Tuesday, May 10, 2011
One of the most frequent questions I have been asked by parents when expressing a desire to sign with their children is, “Why should we teach my baby sign language when he or she is not deaf?” If you have not already been introduced to signing with your baby, my answer to this question may surprise you.
Experts on the subject have discovered that there are many amazing benefits associated with teaching your baby how to effectively communicate with you through sign language. First and foremost, it greatly helps to reduce the frustration babies or toddlers feel when they cannot explain how they are feeling or what it is they need, therefore almost eliminating tantrums completely! It is also proven that babies taught to sign will begin to speak earlier than nonsigners and once talking will have a more extensive vocabulary. This is due to the fact that when you are demonstrating a sign to your baby, you are also speaking the word at the same time. Even more shocking is that these babies will generally have an IQ score that is at least 10 to 12 points higher.
There are many books out there that will teach you these basic signs and how to introduce them to your child, but none of them compare to the Signing Time program I was introduced to many years ago. Created by Rachel Coleman, originally for her daughter Leah, who was, in fact, born deaf, it has now been brought into many homes of hearing children and used to help them communicate with their parents and caregivers before they can speak. I began using it with my own daughter when she was just three months old, and, at nine months, she has a signing vocabulary of 20-plus signs! What makes this program stand out among all the others is that these sets of DVDs have been created to keep your child’s attention by having actual babies and toddlers modeling the signs, as well as Mrs. Coleman signing catchy tunes that you will, for sure, be trying to get out of your head for hours after watching. You can also purchase other learning materials to go along with the DVD box sets like flashcards, hard back books, and even CDs that include all of the musical numbers that you hear on the DVDs. There are many other baby learning products out there, but this would definitely be my first choice. You can find more information about signing as well as purchase these great DVDs on the Signing Time Web site and also on Rachael Coleman’s blog. GreatAuPair customers will receive a 5% discount off any purchase over $50 by using coupon code teachmybaby at checkout. Discount may not be combined with any other offer.
I hope you have found this recommendation helpful, and I would love to hear from any of you who have tried signing with your children. Please leave a comment below about your experiences or any helpful tips you would like to share.
Monday, April 25, 2011
Along with many other nannies and au pairs out there, I spend an extremely significant amount of time with my current charge. To be more specific, Maya, the sweetest and most adorable nine-month-old you will ever meet, is in my care Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., which is a total of 50 hours per week. We spend our days together filled with adventures at the zoo, fun-filled days at the children’s museum, and trips to various neighborhood coffee shops for music time. As if that weren’t enough to keep us busy, we also take a swim class twice a week and a baby sign language class once a week at the local community center. All of this time and interaction with one another has definitely formed a pretty amazing bond between the two of us. Nothing is better than walking into work every morning and being greeted by her crawling over to me, with her tiny arms raised into the air, almost begging to be picked up. What’s even better is that I am lucky enough to have the most wonderful mom boss who helps to foster the nanny-child connection and also believes that the bond her daughter and I have will have a tremendous impact on the other relationships she will form later on in life.
Throughout my years as a nanny, it is an honor to have been chosen by the families I have worked for to have such a great impact on the lives of their children. Next to their parents, it is my job and responsibility to provide these children with a sense of both emotional and physical security on a daily basis. I feel that because of this, it is my obligation to explain to parents during my interviews how important it is, for their children’s sake, to hire someone who will be in it for the long haul. What some nannies and even some parents don’t understand is that a sudden loss or change in caregivers can be a significant stressor for a child. When the child realizes that the attachment figure who was there to care for him when his parents were not able to can simply disappear, he may be more cautious in developing future relationships. My suggestion to both parents and nannies to prevent this from happening is to agree to work together for at least a year, if not more. This way it gives both the child and the nanny or au pair enough time to form a substantial bond, as well as the opportunity for them to create lasting memories together that the child will be able to draw upon once the caregiver is not an active part of his daily life.
Although I have addressed how difficult it can be for the children when a nanny has to leave her position with their family, it is also critical to note that this can be a very hard time for the adults involved as well. While I have been fortunate that all of my nanny positions have been for at least two years or more, I still see this career as being somewhat of a catch-22. Much like the children, I have become attached to and very fond of each and every child I have had the pleasure of caring for throughout the past nine years. It has been of the utmost importance for me to build both a nurturing and trusting relationship with them while also being mindful that all of these positions will eventually have an expiration date connected to them. When the time does come for this healthy codependent relationship to end, know that there are many fun and creative things you can do to help both the children and parents (and yourself) move forward once your position with them ends. Below are a few of my suggestions.
