Although you don’t want to train your children to be paranoid or cynical, they have to learn to safely deal with strangers at some point. According to Robert Siciliano, personal security expert at McAfee and author of 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Your Identity Was Stolen, children are quick learners and can sense danger.
“Children are quick learners and will pick up the good habits that can protect them from assault or abuse,” says Siciliano. As a nanny, you are the child’s primary protector when he is in your care, and teaching a child how to protect himself is an invaluable life lesson.
Never Too Young to Learn
Even as toddlers, children have the ability to learn general safety rules. During the terrible twos, “yes” and “no” are the two most common words your little one will utter. As small children are learning their likes and dislikes, it’s a prime time to teach them how to speak up. “Never oppress a child’s need to communicate feelings,” suggests Siciliano. If you encourage them to speak up and communicate how they feel when they’re scared or sense danger, they will be more prepared to protect themselves verbally when they are feeling uncomfortable.
Even 3- to 5-year-olds can sense danger. “They are able to make certain judgments, think for themselves and recognize right from wrong,” says Siciliano. “Making them aware of safety tips gives them tools they can use to identify predators.”
Whether the children in your care are toddlers or teenagers, it’s important to discuss stranger danger every chance you get. Siciliano suggests avoiding generalizations. “Most kids think a stranger is a tall guy in a black-hooded trench coat,” he says.
Explain that the term “stranger” applies to anyone you do not know and that you should never be alone with a person you do not know or someone who makes you uncomfortable.
It’s also important, though, that you use age-appropriate examples and discuss scenarios where stranger danger may exist. “When using examples of who, when and where, be careful not to describe specific locations or times of day,” says Siciliano. “This could make children afraid of the dark or feel overly safe during the day and let their guard down. Explain precautions using a variety of demographic examples and keep it light and interesting.”
Preparation is Key
Provide the children in your care with tools they can use. For example, from an early age, begin teaching your children their address and telephone number, as well as their parents’ first and last names.
Siciliano also suggests sharing the following advice with your children to keep them safe:
- Teach your children to pretend they are not alone when someone calls your home. Have them tell callers who wish to speak to a parent that the parent or nanny is busy or taking a nap.
- Tell your children not to talk to people who are doing telephone surveys. The caller could be someone trying to learn your schedule or the value of the contents of your home.
- Tell your children to walk away from any car that stops near them. Tell them not to talk with any adult asking for directions.
One of the best ways to prepare children for potentially dangerous situations is to role play. For instance, you can engage in role play by showing a child how to walk away and ignore a stranger who asks them a question, says Siciliano.
Playing games can also teach general safety rules. Play the “what if” game to understand how your child understands threats and danger. Pose questions to help them prepare for potentially dangerous situations. Questions such as “What if someone wants you to open the door when you are home alone?” or “How would you respond if a stranger sends you a message online?” can open the door for needed conversations about online and offline safety.
Most importantly, teach your children responsibility so they can recognize, respond and prevent danger from causing harm. “This means to teach them to be in control of their lives early on,” says Siciliano. “They are ultimately responsible for their own safety. Children can always sense danger.”
There are a variety of reasons families find themselves in search of quality childcare, whether it’s a new addition to the household or a new job opportunity was offered that was just too good to pass up. Piecing together Grandma’s house with part-time preschool might work for some, a group nursery setting might work for others, and still others may find that a nanny is the only option for their family. When deciding to hire a nanny, take these things into consideration:
Put Everything on the Table
A very common misperception, which can lead to serious legal trouble, is that nannies require a lot of paperwork and official pay systems with the hassle of taxes involved, whereas a “babysitter” needs only to be handed her cash at the end of the day or week. Not the case. Any household employee who earns more than a (surprisingly low to most) set annual amount needs to be both legally paid and to have that pay processed in specific a way to be tax compliant. This amount was $1,800 for the entire year during 2012/2013, which would be surpassed in a month or two in most cases. Babysitters are specifically mentioned within the tax docs as an official household employee, so you will not be saving yourself time by skipping the red tape; in fact, you could be inviting a whole lot more, along with back taxes and penalties, if the fact that you are paying under the table emerges.
Fortunately, by hiring and paying a nanny legally vs. handing cash to an individual outside the system, there are a number of tax breaks and money saving options your employer might offer, such as a pre-tax childcare account or a matching dollar-for-dollar benefit. By paying your nanny legally, she is also entitled to protections such as unemployment and EIC refunds from the government, which can be a selling point in scoring a great caretaker and a strong motivator for her to remain a loyal employee during her time with your kids.
The Price Tag
There are two incorrect lines of thinking when it comes to nannies and pay. One is that nannies across the board are exorbitantly expensive and a luxury that only the top 1% are able to swing. The other is that hiring a nanny is a total score, as they will work endless hours for a pittance compared to what a preschool would charge. The truth lies somewhere in the middle.
