonably not be up for that, as it wasn't in the initial job description.
posted by jjderooy at 8:26 PM on July 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm a former kindergarten teacher who considered a few nanny jobs when I was changing careers. $10/hour does sound low to me for someone with a masters and some teaching experience, but I'm in NYC.

Parents like the idea of hiring someone with a teaching background, but some of them don't want you to use your skills when it's inconvenient for them. She's paying you babysitting wages and she seems to only want a babysitter.

You sound pretty unhappy, so please don't just suffer through it. Have a conversation, voice your concerns, and be prepared to quit.
posted by pourtant at 8:50 PM on July 14, 2011 [3 favorites]

Don't be suckered into arguing with a 6 year old. Get, read and implement 1-2-3 Magic. If Mom doesn't like it, Mom can let you go.
posted by flabdablet at 9:49 PM on July 14, 2011 [6 favorites]

It sounds like there are several things going on here. (And you don't have to stay. I'm just saying what I think is happening).

1. You don't mention a father. It is possible this child is reacting to separation, divorce, death or some other transition.
2. If the mom has gone through a hardship, that may be spilling over to the child.
3. If the child just left Montessori, child may be going through a reaction to that.
4. You are a new caregiver at a time when the child has gone through the above. Child may thus be reacting to that.
5. Other things may have happened and you may not have been informed.

I know you want to quite and maybe you should. It's only been a week, so it's really up to you. If you do stick it out:

It sounds like you and Mom need to agree on a discipline AND reward system. You may do better with reward charts.

Child needs some socialization with peers, through park visits, social/recreational programs and playdates. You may also need to ask for a budget for "field trips" to museums and other activities. Keeping a 6yo busy is hard work and it takes some money - especially if you don't want to be the one entertaining them all day.

But it's okay if you don't want to go to all that trouble for $10 an hour. That's babysitter pay, not nanny pay, at least where I live.
posted by acoutu at 9:57 PM on July 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

This kid wants his own way all the time. Almost everybody wants that, but those who have the misfortune to actually get it learn that this is the worst misery that can befall a human being. His mom, only human, may be too busy dealing with her own recent personal hardship to see that her child needs help, and limits, and parenting -- but you see it.

You fear that, if you try to "change" this child into a pleasant and empathetic member of society, you'll be fired. But you are ready to quit anyway. What is the downside to trying to help this child?
posted by pH Indicating Socks at 10:34 PM on July 14, 2011 [6 favorites]

I would resign, but the mother just suffered a personal hardship and I would feel really bad putting her in the position of trying to find another caretaker for her child

Tough shit - she's created a monster and she doesn't want her little monster to change. Seems like your choices are to ignore the mother's wishes or quit.

We had au pairs when I was a kid and they rarely played with us. They were just the grown up who did our hair in the morning and could be asked for permission if our parents weren't home. Of course I had a sister and in the 5 houses closest to mine were 8 other kids of a similar age.
posted by missmagenta at 12:13 AM on July 15, 2011

If you are thinking of quitting and your only reasons not to are feeling sorry for the mother and not knowing what you'll do all summer, you have a LOT of leverage. Basically you can walk into a conversation with the mother, state your needs firmly, and be prepared to walk if she doesn't negotiate. Those needs should be some of the things people suggested above - the permission to set and enforce rules, including ones about the kid having some solo play time. If the mother refuses, then you don't have to feel bad about quitting, since she had a choice.
posted by lollusc at 2:27 AM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Would you let a child in your classroom behave like this? Why is this any different? Because the mother wouldn't do it? The mother has hired you to take care of her child. If the mother's expectation is that you are to adhere to all the child's whims and be ordered around by the child as though you were a servant, then yes, quit now. Make it clear why.

Otherwise, stop taking this kid's crap NOW. You need to manage this child. They want to play? Fine, but set limits. They don't want to go out? Tough, take them out. You are the adult and you are in charge. The kid doesn't respect you and they never will as long as you let them walk all over you. I get that there's no discipline coming from the mom. You can still set simple rules for behaving while you are there. If the mother disagrees with you setting rules and boundaries for things like basic politeness and and regard for others then quit. You don't owe this woman anything and if she doesn't like your approach she can terminate your employment. You are the one with all the power here.
posted by Polychrome at 3:12 AM on July 15, 2011 [3 favorites]

Child is six years old, very smart, and very imaginative. I can appreciate their good qualities and try to focus on them while I am with them. However, child's attitude is really getting to me. Child doesn't respond to my requests or commands. Child speaks to me in a rude and somewhat condescending tone despite my telling them not to. Child becomes agitated if things are not done exactly as they want them.

Just a slight counterpoint to the overwhelming chorus of contempt for this kid and mom. The challenging behaviors you mention are signs of deficits in social skills, such as perspective taking, impulse control, and frustration tolerance. Maybe these deficits are the result of a lazy mom who caters to her kid's every whim instead of teaching the kid how to behave; maybe they are just things that this kid has a harder time learning. Whatever the case, social skills are skills, not moral virtues. Having them doesn't make someone a good person and lacking them doesn't make someone a bad person. I know it's difficult not to take challenging behaviors personally, but would you feel so offended if you were caring for a kid who had deficits in other areas, like motor skills or verbal skills?

