1. Check and define boundaries with parents - and work as a team
Remember that it’s the charge’s parents who decide most of the rules. Find out what is acceptable for the parents and what isn’t in terms of behaviour, and make your own suggestions. Bear in mind too that it is your responsibility to keep the parents informed about their child’s progress. This applies if there is anything you feel needs to be enforced or anything you think could be done better.
In cases of persistent challenging behaviour, explain gently that you believe the child’s conduct could be improved, and that you have the child’s best interests at heart in saying that. Make sure you don’t upset the parents by suggesting that they have been doing something wrong.
If there is a particular problematic situation, you could bring up an example of a child you worked with before in another nanny role who had a similar problem and explain how that was resolved - and suggest that perhaps, with the parents’ support, it could work for their child too. You could also suggest writing daily reports for the parents to keep them updated on behaviour, schoolwork and manners.
Try to encourage the parents and any other household staff to uphold the same standards of behaviour as you so that you are all working as a team.
2. Set a schedule
One of the most important parts of a child’s development is stability. Sometimes, as a nanny or child carer, you may come across a child who has no defined routine - for example: eating whatever they want or going to bed whenever they want.
As these children get older they often struggle. They may find it difficult when rules are introduced at school, such as their school timetable or homework arrangements. Later in life they may find it difficult to cope with any difficult tasks or distressing situations that they find themselves in.
Fixed mealtimes and bedtimes, defined periods for homework or catching up on schoolwork, and an agreed time limit for playing iPad, iPhone or computer games will give your charges stability and routine. Even if they don’t like it at first, once a child knows their timetable and what is expected of him or her, feelings of a power struggle are also reduced because ‘these are just the rules’.
A good stable schedule also encourages self-control in the child, who has to wait a while and be patient with the tasks they don’t enjoy in order to get to the tasks that they do.
3. Make sure the child understands what is acceptable and what isn’t
It is also important for the child to have a full understanding of what is good behaviour and what isn’t. Wherever possible, explain to a child that what they are doing is unacceptable and why. When a child has a concrete understanding of what is allowed and what isn’t, they may make a conscious decision to do something that they know isn’t allowed. When the consequences for this conscious decision to misbehave come, they will know what to expect.
This is part of the process of understanding that in life there are rules and some of them have to be followed, like it or not! Ideally laying down a ground structure of ‘do’ and ‘do nots’ should also be done early.
4. Apply rewards
Rather than being punished for behaving badly, many children respond better to having good behaviour praised and rewarded. Try to encourage the family or any household staff to get involved with any praise for good work or good results and to nurture the good feeling that a child gets from a job well done; be it a tidy room, good marks at school, a well completed assignment or simply remembering to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’.
Some sort of visual aid often helps a child with this - a star chart with rewards to be gained can help a child really understand the potential upsides of good behaviour, perhaps extra time on the computer, watching a movie together or free time to play with friends.
5. Keep a nanny diary to log behaviour
It is advisable to keep track of daily behaviour in a diary - in your own personal short form if necessary. This is a great way to ensure you notice recurring themes and make notes of what is working and what isn’t, giving you better information to act upon. Set out goals, perhaps aiming for the charges to follow their schedule within two weeks or to begin to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ within a month. Log improvements in there for your own personal job satisfaction too - there will be many as time goes by!
Just don’t expect results straight away - changes in behaviour can be fast but will sometimes take time. Don’t rush the charge and look for improvements little by little.
6. Choose your battles
You won’t win every single argument you have with a child exhibiting challenging behaviour - some things you will have to let go. For example, if your charge refuses to eat dinner but does do his homework, you’ve made a start. Preserve your energy over some little things; arguing and telling off a child constantly will have little effect, as well as being draining and leaving you with less energy to focus on the good things such as praising good behaviour and thinking up interesting activities.
Improvements happen over time and not all at once. Try to focus on one area at a time, be it following the bedtime schedule, doing homework, improving manners, eating what is made for them, or reduced aggression. And be sure to stay calm at all costs; getting worked up will get you nowhere and only escalate situations. If you feel particularly stressed or angry, don’t be afraid to walk away and give yourself a few minutes time out.
7. Get creative!
Find out what the child enjoys and what they enjoy doing. Then, using this information, try to be creative with them!
A tutor colleague of mine gave an example about his student not wanting to write his English homework about ‘Growth’. The boy loves football so his tutor suggested they use footballer Cristiano Ronaldo as a basis for the project, his growth from a boy playing football in Portugal to an adult scoring goals for Real Madrid. The boy was delighted with the choice and set about his task with whole-hearted enthusiasm. This will not work every time, but if you can make the task appeal to the child’s own interests it is sure to make things easier!
This can apply to free time activities as well as lessons. Try to see things from the child’s perspective; the better you can involve yourself and the child in something that appeals to them, the better you will be able to connect with them.
Please note: The views and suggestions expressed in this blog are those of the author and are in no way a direction on how to raise, discipline or interact with your own children or those under your care.