Much as there are different levels in many things we pay for in our children’s lives, hiring a nanny that will teach your kids three languages, tutor them in their violin playing, paint like Monet and handle newborns or special needs children with ease due to her 20+ years of experience might just cost you a pretty penny. But hiring a qualified and experienced childcare professional in your home could also net you quite a savings compared to local nursery or preschool programs, particularly if you need care for multiple children or older school-aged siblings have schedules requiring afterschool pickups or supervision.
What needs to be remembered is that negotiating pay can only take you so low – the FLSA (Fair Labor Standards Act) requires household employees be paid at least the state minimum wage and the hours to be documented so that overtime is paid at time and a half.
The (Live)Ins and Outs
Although some consider a “nanny” to be someone who resides in the house and is a full-time caregiver, most nannies live in their own homes. Committing to having someone enter your home and share your space full-time involves serious consideration. Although live-in nannies are not required or expected to join in family gatherings or share off-duty meals like “au pairs” are, the reality is that this individual who will bond with your children will be present in your household and change the dynamic of the home (perhaps in a positive way!). A clear, written work agreement with expectations should be developed for everyone’s peace of mind so that boundaries are maintained in this unique personal/professional relationship. Included in this should be the nanny’s commitment to remain for at least a year, or your preferred negotiated term, to avoid disruption for the children. (An “au pair” due to visa restrictions is not able to stay beyond a single year, or a second upon reapplication, so if you want a consistent addition to the household for your baby’s early life a nanny – who typically will have much more experience and far fewer limitations – might be preferable.)
A live-in nanny should have her own room and space, with her off hours to do with as she pleases. If you have concerns about rules of the house being compromised (drinking in the presence of the kids, having friends over, late nights out before her “on days”), an honest discussion beforehand can ensure everyone is comfortable and happy with the arrangement. This option could be a godsend for parents who frequently travel and don’t want to upset the children’s equilibrium or a single parent with a changing work schedule – but a live-in should not be mistaken for 24/7 care, her hours should be documented and all applicable labor laws must be followed.
As little ones develop a sense of self, they often love to hear themselves talk. In fact, your little Chatty Cathy may talk your ear off while in your care. However, learning the skill of listening is much more difficult for children.
Learn how to keep your little ones in tune with what you and others have to say while expressing themselves at the same time.
Talk the Talk, Walk the Walk
Children learn to hear as infants, but as they grow and develop, it’s important to guide them from simply hearing others to actually listening to them. Children will look to you for lessons in how to not only communicate, but also listen. You can teach a child to listen carefully by being a good listener yourself, says Susan K. Perry, author of Playing Smart: The Family Guide to Enriching Offbeat Learning.
“The modern drive to multitask often gets in the way of genuine listening,” says Perry. “For starters, stop what you’re doing and face your child when she is speaking to you, rather than only giving her half your attention.”
Children also observe how you listen to others. If you interrupt discussions, dismiss or cut off others while talking and avoid eye contact, it’s likely they are learning these habits, thus inhibiting their ability to learn to be better listeners.
It helps to minimize distractions in the home, such as television sets, music players and radios, to make listening less of a struggle for both you and the children in your care, says Perry.
Host Interruption Interventions
In a child’s mind, everything he has to say is urgent. At times, it is obvious to see that he is ready to burst when he has to wait to share something he learned or tell a funny joke. Teaching a child to wait patiently and listen before taking a turn to talk can be challenging.
One of the best ways to curb constant interruptions is to nip them in the bud, says Melody Brooke, Texas-based family therapist and author of Oh Wow This Changes Everything. When your child interrupts another, gently remind him that someone else is speaking and that he can have a turn as soon as the other person or child is finished.
Reinforce good listening skills, too, so the child can recognize when he is patiently waiting for his turn. “Comment positively when you observe them listening well,” says Brooke.
Listening Game Time
Children love to engage in games, but did you know many games can teach them how to listen more attentively? According to Perry, the classic game Simon Says is a perfect tool to teach children ages 2 to 5 how to listen carefully. You can begin with simple instructions, such as “Simon Says touch your nose” and progress into more complicated two-part instructions as your child starts listening better and catching on to the game.
Young children up to age 7 may enjoy interactive activities that utilize repetition, observations and creativity to help them acquire listening skills. Perry suggests a game of “Be My Echo.” During this game, you and the child face each other designating one as the speaker and one as the echo. The speaker talks for one minute while the echo attempts to repeat her words while she is still talking, says Perry. This game requires the child to listen attentively while practicing verbal skills at the same time.
The old game of “Telephone” may be just what your children over 7 needs to refresh their listening skills. Even though it’s best with several players, the two of you can make this game work. Simply whisper a sentence into the ear of the child and if more than two are playing, he then whispers the same sentence to the next child until it travels around the circle. Your children may get quite a giggle and a lesson in listening when the final sentence varies significantly from the original version.
A game of telephone can leave a lasting impact on older children, says Perry. “This old game is excellent for teaching good listening skills as well as showing how we don’t always hear what we think we hear,” she says.
The key is to make your children aware of how important the skill of listening can be at home, school and eventually in the workplace. “Those who listen well learn more effectively and have better relationships throughout their lives,” says Perry.