DO NOT ENTER: the realm of privacy

It is funny how inspiration hits sometimes. I had a situation yesterday at work where one child was running around in their underwear and the other was locked in his room and I couldn’t get in. Then, the wonderful carliedash from Superhero of Imperfection left me this note:

 I have been thinking a lot lately about a topic I am interested in hearing your opinion on- Privacy. As a babysitter/nanny it is our job to keep children safe. But sometimes, older kids want (or should we say need) privacy. What do you do when what you think is right conflicts with the child. A four year old wants to bathe alone? A three year old refuses help wiping? Or what about the other way around? Have you ever been in a situation with an older child where you thought they needed privacy but they asked for your presence? I realize I am being vague, but I am mostly talking about bathtime, potty time, and dressing. It’s a gray area because we need to keep children safe, but we also need to show them that we respect them! What are your thoughts?

Let me start off by saying there is a difference between privacy, independence and rights. Your parent’s stopped watching you go to the bathroom probably by the time you were four or five years old right? One, they knew you were independent enough to do your business, wipe and flush. Second, around the age of four is when children start wanting to be left alone. Children want to test the boundaries of what they can and can’t do by themselves, it is a natural process of learning. Fast forward to when you are say..13. Now you are independent and have earned privacy but you have an attitude. Did your parent’s ever take the door to your room off because you slammed it one too many times? You lost  your right to have a door as a consequence of your actions. Ok so now that we have that situated, what is the line between safety and privacy.

Different age groups have different levels of privacy, independence and rights. Toddlers for example are still heavily reliant on parents to complete daily tasks. As a babysitter/nanny, you are taking the place of the parent and thus have the same responsibilities. Carliedash asked at what age is it appropriate for children to shower alone/without supervision. I don’t think there is a defined age but this is what I do. I watch a three and five year old on Thursday nights. One of my duties is to make sure they are showered and put in bed. We created a called scuba time. The kids (little boy and girl) wear their swim suit in the bath. (this solves the awkward nakedness and keeps bathtime fun).  Since they want their ‘independence’ I put the curtain up (which is pretty shear so I can see their outlines) so they can splash about and have fun with a sense of privacy. I sit next to the tub and listen to what they are doing. I never leave them alone. It is pretty apparent if they are doing something they shouldn’t like jumping or fighting. At that point I can easily intervene. This was our compromise. Now I also have charges that are eight and ten years old. They can shower by themselves with the door closed as long as it remains unlocked. Unlocked you ask? My worst fear would be that they slip and fall in the shower and get knocked unconscious. If that ever happened, it would be vital that you be able to get into the bathroom to help them. At that point, nakedness, self-esteem issues, etc are thrown out the window. They will understand. Again this was the compromise between privacy and safety. They know I won’t enter if the door is closed and I know that I can still do my job, should an emergency occur.

As a nanny, your bathroom duties don’t end there. (no pun intended). When it comes to potty training, toddlers will insist they can “do it”. However, we all know sometimes they can’t reach or get it all. Most parents will tell you it is all part of the learning process and I agree. One of the little boys I watch wouldn’t even let his mom help him wipe (let alone me) but he learned quickly that he needed help when he started getting sore back there. If your little munchkin is refusing help, reiterate that if they miss any, they will have a sore bum and that’s no fun! Always be positive when dealing with a new potty trainer. “Good job buddy, you went potty like a big boy. Don’t forget to wipe like one” Then follow-up with “can you show me what a big boy( or girl) you are?” You don’t have to watch like a hawk, just stand by the door and listen to what is happening. If you hear the toilet paper roll spinning, that is a good sign.