Create a photo album. Gather a few pictures that you have of the children and yourself together (take some if you don’t have any), and put them in a photo album for the children to always remember you by.
Create lasting memories. I have always made it a point to plan some sort of fun outing to do with the children I have cared for on my last day with the family. (Be sure to clear this with both mom and dad bosses.) This can be as simple as taking the children out to get ice cream or as elaborate as taking them to a local theme park for a day filled with fun food and rides.
Set up a future visit. If you live nearby, ask the parents if they wouldn’t mind setting up a time in the near future for you to come by and visit with the children. Not only will this help to alleviate the children’s temporary heartbreak of losing you as their nanny, but it will also give them something to look forward to. I have had the opportunity to go back and visit all of my previous charges and their parents and have also been lucky enough to babysit for each and every one of them on occasion!
In closing, I hope that I have given you a bit of insight about how important your role as a nanny or au pair is in the lives of the children you care for everyday, and how you can help to ease the transition when it is time for you to say your goodbyes. Always remember that your job is one of the most influential ones out there, and to take pride in the impact you are having on today’s future generation!
“A nanny shapes our children, in ways we will never know…they challenge and inspire them and prepare them as they grow.” –Anonymous
Thursday, April 7, 2011
Last week I started a list of the many ways parents can show their nanny how much they value all of her dedication and hard work and why it is extremely important to do so. Below, please find the remainder of my list that will hopefully get you on your way to creating a great relationship with your child care provider. Please feel free to leave comments or any other suggestions you have, I would love to hear from you!
Try not to add duties. This is often referred to as the “job creep,” where families add on duties that were not agreed upon in the beginning. Some examples of these extra duties may include housekeeping, family errands, cooking, taking care of family pets, family laundry, etc. Keep in mind that while it is okay to ask your nanny or au pair if she would mind taking on an extra duty, she should also have the right to say no if she feels it will be too much. However, if she does agree to your request, this added workload should be matched with an appropriate amount of extra compensation.
Avoid a growing schedule. It is important to remember that your nanny or au pair most likely has a life outside of caring for your family and children. This is one of the reasons why it is best to avoid tacking on hours to the schedule you originally agreed upon. Your au pair or live-in nanny’s free time while she is not scheduled to be working should be just that, her time. We all need time to recharge, and it is extremely important to respect this, especially if your caregiver lives with you in your home. If you happen to have a child care provider who is okay with additional hours, be aware that you will have to compensate her fairly. Constantly coming home from work late could also be an issue that may eventually cost you the loss of your nanny or au pair. If you are going to be even 10 or 15 minutes late, a phone call or quick text message is always appreciated. You should also expect this kind of consideration from your nanny if she is ever late for any reason.
Don’t leave a messy house. It has always been my philosophy and my goal to leave my employer’s house cleaner and more organized when I leave for the day than it was when I came to work in the morning. I do this because I know firsthand, as a working mother myself, how difficult it can be to keep up your home when all you want to do is spend time with your children when you are not working. With this in mind, I also know how frustrating it can be as a nanny to walk into work one day and see that the house is a complete disaster. It is even more upsetting when I made an honest effort the previous day to leave it clean and tidy. My solution to this problem is to put aside 15 to 30 minutes on Sunday evenings to pick up the house while encouraging your children to help you if they are of the appropriate age. Children as young as two years old can begin to help with this task. Your nanny or aupair will more than appreciate your efforts to help her keep the house in order and will most likely be more inclined to do more to help in the future.
Be prepared. Nothing is more frustrating than walking into work and realizing that you are missing the essentials to get through your day. Some examples of this can be as small as not having enough baby formula for the day, not having enough diapers and wipes, or not having enough food in the fridge to feed the children. The very last thing your child care provider wants to have to do is load up all the children in the car and drag them to the local supermarket to get these things. You may ask her to keep a list of the things you are running out of, but in most circumstances it is your responsibility to make sure that they are purchased and in the home when she comes to work in the morning. It is also helpful to make sure they have other things, like a good stroller, diaper bag, bus fare, and sandbox toys available, to aid in caring for your children to the best of her ability. If you do not have the time to go out and purchase these items, sit down with your caregiver and ask her if she would mind going out and purchasing them for your family. If she agrees, be sure to research how much money she will need ahead of time, and provide a list for her to take with her to the store so nothing is forgotten.
