Nanny of Oz

An internationally experienced nanny & consultant

On a recent episode of Supernanny there was a child screaming and crying about going down for their nap. I was a little shocked because even though it’s a huge stereotype so I know it happens a lot, the toddlers and preschoolers I’ve cared for don’t really act that way. It breaks my heart when children are upset and I can’t imagine having to deal with naptime being a stressful and upsetting time for us every day. Now… I have been told I have some kind of magic when it comes to getting those 1-4 year olds to sleep well, but I think there are some things that contribute to making it an easy process. Feel free to take on these tips if there’s anything in here that you haven’t already tried!

One factor is routine – I believe it’s so beneficial to have routines and rhythms in our days. This doesn’t mean (to me) that the child has to nap at the exact same time every day, or read the exact same book/number of books before their nap. It means that there is a predictability to the things that happen during the day and during certain transitions. As the morning draws on, we discuss what’s coming up – lunch and nap. There might be some protest to the idea (a bit of protesting is expected and intuitive for children of this age in general!) but I don’t tend to engage much in that. Generally when the time comes, and we move steadily at the child’s pace through the comforting consistency of a routine (such as nappy/toilet, choosing a story, reading a story, a cuddle, a song, a goodnight)… they settle into their beds for their nap.

Another factor is activity – they’ll sleep better if they’re the right amount of tired! I take children out and about in the mornings whenever possible. This might include playing at the playground, taking a walk, meeting up with a friend, or an organised class or activity. Even taking a trip to the supermarket or running errands can be the morning’s agenda. Not only do these things get our bodies moving, they involve the child’s mind and senses being stimulated. The child is engaging socially, making choices about their actions, expressing themselves verbally, learning to control some of their impulses, and processing their environment. These things can be tiring for a young child, so I’m always conscious of managing their activities with the goal of providing enriching experiences that use up just the right amount of energy.

In order to balance the energy used, we need to make sure we’re allowing the child to get energy from nutritious foods and appropriate rest. A balanced diet that includes vitamins and nutrients, including proteins and healthy fats to sustain energy from carbohydrates is important. Many children love processed snacks and fruits, but making sure they have a good balance of other foods they enjoy is important for many reasons – including good sleep. When toddlers and preschoolers are having one nap a day, I ensure they eat an early lunch before their nap so that they are satisfied and ready to rest. Allowing children to sleep and rest before they become overtired is also something I’ve seen to be so important. This means monitoring their energy levels, building in opportunities for quiet time, and catching the appropriate nap window.

Honestly I think a lot of it is also in the attitude – consistency and a positive expectation that they will sleep (or rest). Naptime for me, with the children I care for, is a wonderful time of connection and rest. I also make sure that if I need to wake them from their naps I do it in a respectful and gentle way, allowing them to take their time to get out of bed whenever possible. Sometimes that means needing to wake a preschooler a little earlier so they have time to wake slowly in order to get ready to collect their sibling from school. (Luckily the children I’m thinking of in these cases were also usually keen to get into bed early, asking for their nap when they were tired. They really loved to sleep!) Sometimes it means sitting in the room, after waking a toddler with some quiet words and a rub of their back, waiting for them to be ready for me to lift them out of their cot. All of these factors are things I do in order to consciously work towards creating positive sleep habits with young children during the day. I’m not sure if these factors are where the magic lies, but hopefully they’re sensible things to put effort into!

Why should parents hire a nanny to care for their children? Of course, as a nanny I’m an advocate for this type of childcare. There are so many benefits that I’ve seen for parents who choose to use a well-suited nanny (be they experienced, and/or qualified, and/or just a really great fit for the role) to care for their children in the family home.

First and foremost, at least in my opinion, is individualised quality care for the children. Regardless of a child’s age, they need consistent caregivers to meet their needs. If parents are working or otherwise occupied, a nanny can step into the role of caregiver during the hours needed. For young children this will often be full day care. For school age children they will need care before and after school, and school holidays, but also availability for someone to collect them or stay with them if they need to miss school due to illness. As nannies we can allow children the freedom to be in their own home environment but also the flexibility to explore and engage with the wider world during outings to local playgrounds, libraries, activities, and attractions.