I think there is a misconception that babysitters/nannies shouldn’t see their charges naked out of fear. This is a sticky area all around. Parent’s may feel uncomfortable with the vulnerability of their children naked (let’s face it, even babysitters can be perverts unfortunately). Nannies feel uncomfortable with the possibility of being accused of molestation/inappropriate behavior. And kids just feel embarrassed with strangers looking at their body, especially if you grew up like I did where my mom reinforced “only mommy, daddy and the doctor should see your body..”. So with all this walking on eggshells, it is reasonable to understand why nannies do not want to see their charges naked. STOP! the parent’s are intrusting you with their most precious possessions. You are the parent in their absence. SO!! be sensitive to the child’s privacy but don’t fear accusations. There are cases where you gotta do what you gotta do. Let me repeat: Please don’t let a fear impair your job or the safety of the children you watch. Perfect example. I had a friend who was watching a toddler for the first time. She had to get him dressed for a playdate at the park. However, neither the child or the babysitter felt comfortable with her clothing the child. So she let him close his door, pick out clothes and change by himself while she went through the house to clean up. What toddler do you know that can do ALL of that?? I don’t know any who can pick out their own outfit! As he went to pull out a tall drawer to get pants out of the dresser, it fell out and on top of him. The babysitter walked in on a pinned down, hysterical, NAKED, two year old. My point with this is, sometimes, out of the safety of the child, you need to stay in the room and assist. So that was obviously the wrong way to handle the situation.. This is what I do. I pick out three outfits, underwear and all and sit it on the bed (or floor). Then I tell the child they can pick one of those outfits. I tell them I will stand right outside in case they need help but they can be a big boy (or girl) and get dressed. Now, pants might not get zipped, buttons may be misaligned, they may have their shoes on the wrong feet, BUT they were safely independent and have a sense of self accomplishment. Bonus! you didn’t have to be in the room when they were naked.

I started my nanny job with the 8 and 10 year old about 10 months ago. It was my responsibility to make sure the kids looked appropriate for school. When I started, the kids were very adamant about me not seeing them naked or in their underwear, so I would wake them up and wait downstairs for the morning fashion show. They would come down in the outfit they chose and show me for approval. If it didn’t work, they would go change. Now, since we have been together for so long, sometimes they will walk around in their underwear or ask me to help pick out their clothes for the day. One time Jo Jo was in the shower and forgot a towel so she asked me to give her one, since I am a girl with girl parts like her and it was less awkward than having her brother do it. Out of respect I didn’t look at her as I handed her the towel.

Respect for children is so key to building a relationship with them. With that said, each child is different. Some are very independent, some are very clingy. Some don’t mind nakedness and others are very shy about their body privacy. Bottom line, you need to keep them safe. If you have to walk in on a shower or while they are using the bathroom, explain that it isn’t a breach of privacy, it is because it is your job. If you have a situation where the child is naked, don’t stare or make them feel uncomfortable. Never touch them inappropriately.

Have you ever been in a situation where privacy and safety conflict? Tell me about it!

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Bad Behavior

toddler-little-devil-costume

Parents are the sometimes the most blind about how their child really acts. I can say this because I have seen it. I go into a home and the parents assure me their kids are well behaved, respectful little angels then BOOM! the second they leave, all hell breaks loose. On the other side of the coin, I can say I KNOW how easy it is to walk all over babysitters because I was that evil little girl who went through five babysitters in one month. (No that is not an exaggeration…) So what is a teenager supposed to do when an eight year old breaks his mother’s favorite vase, or the five year old paints the house in pretty shades of pink lipstick?? How do you punish a child for saying a bad word or hitting their little sister? And at what point does bad behavior go beyond your (as the babysitter) control? I don’t know. A lot of your leeway in discipline comes from the parents. A lot of it comes from what you feel comfortable with. Some of it will be instinct. Some of it will be a mistake. But ultimately, you have to set the boundaries from the beginning so the kids know what to expect from you. We have all heard the saying “if you give a kid an inch they will go a mile..” ITS TRUE!! You could be the carefree sitter who doesn’t care if the kids eat nothing but ice cream and stay up til midnight when the parents say not too…or you could be the fun loving sitter that allows dessert if chores are done and the kids behave. Just know, if you are too buddy buddy with the kids they will take advantage of it and your job will become 10x harder in the long run.