A healthy nanny is a happy nanny. It is essential for your caregiver to be healthy in order for her to be able to perform the job she has been hired to do. Your part in helping with this should be to provide an agreed-upon number of paid sick days per year, which will enable her to be able to stay home and get well should an illness or injury arise. I have seen many different proposals for sick days in my career, and what it really boils down to is not only what is fair, but also what you are comfortable with. Just as important as providing these paid sick days is allowing your nanny or au pair to take them when needed without making her feel guilty for doing so. I can’t tell you how awful it is to wake up the morning before work with a stomach bug and have to call into work when I know my boss is going to be upset with me because I have inconvenienced them. You have to think of it from this prospective: If the caregiver comes into work when they are ill, not only will they not be able to care for your children the same way they would if they were well, but you run the risk of everyone in your household catching the bug as well. Make it clear to your nanny or au pair in the beginning of her employment with your family that you understand people get sick from time to time and that you will line up backup child care should she ever need to take a sick day or two.
It is my sincere hope that this blog will help you to create a wonderful working relationship with your caregiver and that it will become a tool you can look to should a problem ever arise. My advice is to make sure that you create a nanny/family agreement to ensure that all of these bases are covered. This will prevent most of these issues from ever happening and will help to establish both boundaries and your expectations up front. It might also be helpful to your family to have either a monthly or bimonthly review, where you evaluate your nanny’s or au pair’s job performance and she does a self-evaluation as well. Not only will this help to alleviate any issues that are arising, but it will also help to foster one of the single most important aspects of the nanny/family relationship: Communication.
Thursday, March 31, 2011
I have had the pleasure of working for some of the most amazing and appreciative families over the years, as well as some who could be described as the exact opposite. Both of these completely different types of experiences have opened my eyes to the many ways parents can show their nanny how much they value all of her dedication and hard work and why it is extremely important to do so. Studies have shown that when your child care provider is happy, your children are often much happier as well. This could be due to many factors, one being that a nanny who feels appreciated is often more likely to go above and beyond her job duties, therefore creating a more pleasant environment for everyone in your home. Below are the first five (of ten—next five to follow in my next blog!) ideas that will get you well on your way to hopefully creating the best possible relationship with the person who cares for and nurtures your very special little ones while you’re away.
- Compensate fairly. It is very important to do your research prior to hiring a nanny or au pair as to what the current hourly or weekly rate is in the area you live. If this is not done, you may find yourself scrambling in the near future to find another child care option when your nanny or au pair figures out that what you are paying her is not the norm. When researching this, be sure to also consider and factor in how many years of experience the nanny or au pair has, whether or not she will be a live-in or live-out (live-out nannies are generally compensated more because you are not offering room, board, food, and a car as a benefit), what benefits you will be factoring into the salary (paid vacation, paid sick days, medical insurance, use of family vehicle, cell phone provided, etc.), as well as how many children she will be expected to care for (a nanny or au pair who takes care of one child is often compensated less than one who cares for more).
- Leave money for expenses. It is quite common for a nanny or au pair to incur miscellaneous expenses while she is caring for your children, especially if she has been asked to take them on outings during the day. Always keep in mind that almost everything costs money nowadays. A typical trip to the zoo or a local children’s museum can often run you upward of 25 dollars once you factor in admission, food (encourage your nanny or au pair to pack lunches whenever possible), and parking. My suggestion on the best way to handle these extra expenses is to have a petty cash fund available and accessible to your child care provider that contains at least 50 to 100 dollars at any given time. Ask her to bring home receipts if you want to keep track of where the money is going and when it is time for you to replenish the fund. Please also keep in mind that it is appropriate to reimburse your nanny at the current federal rate of 50 cents per mile if she is using her own vehicle to transport your children places during her workday.
- Try not to micromanage. When one or both parents are working from home, it is important to set boundaries early on while your nanny or au pair is working so that no problems develop later. It is very easy to become the type of employer who micromanages without even being fully aware of it. An example of this can be as a simple as you saying, “I wash (insert your child’s name) bottles like this; it’s much more efficient,” or, “I don’t hold (insert your child’s name here) that way when I am feeding her. Here, let me show you a better way.” You must realize that every person has a different way of doing things and that just because she doesn’t do it your way doesn’t make her way wrong. Does it really matter how your nanny or au pair washes the bottles as long as they are getting clean? Or does it really matter how she is holding your child as long as both she and the baby are comfortable? Your nanny or au pair will feel much more confident in her work once she knows that you trust her to make the very best decisions for your children while you are away. My suggestion for allowing this to naturally happen is that if you are a stay-at-home mom or a work-at-home mom, try and create a designated schedule where you are either taking care of things around the home or working in your home office without interfering with the work you have hired your caregiver to do. Not only will this make her feel that you trust her, but it will also give her the necessary time needed to bond with your child.
