With so much flurry and focus on getting our minds around the need to ‘homeschool’, I want to encourage nannies to remember the importance of another kind of support. Children are going to need more than substitute teaching from us during this pandemic and extended period of time at home. They are going to need the emotional support we can provide through consistent and responsive care. Children who were previously in any kind of school or childcare environment are dealing with a disruption in their educational norm. But they have also had their social life changed and their daily routines modified. Not to mention the impact their awareness of COVID-19 may be having on the way they are feeling.
Behavioural changes might occur while children process these emotions. Some may become more clingy or regress to behaviours typical of a younger child. Others may act out and express anger or frustration. Nannies always provide high standards of physical comfort and care to children in the home, but there are a few other things I feel are particularly important at this time.
Open and frequent communication
It’s important for nannies to speak with parents about information that is acceptable to give the children. Information should be age-appropriate and avoid alarm, but I am a strong proponent of honesty and transparency. Ideally the virus and changes to lifestyle will be topics that the children are able to discuss freely with trusted adults. Many children will be curious about why their routines have changed, and may be worried about the impact the virus could have on them and their loved ones. It’s important to let children know that their questions and concerns can be voiced, and that all their emotions are valid and worthy of expression. They might need guidance on how to communicate these things in a suitable way.
Now more than ever, it is valuable to have regular informal meetings with the children (perhaps a conversation over breakfast and dinner). These can be used to touch base with everyone’s feelings and any support they may need. It’s so important to tune in to each child, as everyone processes things differently and responds better to different kinds of support and encouragement. Some children might feel empowered by reminders that the measures they are taking (practising good hygiene and social distancing) are reducing risk. Others might have anxiety that presents as nervous energy that needs to be channelled physically. In addition to expressing feelings, these meetings can also be a great time to plan the day together or remind children of what will be happening.
Continue old routines and establish new ones
As caregivers we may need to plan a little more, to ensure the days/weeks are balanced and to encompass activities that are varied and meeting children’s needs. Transitions between activities should be considered thoughtfully and these can be a great time to use routine. Children thrive on routine. It’s beneficial for them to know what to expect at certain times throughout the day or week. Many of their routines have been disrupted, but some – such as the normal morning and evening routine – should be quite easy to keep. Children will feel comforted by familiar habits such as getting dressed for the day and reading stories at bedtime.
New routines can also make this time more fun and offer predictability. Perhaps children are now able to have a daily lunch date with a parent who is working from home, or have their nanny join them in a dance to their favourite song at the end of an online class. Maybe Friday afternoon is movie time, or a virtual playdate is set up with a friend for a certain time each week. Children of all ages should have input into the building of routines and scheduling of activities they need and want to do. This will assist in their acceptance and enjoyment, and will also help them to manage their expectations and know that their needs will be met.
All this talk about staying home and reducing time spent in public spaces might make a lot of us nannies feel claustrophobic and isolated. Children are no different. They are used to the freedom and activity of climbing on playground equipment, the social stimulation they get from their peers in school and on playdates, and the challenge and interest that come from interacting with a variety of adult leaders in classes and storytimes. They will be missing all of these things while they are temporarily absent from their world. While we can’t make up for everything, nannies can certainly help.
While following rules and guidelines of social distancing and restrictions on movement, we can still get out of the house. Pretty much every area still allows exercise as a valid reason for being outside. Taking walks or bike rides, whether around the neighbourhood sidewalks or to a local park, are necessities for getting bodies moving and maintaining a connection to nature. If the household has a yard, nannies can allow for extra time outside by having picnics or even doing schooling in the open air. This will help to energise and stimulate children’s senses, and reduce feelings of restlessness and disconnection.
Our role as nannies is to support children by using positive and proactive tools, while remaining flexible and allowing them even more grace than we usually might. This is a tough time for everyone, and children require their needs to be met in the best way we can manage. This is not going to be perfect, nor will it be an adequate replacement for everything they are craving from their normal lives. But when we approach with the intention to connect and work with the children to find temporary solutions, I believe we can create a positive environment in the home. An environment that strengthens relationships, and that even builds some moments children will remember fondly when things go back to ‘normal’.