Here is a list of do’s and don’ts when it comes to disciplining kids while on the job:

  1. DO sit the kid aside and explain why their action is unacceptable immediately after the action has happened. If you try to explain it 3 hours later, they will have forgotten what the bad behavior was.
  2. DO NOT lecture them for long, their attention spans are short and they won’t remember why they are sitting down to begin with
  3. DO sit them in a quiet place (like their room, bathroom or corner) for the # of years old they are. I.E the max punishment for a 4 year old is 4 minutes in time out at once
  4. DO NOT answer the child while they are in timeout. For older kids, if they ask if they can come out restart their time in it. Once they can answer their own question, let them out.
  5. DO keep track of bad behaviors. If repeated multiple times, it could be a sign of behavioral disorder or action is triggered by a specific thing. This should be reported to parents. ( Jay flipped out whenever Jo-Jo would hum during homework time. He needed complete silence. We found that this was one of his ADHD triggers)
  6. DO NOT use capital punishment as a way to give out punishment.. if the child runs breaks his sisters hand by running over it with a scooter, it won’t end pretty if you try to do the same to him.. PLUS then there is two kids in the ER, two sets of hysterical crying, two angry parents..the list goes on..
  7. DO give rewards for good behavior. I created the Pinkberry Contract with one of my families. If the kids had a good behavior day they got a star. If it was a bad day they got a strike. Three strikes and no treat for the month. If they were good, they got frozen yogurt. It worked for that family. There are other reward systems out there. See future post about rewards.
  8. DO NOT give incentives to calm down once they are riled up. Candy, cookies and ice cream are among the worst but toys, games or t.v. time is just as bad. If the kid has been bad consistently bad during the day, there is no need to add a reward like dessert. It only tells the child that bad behavior is ok.
  9. DO set boundaries early. Let the child know what is acceptable and unacceptable when you are in charge. Make a chart with the rules spelled out clearly or make a fun song that can help them remember it.
  10. DO NOT make up fake punishments like calling their parents when you don’t actually do it, or calling an imaginary police man who will take them to jail if they don’t straighten up. These methods lead to more problems down the road when Policeman Jones doesn’t actually come to take them to jail or mom can’t remember giving her “punishment” over the phone.

I have always set the standard for myself that I will never hit, spank or grab a child that I watch. I will not scream in their face or talk down to them. I will not use “capital punishment” on a child of any age for any punishment. And I will work hard to stay calm and stay in control of every situation that arises. 

What happens when a parenting style collides with your standards and ways of operating?

It sucks. I have been with a family for almost a year now we have never been on the same page as me when it comes to disciplining the children. I am with the family for the majority of the week but between the parents lack in co-parenting and adding me to the mix, the kids can basically get away with murder since there is no consistency. I hear “well dad lets us drink soda” from the kids and turn around and the mom is banning soda. Or “mom hits us if we talk at the dinner table but dad lets us eat in the family room”. I am constantly battling the mom said dad said syndrome. For the most part, I tended to lean with the mom’s standards of disciplining until one day when Jay’s consistent bad attitude had reached its breaking point for all of us. What I witnessed that day will haunt me forever, as I have never seen a parent discipline a child so ruthlessly. I could NEVER treat my kids or any other kids in that manner regardless of if I had “permission” to do so.

My advice is this, every family has their own disciplining methods. Don’t get in the habit of using time outs or taking items away. It can make escalating to more severe punishments easier. Talk openly with the parents you are working for and ask what works for their kids. Some children don’t like small spaces so shoving them in the closet for 10 minutes will not help them calm down. It will have the opposite affect. Other kids NEED a space to decompress and separate from their surroundings and the closet may be the only place that is possible. Tell parents your comfortability level with discipline. If you don’t mind shoving soap in their mouth when they cuss, make that clear. Bottom line, the more consistency and transparency between parent and sitter the better. You have to do what you feel is right and trust that the parent’s chose YOU to watch their precious children for a reason. They TRUST you.