- Encourage and support open communication. Let your nanny know that you will make yourself available to her if she ever needs to talk to you about something that is concerning her. A good way to begin opening the lines of communication is to create a nanny log for your nanny or au pair to fill out during the day while she is caring for your children. Have a place for her to write down what and when your child ate, when his diaper was changed, when he napped, what medications were given (if any), what activities he did during the day, and what notes she has for you. You can also have a spot for you to write any notes you might have for your caregiver. For example, how your child slept the previous night, which would help the nanny or au pair in deciding how much sleep the child would need during the day. This is beneficial to the both of you and also helps to foster a great parent-nanny relationship.
- Recognize and reward her work. Your kind words and recognition really do mean something. A simple thank-you when you notice that your nanny or au pair has done something over and beyond what you expect from her really does go a long way. Parents who are often very busy with their careers sometimes forget to let their caregiver know how much they value her and are, therefore, frequently left without child care, usually very unexpectedly. A small token of your appreciation or a monetary bonus during the holidays or perhaps after her first year of employment with your family would also be an appropriate way to reward her for all of the time and effort she invests in your children and family.
Want more information? Read Part Two.
Thursday, March 24, 2011
I was asked an interesting question yesterday afternoon while attending a children’s music event with my eight-month-old charge, Maya. Soon after we got settled and sat down, one of the mothers with a baby around the same age came over to join us and struck up a conversation with me. She said, “Wow, your daughter is beautiful! She has your gorgeous blue eyes!” “Oh, thank you,” I replied. “She’s not mine, though; I’m her nanny.”
She then asked me if I had any children of my own, and I told her that I do, in fact, have a three-and-a-half-year-old daughter. “Really?” she asked. “Where is she today?” By this point I already knew where this conversation was going, and I was afraid to even answer the question. “She’s at day care,” I said. She then asked the question that I have been asked almost on a weekly basis since I put my daughter in day care a little over two years ago. “How in the world can you justify placing your own child in day care so that you can go love, care, and nurture someone else’s child?”
My very first instinct was to tell her that it really was none of her business, but I went with my second thought, which was to try and explain the situation and my opinion on the topic to her. While I love my daughter more than anything in this world, I am like any other working mother out there who has to work to support herself and her family. I thank my lucky stars that for the first year and a half of her life, I was fortunate enough to be employed by a family who wanted nothing more than for me to bring her with me to work. They viewed it as an opportunity for their son to have age-appropriate interaction with another child while supporting my desire to be my daughter’s primary caregiver for at least the first year of her life. I want to note that this is definitely not the norm in the nanny world. In fact, most families have a completely different view on the subject, as they would much prefer that their nanny cares exclusively for their children while on the clock. Although I treasured each day with my daughter, when I was privileged enough to have her with me while on duty, my opinion on this has changed a great deal over the years. Soon after my little one’s first birthday, I started to realize that this was quickly becoming not an ideal situation and a huge conflict of interest.
I can’t even begin to convey to you how much it hurt my heart when I was put in a position to tend to my charge first when both he and my own child needed me at the same exact moment. I felt like I was the rope in a game of tug-of-war, wanting desperately to take both sides and comfort them both; however, as his nanny, it was my duty and obligation to make sure he was okay first. This was only one of many times I was faced with this type of situation, but it was ultimately what led me to the conclusion that I was going to have to become a full-on working mother without having the opportunity to spend that time caring for my daughter as well.
The decision to place her in the hands of a full-time caregiver at a home day care was one of the most painful and gut-wrenching things I have ever experienced, but at the same time, I knew that it was in everyone’s best interest. The way I saw it, I owed it to my child to put food on the table, clothes on her back, and a roof over her head. It was also of the utmost importance to me that I was able to give my charge my full attention while caring for him and his needs, which is what I was hired to do. I was grateful that I got to stay in the career I loved while also being able to devote every single moment that I was not working to my daughter and her happiness.
In conclusion, my answer is this: Not everyone has the luxury of being lucky enough to stay home and raise their children, and we shouldn’t let anyone make us feel guilty or judge us for not having that option. Also, for those of us who have chosen a career as a professional nanny (and also to the working moms out there who have chosen a different profession), we are no different than the nurse who must go to work to care for a critically ill patient or even the schoolteacher who goes to work each day to teach and enrich the lives of her students. To my fellow nannies out there who are trying to balance two of the most wonderful jobs out there (being a mother and a nanny), please always try to remember that you are no less than an excellent mother because you must work to support your family. There is no doubt this is a hard balancing act to handle, but take it from me: With a lot of love and dedication toward both the children you care for and your own children, it is possible to have the best of both worlds.
Sunset Image: Gabriella Fabbri