Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Disciplining as a Nanny :: Lying, Whining, and Deliberate Disobedience

Note: The kids I nanny rarely need correction and are, in general, an absolutely wonderful crew of angelic happy folks. Especially the girl in this photograph. I don't seek out chances to correct behaviour and prefer to let kids be crazy kids. But crazy kids need boundaries to be healthy crazy kids.

I started nannying two to four hours a week when I was around 14 years old. This week I will be caring for six children for a combined total of 23 hours in addition to my twenty-credit work load. I’ve cared for single children and I’ve spent mornings taking care of 15 kids while attempting to speak four languages (American English not being one of them because I had to refer to cookies as “biscuits”).

And what do I think kids need in order to thrive? Healthy boundaries.

Kids need to know the limits. They can push them a few times, but eventually they will know what is acceptable and operate happily within them. I’m not talking about limiting their creativity, individuality, or independence. The wildest and most unhappy kids I’ve seen are the ones whose parents can’t draw the lines for them. Their the ones who have the parents whose “no” never really means “no.” While the kids may think that the wishy washy parents works to their advantage, I believe that beneath even what they can acknowledge, they are craving boundaries. When you know that they’re in control, you can feel safe. There is comfort in knowing what to expect.

But many parents, these days, seem to think that discipling and correcting children isn’t always right. They slack off on correcting their behavior which can injure a child in the long run. We're raising a generation that doesn't respond to correction.

As a nanny, my interactions with children are quite different from that that they have with their adults. I don’t see myself as just their passive playmate (although I definitely fill that role and will play for hours with each child). If that’s what the parents want of me, just to play and give in to their every desire, I can do that. But normally I prefer it to be more so me also helping raise the child and encouraging them to become better people who know themselves. I rarely need to take action, but sometimes kids misbehave and I have to let them know from the very start that I expect virtuous behavior from them.

I have found that they react very quickly to correction and praise.

And, the key is that I call them out on their good behaviour. I call them out on it over and over. I love praising them! Love it! It never gets old I love praising them to their parents in front of the kids. I love telling them how much I appreciate the wonderful things they do. I like to praise and acknowledge good behavior at least ten times more than anything negative, normally more.

Kids love to be praised. They try to be good. They want to be good. And I want them to know their their efforts are being noticed. I know it isn’t easy. I want them to act in ways to earn the praise instead of pushing limits to see how I react.

But sometimes they do misbehave.

I do have my discipline voice and my kids know it well. It is very distinct, solemn, and straight forward. I do not crack a smile when using it. I don’t ever use it in jest or play. I only stop using it once the kid understands that what they did was wrong and we’ve worked through it. I’ll break out of it sooner if I’m working with the kid on talking about why they did what they did.

There are three cases when I’ll use it and two behaviors that I consider to be unacceptable.

One is lying. Sometimes, kids lie when it seems a whole lot easier than telling the truth. Lying is completely and totally unacceptable and never tolerated by me. I consider it to be a serious offense that needs to be dealt with as it weakens our relationship when I feel I can't trust their word. I need the kids to know that they can’t slip one past me. They need to know that they will be caught. This isn't just for my own benefit now. They need to learn at an early age that it doesn’t work out. It's a life lesson that truth really is the best policy.

Second is acting with the intentions of harming someone else.

Third case I might use the voice is deliberate disobedience and acts of defiance.

Accidents are fine. If I know a kid wasn’t trying to be bad when something happens, I don’t make a big deal of it. Something breaks? They drop something? They really didn’t know? No problem. They have to help clean up the mess, usually, but they can tell from my tone of voice and attitude that I don’t hold it against them in any way. Accidents really don't phase me. What matters to me are the intentions behind the actions.

But, let’s say they aren’t behaving. What do I normally do?

First, if the family has a structured method the kids are used to, I always use that. I always respect the wishes of the parents. I had one family where all I had to say is, “There will be consequences.” Then, if I had to, I would tell the parents when they got home and they dealt with it. It was a system that worked quite well.

Sometimes, kids just want attention. Actually, I think they always want attention - and they’ll do crazy things to get it - and sometimes those crazy things are not what they ought to be doing (I’m all for silliness and nonsense, but there are lines - I do not encourage kids to chew with their mouth open or yell in the faces of others). Frequently, in these cases where the silly slips into not-quite-appropriate, I’ll just turn my head and not acknowledge the action. I will look above their heads and ignore them completely for as long as they act in that way. The moment they are back to acceptable behaviour, I look them in the eyes and interact in full again.

