Ways That Children Challenge a Nanny’s Authority

Ways That Children Challenge a Nanny’s Authority

In successful nanny care situations, the nanny has full authority over the child while the child is in the nanny’s care. This allows for the healthy development of the child and a strong and secure bond between the child and the caregiver. However, when the parents send the message that the nanny isn’t in charge or the nanny is unsure of her role and the rules she is supposed to be implementing, the children often sense that uncertainty and challenge the nanny’s authority. This is not only frustrating for the nanny, but can also put the child’s well-being at risk. Here are some of the common ways this plays out.

“You’re not the boss of me!” Some children don’t easily accept the authority of a nanny. They see the nanny as a person who’s there to care for them and to play with them, but not as someone who can stand in their way when it comes to what they want. Of course, this attitude can also be a natural part of a developmental stage where the child questions the authority of every adult in her life.

The nanny can’t enforce rules she doesn’t know about. For nannies that are new to a job, it’s impossible to know about the countless rules that govern a house and a child. While the parent and caregiver can cover the big “what if…?” questions that the nanny will likely have to make an educated guess about, there are many other questions that come up throughout the day. Can he eat his snack in the living room? Can she talk on the phone for as long as she wants? Does he have to eat his carrots before getting up from the table? Kids know when a nanny is unclear about what is allowed and not allowed, and they will attempt to push the envelope as far as possible in these types of situations. The refrain, “But Mom lets me do it!” is well known to new nannies. Only time on the job and lots of checking in with the parents will overcome this challenge.

“I’m going to tell mom on you!” In situations where the parents and the nanny don’t work as a team and instead work as leaders and a follower, children quickly hone in on the hierarchy of the relationship. While they may not fully understand the dynamics of the relationship, they pick up on the idea that one party has a lot more power than the other. In these cases, the nanny is often fearful of making a mistake, of failing to live up to the parents’ expectations, or of stepping outside of her role. Children often sense this fear and use it to challenge or even manipulate the nanny.

Kids know when the nanny doesn’t have the power to allow for natural consequences. Often the parents and the nanny have different perspectives when it comes to natural consequences. The nanny is often focused on allowing the child to learn by letting events take their natural course. If you dawdle through breakfast, you’ll be late for school. If you don’t pick up your toys now, you can’t go to your friend’s birthday party until you do. If you don’t put your dirty clothes in the hamper, your favorite shirt won’t be clean for the school picture at the end of the week.

While the parents may like the idea of natural consequences in theory, they often feel that natural consequences are too harsh, and kids with rescuing parents know it. The child who dawdles through breakfast knows he won’t be late for school because Mom will ask the nanny to just give him a breakfast bar in the car. The child who refuses to pick up his toys knows he won’t miss his friend’s birthday party because Dad will tell the nanny to make him pick up the toys when he gets home. And the child who regularly throws her clothes anywhere but the hamper knows she won’t get her picture taken in anything but her favorite shirt because a quick phone call to mom at work will result in the nanny spot cleaning and pressing the shirt before school.

Kids with parents that don’t allow natural consequences to happen often don’t even have to involve the parents in the conversation with the nanny. The nanny is well aware of how the parent feels and won’t jeopardize her job by allowing the child to experience the consequence of his choice.

In the best case scenario, children respect and recognize the authority of the nanny entrusted to care for them. However there are a lot of factors that affect a child’s understanding of a nanny’s role. When a child challenges a nanny’s authority, it’s an issue that the nanny, the parents and the child must work on together.

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