Thursday, October 31, 2013
Getting Kids To Like You - Tips For Great Relationships Between Kids And Their Nanny Or Parent
It's day one on your new nanny/babysitting job and, as is often typical, your kids have decided they either hate you outright, will hate you, or at the very least, are going to see how much they can get away with under your watch. Now what?I'm not going to refer to the kids I nanny/babysit as charges because that is just a weird word. It sounds like something you do with credit cards, or African elephants. So I'll just call them my kids. They're not my biological children, and while most nannies can and do respect who the children's real parents are no matter how absent they may be, it feels right to just say "my kids" when talking about my charges. I'm an important part of their lives and they mine, and when I'm on the job they are mine to keep alive and happy. I have officially nannied for six kids and babysat for countless others over the course of 10 plus years. Obviously I'll change their names, to Alice, a first grader, Bobby and Chase, grade-school age twin brothers, and Dave, Eli and Frank, three brothers in grade school. By the way, these tips also work for parents trying to find a way to relate to growing and changing children.So start right away by Being Firm. This sounds so counter intuitive, but every kid I've ever babysat or nannied for has responded extremely positive to me being firm and strict from day one. Alice was very wary of me from the beginning as she had never really had a nanny before, and when I was firm with her, she hated me for it. She actually went a whole night not speaking to me, and threw a couple impressive temper tantrums screaming for her mother. Since Frank is overall a laid back and obedient child I didn't have to be firm with him often. But when I finally had to punish him he freaked out. He actually voluntarily put himself in time out for more than an hour and did nothing but stare at the wall, amazing for a first grader. You might have to go through a couple weeks of a cranky child while you're being firm. But every kid under my watch has come out of this period respecting me more. Alice was a terror for two weeks, then turned into an absolute sweetheart. Frank warmed up to me more than ever after I punished him for the first time. He never hugged me until after the first time I punished him.The problem is, a lot of kids have parents who are so absent they don't want to waste any time punishing their kids when they do get to see them, so your kids may have a huge backlog of timeouts they need to cash in. Kids actually crave the structure that comes from punishment. Subconsciously, they want you to notice them when they're doing things wrong and punish them for it. You are telling them that you care enough to correct them so they'll be better kids. Once you've established that baseline respect by being firm from day one, you can become friends and let up a little and let them get away with a bit, like a Coke after supper or staying up a little past their bedtime. But don't do any of that until your kids have demonstrated that they respect your authority.Punishment. Get the hose. Certainly you should talk to the parents about their views on getting children to behave and techniques for punishment, but don't feel you have to use the same techniques the parents do, unless they tell you to or they object to your own techniques. I almost always use either "time outs" on the naughty mat/corner/bed channeling Supernanny, or I prevent an older child from calling over a friend or going out, sort of a temporary grounding. And I almost always tell the parent about what happened. Don't be embarrassed to tattle or worried your kids will hate you. It is better their parents hear it from you than the child's spin on it, most likely doctored to make you look bad. Surprisingly some parents fall for this carefully crafted pint-sized PR, so get to them first.Talk to them like Adults. It's natural to talk in that soothing baby voice pigeon-speak to younger kids, but try not to. Kids know you're doing it and it's patronizing. Try to use the same respectful tone of voice you would use with an adult, even with a child as young as two. Use your normal vocabulary, and if they don't know what something means, don't worry they'll ask.Listen to them. Really listen to what they want to talk about, respond to them and ask questions. Act really interested in what they have to say even if you're not. Kids get a lot of "uh huh, uh huh"'s from adults who aren't really listening. They know when an "uh huh" really means I'm not listening. They will love it if you give them your full, sincere attention.Give them input and choices in their lives. Obviously a kid with too much control over the situation is unhealthy. But a lot of kids feel like they have no control in their lives--parents are out of town or absent, they're dumped on the nanny against their will, they're scheduled to do activities they don't really want to do, etc. A lot of bad behavior comes from this feeling of out of controlness. Give them back a little control in subtle ways. Ask them if they want chicken or hamburgers for dinner, milk or juice. Ask them what jeans they want to wear, where they want to ride in the car, what homework assignment they want to work on first. You're giving them control without really giving up control, but to them it feels like their opinions really count.Have Little Secrets. Never do anything major behind the parents' back like doing the child's homework for him or taking him somewhere without telling anyone, but it's okay to have a few things that are just between you and the kids. Bobby, Chase and I had a code phrase for I love you that no one else knew. One time I helped Chase secretly cheat on a board game and we didn't tell anyone else. We giggled about that all day. And sometimes kids will confide in you things about their lives and their parents that would just hurt their parents' feelings if they knew. Eli told me that I handle Frank a lot better than his mom does. That's just something I would never tell her. Bobby told me that he knew some of the nannies he has had did not like his mother. He was trusting me with this information. It's our little secret. Let them know you're on their side--you want what's best for them, you want them to be happy and have fun.Be into the things they like. You don't have to become a champion Wii gamer, but start developing interests in their activities and hobbies. Learn the rules of football if they play that so you can talk about it. Ask them to teach you how to play their favorite video game. Play it on two player mode. Watch the TV shows they're into from time to time. Go see the movies they like. Try the food they're into. Listen to their music. You will seem so cool in comparison to other adults. Try to get them interested in your shows, hobbies and pastimes too. I got Alice hooked on two of my favorite kid-appropriate TV shows, so when we watched TV it wasn't always her favorite shows, it was some of mine, too. We both enjoyed it. Involve them in necessary chores you have to do like laundry and cooking. Most young kids are thrilled to help, especially if you let them press all the buttons.Be a Kid. Get down and dirty with them. Join in whatever they are doing, be it sports, video games, TV. Kids are usually thrilled to have you play, too. You're not as good as a playmate their age, but if you do things with them they will really enjoy your company almost as much. Eli sometimes didn't even think to call up friends when he knew I was coming over because we always have just as much fun together.Kids aren't always going to like you instantly. Understand that this takes time. But if you plug away at being firm but a great playmate and confidante, most kids are going to come around very quickly. If they're not coming around in a few weeks, then you might want to think about whether this household is going to work for you. Because being a nanny is painful when the kids never warm up to you.