This method has been quite effective as, sometimes by even acknowledging their ill-behavior, for them, it’s like a reward. They wanted attention and got it. But my depriving them of all attention when they act in such a way, they realize that it really isn’t too fun at all. They learn that they will get my attention most when they act appropriately. The important thing is I don't carry out the ignoring any longer than needed. I like them to be able to see instant results.

For lying and sneakiness, they need to learn that telling the truth is always the best policy and that deceitfulness will never turn out well. The first step is usually to get them to understand what is happening. They need to understand that what they’re doing is lying (and I do not ever call the kid a liar). They need to know that I want to be able to trust them and their behaviour is breaking that trust. Then we need to figure out why they thought they had to lie or try and deceive me. Sometimes, at this point, they feel a bit vulnerable. They might have been scared I would get mad if I knew the truth. I definitely don’t crack down on them, at this point. They know lying is unacceptable. They get to hear my normal tone now as I reassure them that telling the truth would have been better. They need to know how I would have reacted to the truth. As soon as we both understand, we move on. Simple as that.

I want my kids to know that I don’t hold anything against them. Once something is over and in the past, it’s over. I won't reference it again.

If a kid is out of control (very very uncommon), time-outs seem to be effective. They let the kid cool down. If they are having a melt-down (a stage I understand very well) discipline is rarely an option. At that point, I want to do my best to help them calm down. I remember in my melt-downs, I was miserable and often just wanted someone to reach out and help me snap out of it. There are points where we’re past discipline, where that won’t do anything. At that point they need a friend because there is something deeper going on. Well, at least there was for me.

For deliberate physical harm (such as hitting) - it is a direct time-out with no questions asked. They quickly learn that it isn’t tolerated. I don’t give warnings. They know it’s not right. They need to learn that when they get angry or frustrated, it is unacceptable to take it out on another human being. No excuses.

For whiners and complainers I take two roads (neither are discipline). Sometimes it’s a mental state for a kid. Then, I try and discuss with them what is going on. We talk about perspectives and how we can change them and choose how we view a situation. We talk about how they gain nothing from the negativity (I have one kid in particular who is the King of Negative). However, sometimes it’s just a bout of complaining. If I forsee it coming, I might tell the kid well in advance that for every time they complain, I’ll complain too. Seeing me complain let’s them see how ridiculous it is. Usually it get’s them laughing too. Sometimes they don’t like it when I complain (“Stop it!”) to which I let them know that it’s easy to get me to stop, they just have to stop themselves. Regardless, they tend to stop pretty quick.

With deliberate acts of disobedience, I feel like this is the kids testing limits. They know what I said and what to know what happens if they go against that. I rarely encounter this more than a few times. I give a consequence that fits the situation then and there and they soon learn that I’m one to keep my word. That is a clear boundary and limit for them. From there, we do just fine.

If a kid is acting in a way that I think isn’t the best, distraction is often a terrific method. No, they don’t need discipline. I can tell them “no” but then it turns into a matter of discipline which we don’t always want to deal with. Sometimes, I just have to direct them towards another activity and catch their eye with that. Kids can only handle being “controlled” so much by adults. I think they do have their limits and hearing “no” all the time can wear them down (some parents take this to the extreme) if they interpret it as me thinking that they’re a bad kid. So when I can just move them along, it works out well.

And that’s about it. I usually try and give the kids a choice as often as possible. I think it’s wonderful when they are allowed to make choices. When we enter into a disagreement (such as that they don’t want to take a bath but I know they need to take one), I like to give them two choices. Within these choices, I always “get my way” (that sounds awful) but it makes the kids feel like they’re at least somehow in control of the situation as well (“Do you want to take your bath now or in 20 minutes? Do you want a short or long bath?”).

As said before, though, more important than any of this is to praise them. I always need to be on the look out for good behaviour and acknowledge it out loud. I need to call them out on what they do right so they start deliberately doing good and being polite and helpful until it becomes a habit. I have yet to meet a kid who doesn’t like to be praised and doesn’t like to be told, “I am so proud of you and appreciate you.”

I don’t talk down to my kids, I talk straight to them.

1 comment:

  1. I totally agree. You sound like a great nanny and will make a wonderful mommy someday :)


Your words make me grin.

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