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!

Advertisements

Routines

When a nanny comes into a family, there are usually already routines set in place that the children are used to. These are SO IMPORTANT to keep in place during the transition into the family. I was recently talking to the mother I work for and she was commenting about how well the kids are doing now that the whole family and I are on the same routine. Since I will be moving in two months, the mother has asked me to help train my replacement. When I do so, ROUTINES will be at the top of my list.

It’s funny how, once acclimated to the family, you learn their quarks. Jay prefers to stay in bed for “5 more minutes” as often as he can, so I wake him up 5 minutes before his sister. Jo Jo takes showers in the morning so I get her in and out of the shower while Jay eats breakfast. Jay likes helping with lunches so he does that while Jo Jo finishes her breakfast. Jay will go up and get ready while Jo Jo puts on sunscreen and brushes her hair (in that order). Somehow we always find 20 minutes to sit down and read before leaving for school. It has been the same every day since I started working with them seven months ago.

I have learned that children behave and perform better when they know the routine. Jay wasn’t doing well at the beginning of the semester, after a three week winter break. His mom was puzzled by the sudden turn around. As soon as we got back on the routine, his grades and confidence perked up.

The dad took a trip in March and was gone for two weeks. It was also the same week the mom had several late nights at work. The kids adjusted to just me being there and did fine but when dad came back the readjustment-out of routine-crazyness started up again. It has been about a month now and we are finally back to a normal routine.

Routines can help
1) bad behavior
2) lack of sleep
3) overeating/oversnacking
4) grades
5) efficiency
6) not forgetting simple tasks or chores
7) discipline

there are lots of reasons for getting children on schedules. Share your stories and words of wisdom 🙂

The Nanny Contract

Before you hire a nanny or take a job as a nanny, MAKE A CONTRACT! So many times I have seen nannies get into jobs without a contract and “stuff” goes wrong. Now, some families will have a lawyer binding contract, but I have never needed it. Both parties are under the agreement that they will honor the commitments seen in the contract and it has never been a problem for any of my families.

Contracts are important for the employer for many reasons. One, it explains what is specifically expected from the nanny. This includes certifications that must be met, car insurance policies, sick days, vacation days, overtime agreements. Two, it holds the nanny responsible for what she says she can do. Breech of contract gives the employer reason for firing.  Three, it gives the employer and nanny a chance to discuss everything prior to starting a job. The first time I didn’t make a contract, I got stuck doing laundry. I hate laundry..especially other people’s laundry. Had we sat down and discussed what the employer wanted, I would have suggested an alternative service to laundry. I was also with a family who didn’t pay overtime. I have racked up over 30 hours of overtime with no overtime pay. Unfortunately that was my fault, I didn’t bring it up or add it to the contract.

Nannies need contracts! I probably sound repetitive but contracts help the employer and employee settle on hours, payment, duties, number of kids, pay raises, gas allowance etc. Nannies driving kids need to add a clause about not being held liable for injury should their be a car accident. It is always my biggest fear that I will get in an accident while the kids are in the car, then get sued for it.  Nannies are responsible for the well being for their kids but should not be held liable for accidental broken arms.

So, what should be in this contract? The more detailed the better. Take a look at this sample nanny contract template:

Childcare Contract Sample Template

Contract Checklist:

  1. Commitment time ( are you needed for 6 months, 1 year?)
  2. Probation period optional (1 month to feel out if this job is doable for one year. If not, employer and employee can terminate contract without penalty)
  3. Hours and Dates (Approx hours + clause about overtime pay, must give 24 hours for extra time needed)
  4. Compensation (how often, weekly, monthly and yearly income. DONT forget about taxes, again I didn’t realize if you make money, Social Security and IRS come looking for you… Most families will pay 1/2 of Social Security and Medicare tax)
  5. Job Responsibilities (list EVERYTHING from watching the kids brush their teeth to meal preparation to running errands SEE TEMPLATE FOR MORE EXAMPLES)
  6. Vacation and Sick Days (Since I work for a teacher, I get Christmas and Spring Break + two weeks off in the summer..we didn’t need to add any more. I asked for 5 paid sick days as long as I gave 24 hours notice. I luckily haven’t used any in the last 7 months)
  7. Confidentiality (As a nanny, you will hear and see personal family information. It is VERY important to keep it confidential. I write about situations that I have been in with kids on this blog, but I always use alias’ and keep where I am vague.)
  8. Grounds for immediate termination (see list on the CONTRACT TEMPLATE)
  9. Grounds for immediate leaving on the nanny’s part ( I like to include this because it protects the nanny from being in an abusive or unsafe job. This list can include witnessing child abuse-you don’t want to get involved with that, it will mostlikely escalate– if a parent “comes on to you” romantically, if you are hit, cussed at or otherwise threatened by a parent, if the child does any of the above. 
  10. Signed and Dated

 

Nannies PLEASE protect yourself and your job by initiating a contract. Parents, you are the employer, every other job I have been at requires a contract, yours should be no different.

If you know of a contract horror story or think something is missing from my sample contract, feel free to comment. I love getting feedback on my blogs!

 

A Nanny’s Worth: The Guide to Paying your Nanny Fairly

I started my “career” as a babysitter when I was 13. Still a kid myself, I can understand the hesitation parents felt when leaving me alone with their children, simply because of my age. But I was a great date night sitter. Too young to have plans on Friday and Saturday nights, parents often called to just get out of the house for a couple hours. When I first started sitting, I charged $5 an hour, and $1 extra per additional kid. I was CPR certified and had taken a babysitting course, which parents liked and used as a measuring tool to see how dedicated and  responsible I was.