Nannies typically care for just the one family during each shift, so they are usually better able to focus on the needs of individual children compared to educators who have a large group of children to care for at one time. As nannies we can cater the day’s/week’s activities and routines to suit a child’s interests, developmental stage, and learning styles. We can focus on the children’s emotional needs, help them learn vital life skills, and create educational experiences through play. What about social needs? While nannies do not usually have many children in their care, we can organise playdates and attend classes and activities to encourage children to have social experiences. Once the child is older, I do believe they should begin attending part-time preschool/Kindergarten in preparation for school.

In addition to meeting the children’s direct needs, nannies help parents immensely by taking care of children’s other needs. Responsibilities such as children’s laundry, meal prep, and tidying/organisation of toys and clothing are all things that fall under standard nanny duties. Without a nanny parents may need to rush children home at the end of long daycare or after school care and make a meal, rush them through a bedtime routine when they are potentially overtired and overstimulated, then spend precious time in the evening or on weekends taking care of basic household chores. A nanny who is in (and out) of the home all day has time to take on tasks to keep on top of the children’s belongings. Many nannies in Australia are also willing to add in additional household tasks if they have time. Though most of us are not housekeepers or cleaners, I believe helping families with basic household maintenance adds a huge value because it allows parents to spend more time focused on their children and other interests when they are home from work.

The decision to employ a nanny is one that can provide benefit to the whole family. Not only by the nanny helping out with basic household duties but also by the security the nanny’s relationship with the family can provide. One of the things I love when working with families is when the parents tell me they trust me and know that their children are in great hands when they are with me. When parents know that their children are being cared for by a nanny they have chosen based on their family’s needs, a nanny they trust and know will care for their children in a way they are comfortable with, the parent can focus on the other responsibilities in their life for part of the day. This support can be helpful to many families and vital to some… and that is the value of nanny care.

Last month I travelled from Melbourne, Australia to New Orleans, Louisiana, USA to attend the International Nanny Association’s 34th Annual Conference. I have attended many Australian nanny conferences since they started happening 4 years ago, but this was my first international one. It was amazing to have the opportunity to connect with other people in the nanny industry worldwide. I love hearing the viewpoints and situations of different people working in my industry. It always brings home to me how individual nanny care is (more on that in a future post, I hope), but also how essential it is for us to have opportunities to learn, share ideas, and grow as individuals within an industry that is also growing in recognition and understanding.

The INA’s Conference was presented with 3 main tracks of sessions, which attendees were welcome to choose between. The attendance of the conference was made up of nannies (of course) who were varied in their roles, experience, qualifications, and childcare philosophies. There was also a large and distinctive attendance of Newborn Care Specialists, who have training and expertise specific to caring for young babies and who work in a variety of roles. Agencies and business who work within the industry were also heavily represented, which I felt was a big difference compared to the Australian conferences. While they had sessions specific to their interests and certain social activities focused on networking amongst themselves, business individuals also interacted throughout the several days with nannies and NCSs. I found it fascinating engaging in industry-related conversations where there were several different viewpoints represented, and it was interesting to socialise with people I wouldn’t often get a chance to meet.

The workshops and sessions provided to us in the nanny track included topics like High Sensitivity/Sensory Processing Disorder, Respectful Childcare, and Supporting ‘Gifted’ Children and Children at Risk. There was also a discussion panel of nannies and agency owners, which was interesting as it presented the opportunity for questions to be asked that can help us work together. There were a few sessions at the conference that were specifically relevant to the US market (on insurance and legal employment), but most of the conference content was certainly relevant to people working in the industry across the world (though there were occasionally some words used that could be confusing to someone who isn’t familiar with the language used in the USA or the US industry). I met nannies from 5 countries and I think even more were represented, though the American industry definitely dominates in numbers. Next year’s INA Conference will be held in Montreal in May 2020.

I am a huge advocate for professional development; in the form of conferences like this one and the Australian Nanny Association’s Convention or US-based Nannypalooza, nanny-specific trainings such as interNational Nanny Training Day, community sessions run by local councils for parents and caregivers, and online classes and webinars for distance learning. These opportunities allow us to learn about topics that are specific to our industry and the needs of the families we are working with or roles we specialise in. They also expose us to new techniques, skills, and ways of thinking about things, and they keep us informed on changing knowledge of children’s development and caring for families in their homes. They are also a lot of fun! At this year’s INA Conference I made new friends and connections, as well as meeting up with those who have attended Australian events or worked within my past local industries.

I believe it is possible to be a good nanny without formal qualifications, as active experience is the thing that I have found most beneficial to my knowledge and career. But I also believe that industry-specific professional development can make a nanny so much more qualified and valuable as an employee and as a member of the nanny community.