FAMILY ALMANAC

Our nanny is great with the baby, but frightens our son

Posted Feb. 04, 2013, at 10:54 a.m.

Q: We’re not sure what to do about our nanny, a loving, wonderful woman who has worked hard for our family, is quite loyal to us and has come to us twice a week for the past year.

She has an easy rapport with our baby girl, but not with our 4-year-old son. He hates it when she comes and often refuses to say “hello” to her. He hides, then cries and says he doesn’t like her but he can’t quite tell me why he feels this way. From what I can gather, however, he thinks she is too strict; she tells him to “hush” quite a bit and she won’t let him stir a pot for fear that he might hurt himself. She also doesn’t like it when my son confuses “yesterday” with “today” and mixes up the days of the week, and once she accused him of lying.

To me, these simply are misunderstandings, which probably occur because English is her second language. I think she struggles to understand my son and he struggles because he thinks her words are too harsh.

I hate the idea of getting rid of a nanny who has worked so hard for us, and our schedules will fit so well next year when our son goes to school full time. At the same time, I feel guilty for putting him with someone who can handle babies better than older children.

A: Your first allegiance is to your children, not your nanny. As good as she is with your baby, she angers and frightens your son and that’s reason enough to end your relationship.

You have to respect his feelings even though he can barely tell you why she scares him. Your 4-year-old may talk a lot but it’s hard for him to express his feelings when his vocabulary is small, his nanny is a grown-up and she is so much bigger and stronger than he is.

You need to react to your son’s pain now, just as you will when he goes to his new school. If he refuses to speak to his teacher or hides from her or says that the other children are being mean to him, you would observe him in his classroom and on the playground to see if he was right. And if he was? You would ask the principal to put him in a different class, or you might move him to different school in the middle of the year, or even home-school him yourself, and for one reason: A child should be eager to get to his school in the morning and sorry to leave it at the end of the day. A school should never seem like a prison — and neither should a home.

Both of your children should be glad to see their nanny when she arrives in the morning and sorry to see her leave at the end of the day. If they’re not, you need to make some changes. It simply isn’t fair to ask your son to put up with an overly strict nanny for a year so your schedule will be more convenient next year.

You should consider your nanny’s feelings, however, as well as your son’s. Because you were pleased by her work in the past, you need to help her find a place where she can work with babies rather than pre-Ks. Every parent likes some ages better than others, and so do their nannies.

If she can only find a job working with children who are ages 2-5, however, help her understand these ages better. She needs to know that these children long to explore the world and to experience as much of it as possible. They also need to run and climb because children whose arms and legs are well developed will have good hand-eye coordination and will write and read more easily.

But mostly a young child needs a nanny who will laugh with him; have tea parties with him; and let him dump ingredients into the bowl to make a dough and then plunge the electric hand mixer into it so he can tell his mom that he made the cookies “all by myself.”

You can also help your nanny do her job a little better if you give her a copy of “Calmer Easier Happier Parenting” by Noel Janis-Norton (Plume; $16) when it comes out this spring. Then order a copy for yourself. When a parent — or a nanny — loosens up, she always does her job a little better.

Questions? Send them to advice@margueritekelly.com.

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