One of the benefits that parents describe of living in Phnom Penh is the help around the house that is available even for families who would not consider themselves wealthy or usually have access to household staff. Nannies can make working parents’ lives easier or support full time parents in caring for children with extra needs or with large families. However, finding a nanny who fits with your family and child can be a challenge. At Indigo we work with parents and nannies and offer training for your nanny.
Many nannies are largely uneducated and unsure what foreign parents might expect from them, so relationships can be difficult and turnover high. For children who are regularly moving or are experiencing transitions, multiple carers can add to their sense of impermanence and affect the way they build relationships with others. In addition, many parents find it hard to trust their nanny to make decisions about activities and discipline. This can lead to a nanny who simply defers to the child and rushes to placate the slightest sign of distress for fear of being in trouble . Nannies may take over too quickly and may not challenge the child when needed. It can also exacerbate normal limit testing in young children, if the nanny does not feel able to enforce clear boundaries then when the child enters school they may find adapting to the rules more difficult. They may also show more difficulties with emotion regulation as they have not learned to calm themselves down or experienced normal frustration.
It is worth investing in your nanny and finding one you feel able to trust to reward your child’s positive behaviours with lots of praise but who can also to be confident and clear about the rules and consequences. A nanny who understands the importance of your child developing independence is also crucial. If you take the time to train your nanny and make your expectations very clear, then they are more likely to stay with you and your child can expect more consistency from the adults in their lives. Even if parents have very clear rules and consequences, children always learn much more quickly if everyone is responding in the same way. Setting the house rules together, such as deciding on behaviours to be given positive attention and those to be ignored or given time out, can help nannies to feel more in control and give them the confidence to challenge children and help them develop good behavioural and emotional control.
What can parents do?
Ensure the nanny has adequate language skills to communicate clear boundaries to young children
Have everyone discuss and agree household rules and maybe write them down and display them (no more than five important rules!)
Model good behaviour management for your nanny – praise them when they intervene effectively with their children and communicate clearly with them when you feel their behaviour is not helpful.
Trust and invest in your nanny – send them on a training course or spend time with them showing and discussing the needs of your child/ren and what works best.
With nannies becoming increasingly common to help busy parents or provide an additional pair of hands to give mum a break, I’m constantly being asked about the issues arising from this extra dynamic in the family. The extra help can be invaluable and it’s fantastic for children to benefit from additional close adult relationships. However, letting another person into the family isn’t a decision families take lightly as trusting your child with someone else can have its added problems too.
The main issues that repeatedly crop up are consistency and communication. It’s very important for children to have consistency in their relationships and their environments. This means they need to maintain strong relationships with their caregivers so they can feel confident and secure that people are there for them and will not disappear. As a result, sacking a nanny should be a last resort after all other avenues to resolve the issue have been taken. Your child will be attached to them and their loss will affect their view of whether to trust relationships in the future. Of course, children can cope with a change in nannies if handled properly, but if his happens suddenly and too often then you could be laying down emotional problems for your child.
Choosing a nanny who can become part of the family and stay with you for a long time is crucial.
Consistency makes children feel confident and safe. This can also be said of boundaries and their consistency. If mum and dad are implementing different rules to the nanny this can be confusing and scary for your child. Children are also good at using such differences in approach to play people off against each other to get what they want. This is a constant problem for nannies who can end up living in fear of inadvertently upsetting the parents and leaving their job in jeopardy. Worst case scenario – the nanny does everything she can to spoil the child to ensure that you think she’s doing a wonderful job, after all little Johnny’s so happy with her. Such a precarious situation can be avoided by being clear about boundaries and rules from the start with the nanny. Many nannies are Cambodian, so if you’re not, it’s important to ensure she understands your perspective on child rearing as hers is likely to be very different. It may be useful to give her some training; you could do this yourself or enrol her on a short course. A common issue that crops up in my clinical work is nannies doing everything for the child to the point where they are quite spoilt and expect the same of everyone, or may not even have age-appropriate skills as they have not had the opportunity to practice them!
Thorough and honest communication with your nanny is vital, so everyone, including your child, feels comfortable.
In addition, children must treat their nanny with the same respect they treat other adults. In order to achieve this the nanny must feel empowered to stand up to them when they are rude or badly behaved. She may allow them to get away with disrespectful behaviour as she sees herself as servile to them. It is all too common that young children generalise this behaviour to all Cambodians they come into contact with. This is another thing you need to be clear about and help your nanny with from the start.
Dr Angela SImcox and Dr Bridie Gallagher, Clinical Psychologists