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What to Do When They Won't Behave

A nanny recommends these two tactics

Emmalie Lynch

Published on: October 04, 2017

Angry child

I’ve been a professional nanny for the past four years, caring for kids ranging in ages from 3 months to 11 years. They’ve all had very different home situations, personalities and behavioral and developmental issues. I’ve worked up to 60 hours a week with these kids and repeatedly heard two specific things from parents about how I’m able to maintain order and control. If you’ve found yourself asking the same questions of your nanny, I’m about to drop some serious insider knowledge on you. (Spoiler: no special skills or training required.)

What I hear: “Why do the kids do/not do [blank] with you and not me?”

One word: Respect. 

In my work as a nanny, establishing a chain of command is the very first item I check off of my to-do list when coming into a new family. Every child — age, personality and demeanor are all factors — is different.

Part of gaining that child’s respect is understanding how they think and act. Once you do, consistency in your directions coupled with verbal and physical praise to reinforce good behavior will quickly gain you the respect of the child (regardless of age!) and allow your life to run much more smoothly.

Gaining the respect of your child is work; it’s not something that happens automatically just because you’re the parent. Your nanny hasn’t done any crazy voodoo on your child; they’ve worked very hard to gain their respect. If you ask the nanny, I promise you they’ll be more than happy to help you do the same in your house.

What I hear: “I didn’t know my child could do/was capable of that!”

Challenge your child in a new way every single day both physically and intellectually. 

I was responsible for a pair of wonderful twins in Philadelphia. The mother warned me when I started that the kids — then 13 months and still crawling — would rush the door whenever it was open because they loved to go outside. She suggested that I set up the large double stroller inside and buckle them in before I opened the door. That wasn’t going to work for me. I had a feeling that the kids could handle a change.

We started with the gate to the incredibly steep and dangerous spiral staircase. The kids quickly learned the word “no” while I also implemented praise for good behavior. Eventually, I could comfortably leave the gate open without worrying that the kids would rush the stairs. 

We then turned to the sliding door and went through the same process until they mastered that area of the house. Then, I left the front door open. 

In addition to learning not to leave the house unattended, I also established a specific point that was not to be passed. If their toes even touched the marble threshold of the doorway, they would hear a low, rumbling “Nooo” and back up. And they heard it a lot. Kids will test you, so again, stay consistent and reward good behavior. Soon, I was able to keep the door open during the day while we played inside. More importantly, I could set up the stroller right outside on the sidewalk while the kids stayed safely and respectfully out of the way.

I’ll never forget the first day the mom came home when I had the front door wide open. She ran up the front steps calling my name and those of her babies. All three of us looked up calmly from the book we were reading together on the floor before I explained to her what I’d done, how and why. She couldn’t believe it. I also told her what tools I used to enforce the behavior so she could use them too.

To this day, the dad says the kids, who are now just over 2 years old, wait for an adult to give them the OK before going through an open gate in their house or down the front steps.

You’ve heard it before: Your child is a sponge. As long as new things keep coming their way, they’ll continue to soak up and learn them. They want more experiences, more knowledge and, eventually, more responsibility in order to receive praise from you. Even if you think they might fail at something, you should always try. They just might surprise you.


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