The Nanny Chronicles


Recently, there has been a lot of negative news in the media about nannies in the region; both in the mistreatment of the children they are entrusted to care for and the mistreatment of the nannies themselves. HEALTH speaks to Dr. Tara Wyne, Clinical Psychologist who delves deeper into this issue…

Growing Dependence
Dr. Wyne points out that clearly there has been a population explosion, with more expats and therefore, a steep rise in use of nannies as childcare solutions for working families. “The missing element in the equation is the lack of appropriate screening and police and reference checks from the home countries of the nannies,” she explains and we are employing typically uneducated and untrained personnel into our homes to do very skilled jobs—as a caregiver to our children. However, she warns that without provision of adequate skills, even the best natured people may run into stress and encounter forces that leave them a risk to the children in their care.

What a Child Needs
What any infant or child needs is a safe, warm responsive primary caregiver, reinforces Dr. Wyne. “There is no necessity that this primary caregiver is a biological relative,” she says; however, what is necessary is that the caregiver is consistent and does a good enough job at meeting the child’s needs. Whether it be a parent or a nanny, the role, she continues, is similar: noticing the child, acknowledging the child’s experiences, empathizing with children’s pain and sharing their joy. “Helping them with navigating a world which is stressful and complicated for children and helping our children regulate their emotions in response to the world around them,” she tells.

Red Flags
nanny-chronicles Hopefully you are aware of your child’s normal patterns of behavior and demeanor. Dr. Wyne advises that what we should look out for is if there are any changes or alterations in our children’s behavior or way of being. Some of these red flags include:

Changes in behavior:  aggression, anger, hostility or hyperactivity — or changes in school performance.

Emotional swings that are inappropriate or out of context to the situation.

Indifference or delayed or inappropriate emotional development.

Loss of previously acquired developmental skills.

Depression, anxiety or unusual fears or a sudden loss of self-confidence or rebellious behavior.

A decrease in school performance, loss of interest in school, or withdrawal from friends or usual activities.

There are many reasons for nannies abusing kids, reveals Dr. Wyne. “The most obvious reason being that nannies are overworked, often treated inhumanely,” she says as increasingly they are used for both household chores and childcare and have to juggle it all. They are often sleep deprived and working intensely long hours.

Also, she adds that these nannies can be very isolated in our homes, barely speaking the same language, or not being engaged in any conversation, they may feel very isolated and lonely. They can feel unsupported as their wellbeing is not a subject of interest, they are simply support staff and it isn’t relevant to monitor their wellbeing. These very common factors can lead to nannies being incredibly stressed and often depressed, they build up tremendous tension which, Dr. Wyne says will inevitably result in implosion or explosion. “This may be directed at children as they are present and often challenging and can trigger a loss of control,” she tells. “If there are also working hours, monetary and day off disputes, it can lead to a very dangerous situation where the nannies feel powerless, angry, entitled and maybe even vengeful.”

Proactive Steps a Parent Can Take

Dr. Wyne advises parents provide the nanny with a document where what is okay and not okay in your home is detailed. “We cannot expect them to just know, we must coach and teach,” she says. “Having a weekly catch up with the nanny is also very important, to review how things have been in the home and to troubleshoot any emerging issues.”

Nanny Hiring Criteria

  • A nanny should come with good references; you should be able to speak with at least one previous employer and ensure they have a good record of behavior and performance in a previous job.
  • Openly ask if they have suffered from any major mental health issues, or have had any big stresses or traumas occur recently to be aware of what pressures they may bring with them.
  • All prospective employers/ sponsors of nannies should conduct a trial with the candidate and have them in your home for at least a few days. Ideally, you should be there at all times to be able to monitor and scrutinize the nanny’s interactions and energy within your home.
  • The things we detect in person, in real life versus the interview, are critical to knowing if this person is suitable to be a caregiver.
  • It is useful to hire nannies with direct childcare experience for the age group of your children
  • Your nanny should preferably have some kind of basic life support training and knowledge of what to do in basic crisis situations involving your children.
  • The nanny should be able to strike a rapport with your children easily; they should have warmth and curiosity for the children and not be too functional and transactional.
  • The nanny should be eager and open to know the values of your home and the manner in which you wish your child to be raised. If they can take instruction and easily and flexibly adapt to your way of raising your children, it is likely to be a good fit.
  • The nanny should recognize that their first priority is childcare and caregiving and that they can’t take shortcuts with children.

(Credit: Dr. Tara Wyne)

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