Show Them Who's Boss

A couple years ago, I was nannying for a family with some wonderful children. We had fun together by doing projects, going on outings and generally cooperating with each other. When I told the children to do something, they would listen and promptly follow through. They spoke respectfully to me and with each other. Then, it all changed – they went on vacation… 

After only a month apart, all that we had built together was lost. The kids wouldn’t pick up after themselves, wouldn’t play nice, and certainly wouldn’t listen to me. In their minds, I was no longer the boss. 

A large part of why this happens is simple: inconsistency

When families go on vacation, especially apart from their nanny, routines and perhaps even rules are thrown to the wayside in the spirit of having a good time. It only takes a few days of this inconsistency to ruin good habits. Getting the kids back on track is part of what you do as a nanny. This requires communication. How do you communicate to the kids that you still are the boss? Let’s go over a few simple suggestions.

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Become one unit

Show the kids that you and their parents are a team. The kids should see that you get along, work well together and, most importantly, agree. Do things together outside of the normal work hours.

Even just treating one another with respect when you come and go can help a child see the unity between you and the parents.

Take these opportunities to show your cooperation. I make sure to do things with the parents that the children can see. This will help them see that you guys work as a team. 

A nanny will become part of the family. Just as spouses need to communicate, nannies and parents have to communicate with each other. Become one unit.

It’s the same as a husband and wife having a discussion in front of the kids or they cook together, the children see them working together. All of this goes to promote consistency between how the parents and nanny treats the kids. 

Tell the kids 

You can make it clear to the kids by simply telling them. Parents can verbalize who they are leaving in charge and how much fun the kids are going to have with you. You can tell them that it’s your turn to play with them while mommy or daddy go to work. This will clarify that you are filing in the same role their parent filled while they’re out. 

Clearly post the rules

Post the house rules somewhere everyone can see them, and make sure these rules are clearly outlined. This is the easy part. 

These can be written down on a big sheet of paper from the Dollar Tree posted in the entryway. They can be decoratively placed in little frames on printouts – anywhere. They can be on a whiteboard

The rules can really be anywhere that is visible for the children, the parents, and the nanny. It also helps to have pictures next to some of the rules that will be reminders for the children, especially if you have little ones that can’t yet read. Make sure that you placed these low enough so that the children can see them. Preferably at their eye level or a little above. This will give you and the parents something tangible to point to when questions about the rules come up.

Some places you could post the rules:

  • The entryway
  • Refrigerator
  • Dining room door
  • Room specific rules posted to in their respective rooms
  • In frames on the wall or on top of a mantle
  • A whiteboard or chalkboard

It’s important that the kids know the rules. And it’s equally important that they recognize those rules are coming from you and the parents as a unit. This will be evident by you and the parents, both, enforcing the rules and reminding the children of them. 

You can create an even stronger impact if everyone takes part in coming up with the rules. Given the chance, kids usually come up with some pretty good consequences that match a broken rule. So, keep them involved. Let them help decorate the list of rules before they’re posted. This will make them feel a stronger sense of accountability.


Let each other know of the changes. This is your responsibility – to communicate with both of the parents regularly. This is important because sometimes special circumstances will come up when the rules are smudged a bit. 

For example, when the kid is sick, so you let them eat in their bed. This is normally only supposed to happen in the kitchen, but you make an exception just this once. You have a movie marathon that day because anything from your normal, non-sick, routine will just be miserable for a sick child. 

When things like this come up, it’s important to communicate with the parents. Additionally, you can ask the parents if there have been any instances where they have smudged the rules so that you are prepared and possibly follow their lead. This way you will continue to look like a united front

A multi-part series that examines different aspects of communication in a nanny’s career. Beginning by taking a look at the importance of cooperation.


Set-up and stick to consequences. 

The reward and consequence system in the house should be in constant use. 

This tends to be harder for the parents than the nanny. Mostly, because for Mom and Dad, they are tired, and the kids know that, so it’s easier for them to just give into what the kids want. Whatever the reason, this tends to be the harder part, so make sure you are all on the same page. 

Write them down. The consequences and the rewards can be written by the rules. Put them somewhere the kids will see everyday when they enter the house:

  • By the entryway right in your Launchpad 
  • The deck or porch
  • Inside the garage, next to the entry door

Make sure the consequences have pictures for those little ones. This will help the kids know what the consequences actually look like. It’s important that kids know that all of their decisions have consequences. Whether those consequences are good or bad depends on whether their decision was in line with house rules. Something that can help is a thinking spot as a consequence. 

Make sure that the kids are held accountable. 

This is all part of consistency. We are raising little, future humans. We are not raising them to be babies their whole lives that don’t know how to be functional adults. 

Making children accountable to age-appropriate rules and consequences now will make a more responsible teenager and adult. So, we want to make sure that these things are ingrained early in life. If the family you work with is having a hard time implementing consequences, go ahead and offer some suggestions that you learn here. 

Ideally, the parents are the ones coming up with the rules and consequences. They are the ones who will have to implement the rules and consequences the majority of the time. The kids will do better and behave better with the nanny if the kids are following rules that the parents feel strongly about and consistently are able to enforce. Kids often know how to manipulate or persuade their parents, thus it is extremely important that the chosen rules are ones that the parents will definitely enforce. If the parents are looking for ideas, only then would it be good to offer some suggestions.

Have a plan

Children prosper with routines, schedules, and parameters. That is, consistency. This means children have a hard time when they hear different, inconsistent answers to the same question. 

Children need stability. 

Parents and nannies need to be on the same page. The children are already being introduced to someone new; someone they may have never met before. They need to know that house rules and expectations haven’t changed. 

The moment a child realizes they can get around them, they will try. 

So, it’s important to have a plan for when they try playing you and the parents against each other. For example, I had a boy who loved travel yogurts – you know, the kind that have so much sugar in it, it’s basically liquid candy. 

He knew the house rule. 

He could only have two a day. During the day, he would constantly beg for them. I would normally allow him to have one with his mid-morning snack and one with his ‘after rest’ (nap) snack. He would always beg for a third right before his parents got home. He would insist that he did such a great job playing with his kid sister, he deserved it. I would remind him that it was the house rule to only have two and say that he could still look forward to dessert after dinner. 

One day, as I was walking to my car, I realized I forgot my phone. As I re-entered the house, I see that kid with a yogurt in hand grinning as big as he could while on his way up the stairs. I stopped him and asked how he got another one. His reply: 

“I just asked mama! And she said yes because she loves me more!” 

Huh?! That didn’t make sense. 

She was the one that came up with that rule about him only having two. 

Why would she give him another? 

It made me feel bad. Did I misunderstand the rule? 

Why did I feel like the bad guy? 

I went into the living room to grab my phone and saw his mom standing in the kitchen. I contemplated whether or not to mention anything for half-a-second. Then, I asked, “Why did you allow him to have another yogurt? He already had two today.” She spun around with a frown on her face. “He told me he only had one,” she said. Then, she yelled for him to come down. When he got down to the kitchen, his face turned red like he already knew. She told him, “You already know the rules. Only two. Why did you lie to me?”… 

You all know how the rest of that went. In the end, her and I agreed that it was best to leave a note on the fridge of how many he’d had that day; even he could see it. That way, he wouldn’t be able to fib for another. Now, we were all on the same page. 

The goal of all caregivers is the best interest of the child. Make them feel safe and secure so they can be carefree and happy. We do this by having and sticking to the rules. When those rules are broken, enforce the comparable consequences. If you have specific situations you are unsure of how to handle, contact me!

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