Dealing with Disrespect

Written by Saraya
guest column "I often think back to my time as a nanny, and wonder: why didn’t I leave that one horrible job sooner? Why didn’t I call the parents out on what they were doing so obviously wrong? Why didn’t I sit down with them and say, “If your child continues to disrespect me (hit me, throw things at me, defy me, etc, etc) and there is no discipline happening to correct it, I’m going to have to give my notice.” But I didn’t. Most of us won’t. Even through all the crap, we still hold out hope that WE as nannies can succeed where the parents have failed. We love the kids, and we don’t want to leave. We want to be a constant, dependable presence for the kids, where the parents may not be. And honestly, who wants to deal with that kind of confrontation? Who wants to tell another adult that they are doing something wrong and that’s why their kids are so bad? We don’t want to ‘black listed’ as a nanny either. So we endure.

When it comes to the disciplining of the children you nanny for, there’s always a line: whether the nanny pulls more weight, or the parents. It can be determined by many things, the biggest 3 factors being: the children’s age when you start, how much face time the children have with their parents vs. the nanny, and whether or not the parents have actually taught their children to respect their elders. If you are a nanny who happens to pull more weight, who in essence is the parent in the children’s lives, please, do well by them. Teach them the ways of days gone by… to respect their elders, how to be gracious, how to accept responsibility for their actions… That NO means NO, and not going back on it, that you have to work hard for what you want, and not hand everything to them… I beg you, please!

If you are nanny that does not pull more weight though, there is only so much influence we have in the child’s life. We can set a good example, we can teach what is right, and we can encourage the kids to work hard, but sometimes its just not enough. I don’t want to say that every nanny job is bad, or give the impression that every parent is horrible and nannies are gods. I’ve nannied for my share of wonderful, loving, discipline-giving families, and I’ve also met my share of horrible nannies. But there comes a time in a nannies life, if they have nannied long enough, when they will nanny for the family that does not know how to discipline their children. And if we are being figuratively (and god forbid, literally) crapped on by the kids we nanny for, with nothing being done by the parents to correct their behavior, we do not have to stay.

If you were at a ‘desk’ job, and you were being disrespected or mistreated by your boss or co-workers, I would assume that you or others would document those incidents. It should be no different with your nanny job. How many times have you been in a conflict where it was demanded of you, “when has this happened before? Give some examples! What did you do?” and in the frustration and emotion of the moment, you can’t put exact examples or dates for anything. This is a recipe for disaster, especially if you leave a nanny job and then receive a bad reference from a parent, when you should not have.

So what can we do as nannies? Its simple, and I think imperative: keep a notebook and document incidents. Give a run down of what was said, what was done, what was requested of the parents, whether or not action was taken, if any discipline occurred, and whether or not you saw results. An fictional example:

May 4th: Susie (age 8) did not turn off the TV when I asked her to, as TV is not allowed until homework is done. I then turned it off myself, and after I walked away, she went and turned it back on. I told her not to do it again, and if she did, she would be sent to her room for disobeying me. She then said “You’re not the boss of me!!” and sat on the couch pouting. I walked away and let her calm down. She eventually came into the dining room and started her homework.

I relayed this information to her father via text message, and he informed me that he would speak to her when he got home.

May 6th: Susie again turned on the TV when she got home from school. I immediately turned it off and told her to go to her room for a time-out. She became very mad at me and threw a book at me. She then stormed up to her room and slammed the door. I again relayed this information to her father, and said he would talk to her again when he got home. (I don’t know if he is?)

May 7th: In preparation for today, I unplugged the TV and hid the cord. Susie again tried to turn on the TV when she got home from school, and when it wouldn’t turn on, she screamed at me “You did that didn’t you! You’re so mean! I hate you! Mommy would let me watch TV!!” I replied, “Susie, you know it’s a rule that TV is not allowed until you are done with your homework. That is mommy and daddy’s rule. Mommy would not let you watch TV. Now please get out your homework, and I can help you if you need me to.” She did get her homework out, while continuing to mumble under her breath that I am “so mean”. I relayed this incident to both her mother and father via text, and inquired whether or not it was still a rule that TV is not allowed until after homework is done. They stated it was.

