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Parenting Questions

How can I tell my kids (3.5 and 6 yrs old) that their nanny is leaving and we need to find a new one?

Our children’s first ever nanny stayed with us for almost four years before leaving us after the birth of her second child. Since then, we have employed four nannies, each one staying with us for short periods. We have now moved country and I am worried about introducing yet another person to the kids. What is the best way to handle this? 

Thank you for submitting your question. I think that it’s important to try to make sense of what has occurred chronologically and to think through the emotions attached to each change.

It might be useful to reflect with your partner about how you felt when ‘nanny number one’ had to leave. I detect (though could be wrong) that your family considered this woman to be part of the family and that her loss may have been keenly felt. It would be interesting to know if your children still see this nanny, remember her and keep in touch? If they still have a good relationship with her, you can remind them that even though people move away from us and we don’t see them every day, there are other ways to stay in touch. There was also a happy reason why ‘nanny number one’ stopped working for you; she had a baby! In other words, change can sometimes be necessary in order to get on with our lives and undertaken for good reasons. 

You mention having several nannies since then and it sounds like you are concerned that the merry-go-round of different people in your children’s life might harm them in some way. Try to remind yourself that the main psychological anchors and attachment figures in children’s lives are their parents. Yes, nannies do the parenting when they are on duty, but the main and most significant relationship in your children’s lives is with you. A variety of people will come in and out of your children’s lives (teachers, teaching assistants, nannies, tutors) and this is normal. 

Rather than viewing exposure to different caregivers as a negative, ask your children what they liked or remember about each nanny and what they learned from them. Perhaps create a photobook of the great times that they enjoyed with all of their nannies. This exercise can help them to understand the chronology of who cared for them at different stages of their life and allow them to collate happy memories. It is a good exercise for the whole family as it can help to create a sense of coherence when it comes to your family narrative. 

You mention that you have moved country, which is a significant transition for everyone. Before you think about introducing your new nanny, it might be useful to talk as a family about what you are enjoying about where you are living now. What do you love about it? What new friends have you made? What has gone really well? This kind of chat also provides a chance to give feedback to your children. For example, you might say to your six year old, “I love how you have made two new friends since you arrived in this country”, and remind them of how resilient they are and how proud you are of them. You could also list, draw or gather images of all the things you love about living in your new home. 

Be clear with your children regarding why you need a new nanny. “Mummy and Daddy need a little bit of help when we work”, or “It is nice to have a little bit of help sometimes”. Ask them what they want their nanny to be like and see if you can accommodate any of their wishes. Don’t set any unrealistic expectations in terms of how long this nanny might stay. Instead, remind your children of everything that will remain the same within family life. If you know you are going to stay in this country for a long period of time, focus on that. 

If you are definitely getting a new nanny, tell your children this news confidently. Any hint of anxiety or guilt might be picked up and make your children feel unnecessarily worried. Stay calm, cool and ask them if they have any questions or worries about the new nanny. This discussion might evoke feelings of sadness about other nannies leaving. You could encourage your children to use emojis to help articulate how they felt. At this stage in their development, the main tools for communication lie within imaginative play or role-play. Perhaps you could access their thoughts by playing together with puppets or dolls? In general terms, talk in family life about the positives of change and, as your children grow and develop, help them to see themselves as very resilient; a characteristic they have already clearly demonstrated.

For children to feel happy, settled and secure in the world, they need their parent(s) to feel happy and well in themselves. So whatever changes happen within family life, investing in your own self-care, mental health and wellbeing will set the tone for your children. Whether you choose to have a nanny or not, 1:1 time with your child, particularly during times of transition, is crucial. Spending precious time together and attuning to who your child is and what makes them tick, is time spent investing directly in their emotional resilience and self-esteem. It is also huge fun! 

This brings me to my last point. If you try to have a home filled with joy, laughter and optimism, your children will be able to survive and thrive through a whole host of different experiences and challenges. So, aim for lightness and reframe challenges as opportunities for growth as much as possible.