Many nannies struggle with discipline. 

  • How do you discipline the kids as the nanny?
  • How do you discipline children of different age groups?
  • What if you don’t feel confident enforcing discipline?
  • Should you discipline kids while the parents are around?
  • How can we set up an effective disciplinary system?

I recently interviewed Shada Lambert, aka @nannysharz. Based in London, Shada is an international nanny, parent coach, and sleep training consultant. She’s amazing! You can watch the interview in the video above. 

Together, Shada & I discussed what nannies need to know about discipline.

What is the Key to Proper Discipline?

Knowledge is key when it comes to discipline. If a child acts out, the nanny needs to get to the root of the issue. Taking the time to learn about why children behave in certain ways will give you an idea as to how you should discipline them. 

Often, what is needed most is communication. Make sure the child understands how their actions make others feel, and what sort of consequences may come along with them. 

Children need to know:

  • What they’re doing
  • Why they’re doing it
  • What the effects of their actions are

Discuss Discipline at the Nanny Interview

It’s hard for parents to be honest with themselves about discipline. Many parents feel they are more strict or more liberal than they really are. 

As the nanny, you want to be in sync with the parents’ disciplinary style. The only way to be on the same page with the parents is talk openly with them about discipline. The best place to start is during the interview. 

How do you ask parents about discipline? At my nanny book club Amanda, from Nannyofoz.com, made a fantastic point. Instead of asking parents “how” they discipline, ask them “what would you do if.”

For example, rather than saying “how do you discipline Tommy” you could ask: 

  • “What would you do if Tommy kicked you?
  • “What would you do if Tommy bit one of his little brother?”

You may find that parents’ actual disciplinary styles differs from how they wish to discipline their children. Questions like these help you to learn how the parents actually act. Knowing what the family is truly like will give you a better idea if you and the family will be a good match. 

What if the Child Hits Their Nanny?

Sometimes children physically act out against their nanny. Children may punch, kick, or even bite you. Many people’s gut reaction to being attacked is to fight back but, that’s not an appropriate way to discipline children. 

Physically retaliating against the child sends them the wrong message. As the role model, nannies need to set a good example for the child to follow. Ask yourself “if I react the same was as the child, what does that teach them?”

Safety is your number one job. If you or the child are in immediate danger, do what you can to either remove yourself from danger or put the child in a safe place. 

However, as stated in the beginning, knowledge is key. Let the child know that physical attacks are never acceptable. Start by teaching children respect for other people’s bodies. If they do hurt you, communicate that to them on a level they can understand. “That really hurts me. Please don’t do that.”

Young children often struggle processing emotions. Children may use physical violence because their anger has gotten out of control. Because this struggle is typical, it is usually better to wait until the child calms down and then discuss what happened with them. Let them know that you are not going to bother fighting with them when they act violently. 

Sometimes, kids need time to themselves to work through these emotions on their own. Give them the space they need. Then, talk about what happened and teach them different mechanisms that can help them work through tough emotions. 

Should Nannies Put Kids in Timeout?

Timeout is the most common way to give children the space and time they need to work through emotions when they misbehave. This is something necessary for their emotional development However, there are good and bad ways to use timeout. 

Don’t isolate the child when they are struggling with feelings of frustration & anger. They may need someone there to support them once they’ve calmed down. 

Do let the child know you are available to talk when they’re ready and clearly communicate to them why they’re being put in timeout. They need to know that this is a time to reflect on their actions and to calm down. 

Don’t shut down or push aside their emotions. We all struggle with our emotions sometimes and they need to learn to live with them. 

Do teach children methods for calming down. Breathing exercises are easy to teach and effective examples. 

Don’t use a timer. Let the child come to you once they’ve calmed down. After acting out and calming down, they may need a hug. Setting a timer doesn’t allow them to freely express themselves in a positive manner.

Rather than make timeout negative, turn it into a positive activity. Shada prefers to use the term “reflection time” and frame it as a learning moment rather than a punishment. 

Check out @littlebigfeelings for some more tips and ideas for helping children deal with their emotions.

Should Nannies Discipline Children While the Parents are Around?

Nannies often feel awkward disciplining kids when the parents are around. Unfortunately, the children don’t make it any easier on nannies when their parents are there. Kids usually act out in front of their parents. Should you still discipline them? 

Children need consistency. This is why nannies try to match the parents’ style of childcare in the first place. If you are consistent with how and when you discipline children, regardless of whether the parents are present or not, the child will make better progress. 

Sometimes, giving discipline in front of parents teaches parents new ways to discipline they didn’t think would work. Additionally, when parents don’t interrupt the nanny’s discipline, the child sees that the parents and nanny are on the same team.

It is important that you know your limits. Nannying with the parents at home is considerably more difficult than when nannying away from the parents. You need to be honest with yourself and not take on a job that is beyond your limits, or doesn’t compensate you enough for the difficulty of the work. 

Disciplining Your Nanny Kids Takes Confidence

One of the reasons it’s so difficult for nannies to discipline other people’s children is a lack of confidence. Some nannies are not confident that the kinds of discipline they use are effective, or may not even be sure the child needs discipline. How can nannies gain the confidence needed to discipline children? 

Shada says the best thing a nanny can do to gain confidence is “get a mentor.” A mentor can listen to your specific problems and gently guide you to the best solution. You’ll also be able to see that other nannies have struggled with these same issues. 

Another confidence booster is reading. Find books and blogs that discuss discipline and childhood development. You’ll learn what really works, and see what just causes more problems. 

Really, it all comes down to knowledge. Whether it’s from a mentor, or a book, learning different disciplinary methods allows you to be adaptable to any situation you find yourself in. 

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