When I started high school, my time was more limited, between school, band, JROTC, and driving lessons. Because I was in higher demand, more mature, and had my own transportation, I raised my going rate to $7-$10 depending on time needed and number of kids. It has never been my goal or intention to get over paid or put a family out so using minimum wage as a gage was fair. I think it is great that parents go out and have fun- kid free time, but it is also expensive. Look at a sample date night for parents:

  • Dinner- $20-$30
  • Movie- $20 + $10 on popcorn and snacks
  • Babysitter for 4 hours- $40! (thats on the cheap side)
  • Thats close to $100 for a night out. I know when I become a mom, that will probably not be in the budget.

Now that I am graduated and nannying is a full time job I have raised my going rate to $15 an hour. While this seems high, the job description for nannying is a little more extensive than babysitting. In a typical day, I have to feed, chauffer, discipline, tutor, and clean up after two kids. I am considered on the low side for what to pay nannies. Since I am new to it this is my starting rate. As experience builds, as with any other job, the pay will go up. Depending on your area, nannies can range from $15-$30 an hour.

In addition to pay, parents often give tips for good service or when they are impressed. If your babysitter goes out of their way to bring craft supplies or make a yummy dinner (something other than the usual mac n cheese) make them feel appreciated with a couple extra dollars. Babysitters, here are 3 easy ways to impress parents:

  1. clean up the house. With little kids running around, the house is probably scattered with toys. It is the last thing parents want to deal with after a romantic night out.
  2. do the dishes- again, after a date night, who wants to clean dishes?
  3. Bring crafts- it doesnt have to be expensive, but holiday themed or cool crafts are always a plus.

Nannies often become additions to the family and many families feel it is appropriate to give their nannies gifts for holidays and birthdays. I was so taken a back when my employer sent me a birthday card and gave me a Christmas bonus. The kids made me Valentine cards too. It was not expected and made me feel like I had done a good job with their family.

So lets recap:

Babysitter age 13-16: $5-7 an hour

Babysitter age 17-20: $7-10 an hour plus a tip if good service

Nanny (young or inexperienced): $15-20 an hour you can negotiate gas and duties + the occasional bonus optional

Nanny (experienced): $20-$40 depending on area, demand, hours, gas, duties, etc.

My final tip: ALWAYS make a contract with nannies laying out exactly what is expected of them. Come back for my article on THE NANNY CONTRACT

9-1-1…am I in the Ghetto?

I fell asleep to the sound of distant sirens last night and was reminded of a time when I had to call 911 on the job. I had recently started a nanny job in an unfamiliar neighborhood for a family with two kids. Jay is ten and Jo is eight. Our day started out like any other. They got up, got dressed, ate breakfast, finished homework from the night before and cleaned their rooms. When it was time to leave for school Jo decided she didn’t want to be the door locker (a job that alternated by day), so Jay volunteered. I don’t remember checking to verify if it was locked or not since Jay was responsible. I took them to school and picked them up. When we got home I made popcorn while they took out their homework and told me about their day. Jay stopped talking and asked if someone was upstairs. All three of us were downstairs and no one was due home until dinnertime. The noise came again from their parent’s bedroom like someone was walking around. Creaking floorboards, jingling jewelry… the noises continued. Not knowing the area very well, I was unsure of crime rates and how common break in’s were. I took the kids to the back yard and called 9-1-1. The operator asked questions and sent a police car immediately. We went through the side gate to the front of the house where we were told to walk down to the mailbox. By now the kids were freaked out but trying to remain calm. The first police man arrived but had to wait for his partner. He talked with the kids and was very gracious when the stereotypical “what’s your favorite donut ’cause all policemen eat donuts” came up. Jay was intrigued with his guns and the car’s computer system. Minutes later the partner arrived. The police searched the home but didn’t find anything. He took the kids through the house to help confirm that everything was ok. They left and we finished homework and started dinner.

Lessons Learned:

  1. Go with your gut, if you don’t feel safe call for help. In this case, since the parents were far away at work and my parents were not close, 911 was my only option. 
  2. Take the kids to a safe area.
  3. Stay calm. Children sense fear and feed on it. If you stay calm, they will too. Reassure the children that calling 911 is just a precaution but they should always ask a grown up before calling 911 themselves.
  4. Keep parents in the know. I called the mom before calling 911 and after the police left to calm her worries and make sure everyone was on the same page.
  5. Know the area you are in. The police man said there had been five break ins in the past year in this particular neighborhood. I would have never known if I didn’t ask. City Halls and police stations have up to date criminal records.. take a look.
  6. Check to make sure all doors and windows are locked before leaving. The door had been locked that morning but it is important to double check.

* just as a side note, a few months later, the house was burglarized, and someone stole items out of the families side yard. Crazy huh? Luckily no one was home.

Dory: My Pet Rock

Some of the best advice I have learned as a nanny has been through experience. In 2003, my parents went to a conference in Texas for the weekend. My sister and I stayed home with a sitter. I was only eight at the time and it was the first time my parents had left me overnight. To ease my anxiety, my mom did this craft with my sister and me before she left. We made pet rocks as a way to communicate while she was gone.

 IMG_0542

Meet Dory. 🙂

My mom helped me make this and it was so special to me, I have kept it after all these years. Not only did it mean a lot to me to make with my mom, but I had a lot of fun making it! Now I make them with almost all of my families.

First we go on a walk to find the perfect rock.

 IMG_0543

Then we start painting. My inspiration was after Finding Nemo, which had just come out.

5 Things to do with your Pet Rock:

  1. Make a play using your pet rock as the main character
  2. Play hide and seek
  3. Use your Pet rock as a paperweight on a picnic
  4. Dress it up with scrap fabric
  5. Make it a house to sleep in

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.