May 17th: Susie has been doing well with not turning on the TV after school until her homework is done. She told me her mom would take away her DS if she did it again. She also said, “well, school’s almost done anyways!” haha.

May 20th: Susie had her friend Jamie over today after school to play, and she was very mean to her. She did not want to share her toys or let her take a turn on her DS. She also yelled at Jamie when she tried to play with her stuffed bear. I pulled Susie aside and told her she needed to share, and play something they could do together. She replied “Fine!” and went back into her room. I suggested they come to the craft table and color with me, which they did. They were ok from then on. Susie has never had an issue with playing with friends before, so I relayed this to her parents. They both responded to me that they would talk to her. (I don’t think they did.)

This is just an example. It may seem trivial and pointless at the time, but it may prove crucial when looking for a new job. Let’s say over the next year, this nanny sees a constant escalation in Susie’s poor behavior and disrespect, with little to no discipline from the parents, and it eventually becomes apparent that nothing this nanny does will help. She is at the end of her rope. Her first step: ask the parents to sit down with her and talk. She should state “Over the past (however many) months, Susie has been constantly and increasingly disrespectful to me and her peers. I have tried many times to discipline her behavior, but if the discipline is not coming from you as well, then my effort is fruitless.” At this point, the parents will probably get defensive and ask for examples, which luckily, she will have. Remember though, in this situation, it is not about instigating a blame war or subordinating each other. As the employee you need to maintain your professionalism and state the facts, and let the parents know that there is a problem. This is also where you as the nanny would state that if the behavior does not improve, that you will be giving your notice. I pray that the parents are professional enough themselves to take this well, that they value you as their child’s nanny, and don’t fire you out of their anger. By doing this though, she’ll have established the fact that her, just like every one else, deserves respect, and will not allow herself to be, well, crapped on. After this talk, if she’s still employed, one of two things will happen. Either the parents will step up their game, or they won’t. Give it a few weeks. Then assess the situation again. Has the child’s behavior improved? More importantly, are the parents actively disciplining their child? A very important side note to include here: don’t accept a raise as compensation. Although it would be nice, you didn’t ask for a raise, and more money does not solve the problem. Many a family has wooed nannies into staying with their dysfunctional family with more and more money. But even those nannies will eventually realize: money does not solve the problems!

Let’s say this nanny has gone another 2 months, given all her effort, and still sees no improvement. She may write in her journal:

July 20th: Susie continues to undermine me and defy me on a regular basis (multiple times a day.) So far this past week I’ve had 2 books thrown at me, I’ve been punched in the head by her, and have been yelled at. She does not accept my authority and will not listen to me. When her parents attempt to talk to her, she gets very mad and defensive and their usual reply is “why don’t you go to your room to calm down and we’ll talk about this again later.” I have noticed that they do not have the guts to actually tell their own child when she is wrong, and have her deal with her actions! Why are they afraid of telling their child no?? They are the parents! What ever has happened to a child having a healthy fear of their mom if they do something wrong? Your child is not your BFF! They need discipline and guidance!

At this point the nanny would sit down with the parents again, and discuss how she has not seen any improvement, that her effort is not yielding any results, feels that she can no longer work there, and then gives her 2 weeks notice. Unfortunately, this whole scenario may make this nanny afraid of listing this family as a reference when looking for a new job. But if you are in this kind of situation, you don’t need to be worried. If you are applying for a new job through an agency, you can discuss your information with them and let them know how everything transpired. If not, discuss with the parents of possible new jobs how you “had an issue with the lack of discipline at your previous job, and would be willing to discuss the details further if desired.” Also, when interviewing with a new family, if their only reference Susie’s parents can give is that you “constantly complained about their child’s behavior, couldn’t handle the stress and duties of being a nanny”, yet you are able to sit down and discuss how you approached the incidents (documenting what happened, talking with the parents, asking for a change, was still mistreated, and gave proper notice when you decided to leave), who is being the professional? You are. And any respectable family will see that.

If you are a nanny, you don't have to deal with disrespect. Hold parents accountable to their children's behavior directly resulting from their lack of discipline. Be professional, and address the problem. I hope this helps. :)



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