$10 an hour is not worth the angst that you are suffering. (I happen to have a kid with some of these challenges, and the professionals who work with him get paid roughly twenty times what you're making.) The kid is most likely not going to change their behavior easily, no matter what kind of discipline or structure or limits you implement. Quit now. If you have an interest in working with kids like this, a good resource is Think: Kids.
posted by Daily Alice at 3:49 AM on July 15, 2011 [8 favorites]

Whatever the case, social skills are skills, not moral virtues. Having them doesn't make someone a good person and lacking them doesn't make someone a bad person.

This is exactly the attitude underlying 1-2-3 Magic, which is, I think, what makes it so effective.
posted by flabdablet at 4:32 AM on July 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

It sounds like you have a personal moral issue with your job description. You feel like you're doing this child a disservice based on what you perceived to be the job. You care about children in general. But clearly you were not hired to do caretaking for this child. You were hired to do exactly what the child expects and demands of you, per the mother/employer.

You were hired to do a job that it turns out you don't like and isn't a match for you.

If you were in the corporate world and making a large salary, you could try to change things from within. But you are not. You are a babysitter with a "nanny" title, making ten dollars an hour, and the job isn't what you imagined. Your boss is uninvolved, detrimental to the business plan, and actively contrary to best practices. I understand why this bothers you.

If I signed up to work at McDonald's for ten dollars an hour as a cashier and found out that I was expected to fry french fries, I wouldn't wheedle my way into trying to cashier as much as possible. I would quit. You should, too.
posted by juniperesque at 7:35 AM on July 15, 2011

Does he have any disabilities, like autism? Being thrown out of a Montessori is pretty serious, and his inability to do much of anything besides legos makes me wonder.
posted by Melismata at 7:36 AM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

I agree that $10/hour is much lower than average, much more on par with babysitting than nannying. However, if you're ok with that, I think this actually puts you in an interesting position: I would resign, but the mother just suffered a personal hardship and I would feel really bad putting her in the position of trying to find another caretaker.

Give your feelings, I'd suggest that you sit down with Mom for a meeting and say,

"Deb, I want to check in with you about how things are going with Susie. I really enjoy seeing and encouraging her intelligence and imagination. She's a neat kid. She seems to be liking our time together, and that's great. What I want to do with you is work out some strategies for situations when she ignores what I've told her. For instance, yesterday she wanted to bounce a ball in the house, and I asked her to take it outside. She looked at me and then kept bouncing the ball in the house. I need for us to work on ways to encourage Susie to listen to me and I also need for us to determine a strategy for what to do when she ignores something I've told her. What ideas do you have?"

And if Mom brushes it off, follow up with,

"For Susie's safety, I need to know that she'll listen to me and follow my instructions in a dangerous or scary situation. There may be something that I know is unsafe but which she doesn't understand is unsafe. I need to know that in a situation like that, I can tell her to do something and she'll do it. If we can't work this out, I can't care for her. It's just not safe."

And then let Mom decide what she wants to do. If you have this conversation, you won't be leaving Mom in the lurch. You'll be setting a very reasonable expectation, and if Mom declines to meet it, you can resign with a clear conscience. It truly isn't safe to care for this child, long-term, if she ignores you and her mother accepts that behavior.
posted by Meg_Murry at 8:24 AM on July 15, 2011 [7 favorites]

Best answer: I was wondering the same thing Melismata did. It does seem relevant.

I've hired plenty of babysitters and I wouldn't expect them to play one-on-one with my kid for a whole six-hour shift. Just tell the kid "we're going to the park today," give them plenty of warning, and then bundle them out the door. You'll go insane sitting in a basement playing Lego all day, and the kid and the mom will pick up on your resentment.

Maybe the kid needs stability. So a "We eat a snack, we play Lego for 30 minutes, when the timer goes off we go to the park for an hour, then we come home and draw comic books while we drink smoothies" daily routine could be helpful for both of you.

Their mother even told me it's okay if they don't eat breakfast or lunch because the child doesn't really like to and that I shouldn't make them

Well, that's one less job you have to do, then. I don't make my kids eat if they don't want to, either. Make sure there's good food available and gently encourage the kid to eat it (maybe read him a book while he eats lunch?), but if it's not a battle the mom wants fought, don't fight it.

Do you know other nannies? If so, can you set up play dates at a playground (not a house)? You could find other nannies through local e-mail lists or websites. The kid could use friends, you could use adult company and advice.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:25 AM on July 15, 2011

Response by poster: Thank you for the helpful advice. Literally every comment was useful to me.

Today went better. I talked to Mom in the morning and we communicated a lot better than we had before. Child fought me on a few things today (Geez, stubbornness sure is annoying but it can be somewhat impressive too, haha) but I stood my ground and completely withdrew my attention until they were ready to do the right thing. I am hoping that today was not a fluke and that the situation will steadily improve. If it does not, I will ask to leave and give plenty of advance notice.

I made up a loose schedule to help keep us on track. Again, thanks for the advice. It helped me to be courageous and sensible enough to tackle this head-on.
posted by delicate_dahlias at 3:10 PM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Good luck, this child sound TOTALLY exhausting. Thank God, it's been a long time since I've had to deal with such, but I wonder if watching THE DOG WHISPERER might help. Cesar Millan is a genius with the "calm, assertive" presence. But if it goes south, I hope you will quit, with ZERO guilt.
posted by Lizzle at 3:39 PM on July 15, 2011

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