Caretaker after experienced caretaker described the almost-one-year-old girl with frustration in their voices. The mother became exasperated trying to find a childcare provider that felt right for her child. Someone who could make a meaningful connection.
With an easy-going older daughter, the mother began to wonder if there was something wrong, really wrong, with her little one. Next came self-doubt. She was failing as a parent. What was she doing wrong that made her daughter so discontent? Everyone who cared for her communicated, “Your child is unpleasant.” The mother increasingly struggled to leave her girls with nannies, afraid of what she would hear upon returning home. Until she met me.
“She’s so calm with you.”
”You two have a special connection.”
“You seem to have an understanding with each other.”
What was different about the way her daughter and I interacted? Although I can’t share the intuition that leads me, I can share perspectives shaped by my experiences. I’ve spent decades as a nanny, educator, and avid reader who loves to learn about human development, the brain, and adult-child relationships. Most parents do not have a degree in early childhood education and haven’t spent a significant amount of time caring for children until their own are born.
For example, the mother referenced in this story had two children informing most of her child-rearing perspectives. The sheer number of children I’ve nurtured allows me to bring a fresh perspective. Yet no one, however experienced, can love a child as their parent can. That is the first reminder I communicated to this mother, who needed to hear that she is enough for her daughter.
The words that brought tears to her eyes.
As I spoke these words, the mother’s eyes filled with tears and her relief was palpable:
“Your daughter feels and expresses her emotions and needs strongly. The characteristics that are challenging for caretakers now can be nurtured to become her greatest strengths. She knows what she needs and is not afraid to be demanding until her needs are met. Speaking up and advocating for herself can serve her well throughout life. Today it may be milk, a nap, or a clean diaper. Someday it may be safety, respect, or a higher paycheck. She is expressing her inherent personality loud and clear. I understand it’s frustrating and takes a lot of patience. Know that the best you can do is to love her for who she is and express that any way you can.”
Does this story resonate with you? It isn’t the story of just one family. This is a scenario I’ve encountered more than once. As someone who also feels deeply and expresses my emotions strongly, I get it. If a child in your life sounds similar, I hope this article helps you get it, too.
Recognizing children’s feelings is key to building trust.
Transitioning from working as a full-time nanny, I accepted positions as a temporary nanny with a local agency. Typically, I talked with a parent over the phone and showed up to take care of the children without having met the family in person. In the case described here, the mother noticed within minutes of our interactions that her daughter uncharacteristically seemed comfortable with me, a stranger. She was amazed by the child’s calmness.
Intuitively, I understand children may need space when a new nanny walks into their lives. Instead of rushing to get close, I let the child observe me interacting with her mother to show the adult trusted me. When I reached out my arms to offer contact, I waited until the child was receptive instead of just picking her up immediately. Giving her space to feel comfortable helped build trust quickly.
All verbal and non-verbal communication from a child is an expression of their needs.
A tantrum is not a manipulative ploy to gain your attention, just for kicks. [pun intended] The child is communicating a need. It could be physical: the need for food or rest. It could be emotional: the need to be heard by a trusted adult or the need to feel safe. The child is communicating in a way that shows the depth of their feelings and reveals their developmental stage. Their emotional brains are much more developed than their logical brains.
During a tantrum, words will not sink in. The child must feel comforted and safe before they will be able to hear and process your words. Their “feeling” brain needs to be calmed to gain access to their “thinking” brain. Staying close, remaining calm, and offering physical comfort if possible (i.e. rubbing their back) are actions that communicate what the child needs to hear.
“Your feelings are acceptable.”
“I hear you.”
"It is safe to express your feelings to me.”
“You are loved.”
Model the behaviors you want to encourage.
I developed peaceful relationships with children who were often described as difficult because we understood each other. I could stay calm when their emotions were out of control, showing them they were safe to express themselves. As a result, they were able to calm themselves more quickly. The children trusted that when I was their caretaker, they would be seen, heard, and understood. Some of the greatest gifts we can give a growing child and model as compassionate humans. I see you. I hear you. I understand.
Posted using Partiko Android
Posted using Partiko Android