By Ilene Jacobs
Leaving children with a new babysitter or nanny can be stressful for parents, but it's also a big deal for kids. They don't know what to expect. Will the mean ol' lady make them eat broccoli (bleck!)? Will she know that Mister Fluffy needs to be on the left side of the pillow at bedtime? There are so many things to worry about!
Whether you hired a babysitter for a few hours while you go on a date night, or a full-time nanny to watch your kids while you're at work, a new sitter doesn't have to be a scary experience. If you and your child plan for it together and talk about key issues ahead of time, everything should go smoothly.
Adele Faber, co-author of the New York Times best-selling book, "How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk" (Scribner, $26); Irene van der Zande, executive director and founder of Kidpower International, a global nonprofit focused on teaching positive, practical safety tips to children; and Carolyn Stolov, family life expert at Care.com, share their suggestions about how to talk to kids before a new caregiver arrives.
GIVE KIDS ADVANCE NOTICE
Don't wait until the last moment to tell the kids you're leaving them with a new sitter _ they need time to prepare, too. (If you hired a last-minute backup sitter, give them as much warning as possible.) On the flip side, others may get anxious if you tell them too far in advance. Get kids excited about having someone new; talk about how much fun they're going to have. Arrange a meet-and-greet with the new sitter ahead of time, or have her arrive early so your kids can get acquainted with her while Mom and/or Dad are there.
"The more opportunity you and your children have ahead of time with the caregiver, the more confident everyone will feel," Stolov says.
HELP KIDS FEEL IN CONTROL
Faber has found that kids are more receptive to change when they feel in control. "Make the child in charge of showing the new sitter around the house and if there is a younger sibling, let the child tell the sitter how to care for her/him," she advises. She also suggests sparking enthusiasm by having kids make the sitter a gift or welcome sign.
INVOLVE YOUR KIDS
Accept that your children may be upset or anxious and explain it's also a new situation for the sitter. Everyone is nervous and that's OK. Seek your child's recommendations on how to make the new sitter comfortable. They can ask the sitter what she likes to do for fun or what her favorite food is. Again, it's about allowing your child to feel "in charge," Faber says.
PROVIDE KIDS WITH PEOPLE SAFETY SKILLS
One of the biggest fears parents face is the prospect of their child falling victim to sex abuse. It's a touchy subject to bring up with your kids, and most parents aren't sure how to go about it, but it's vital to discuss.
"Tell your child that anytime anyone makes (them) uncomfortable, that you want to know" says van der Zande, and "that nothing should ever be kept a secret." Even if a sitter asks them to!
Here are a few points to keep in mind:
-Talk to children about appropriate touching, teasing and playing
-Teach kids how to be aware
-Discuss how to set boundaries
-Let children know what to do if they feel uneasy and how to get help
TEACH KIDS SAFETY PREPAREDNESS
"Children learn best if adults explain safety issues calmly, with a focus on how to be safe, rather than on potential dangers," van der Zande says.
If your kids don't already know about calling 911, this is the time to talk about it. Explain they most likely will never have to call 911, but it's good to know how. Teach them the difference between emergency and non-emergency situations and which type requires a 911 call. Make them memorize your phone numbers and home address, and who to contact if you can't reach Mom or Dad.
REMIND KIDS OF THE HOUSE RULES
Clearly and simply communicate your expectations and set boundaries with your child about how they are expected to behave when the new nanny or sitter is there. They should understand that the rules don't change just because you're not home. There will be consequences for not minding the rules.
Faber suggests having your child explain the rules to the sitter while you're present, so everyone has the same understanding of acceptable behavior. Examples of things to discuss include:
-Rules for screen time
-How to get along with siblings
-Never opening the door to strangers
-When and where homework should be done
-Rewards and consequences for good or bad behavior
EXPLAIN WHAT TO EXPECT FROM THE NANNY
Make sure your babysitter or nanny understands your expectations for her, and then explain those rules to your children. For example, the sitter will play with them and keep close watch over them; she will not be on the computer or have visitors. That way, both the sitter and your child will understand what's expected.
"The most dangerous safety issue is a lack of careful supervision, which can lead to terrible accidents in an instant," van der Zande says. If your child understands what the sitter's job is, your child will know how she is supposed to behave and what's expected from her.
One of the main causes for kids misbehaving is boredom. You and/or the sitter should plan special and fun activities, like games, art projects and snacks to create. "Ask the new caregiver to also interweave routines and games your child is used to," Stolov says. "Consistency is important and will help comfort your child."
Your child will feel more secure knowing you're only a phone call away, too. Let them know they can call you and leave the number near the phone, but try to discourage them from doing so unless it's really important. Offer to call to check in. Be sure to tell them when you plan to return and that you'll call if you're running late.
ASK FOR A PROGRESS REPORT ON THE NEW SITTER
After the nanny leaves, tell your child you want to hear all about how it went. Ask them about what they did, what they liked or disliked and if the sitter should come back.
"Always listen and trust the instincts of your children," Stolov says. "If they tell you they didn't like the sitter or felt uncomfortable, don't bring that person back. Ask your children what specifically made them uncomfortable, so you can be aware if there was a serious issue while you were gone or whether you simply need to search for a sitter with a different temperament."
You and your child may have mixed feelings about having a new nanny or babysitter, but it will be a smoother transition if your child is well prepared and looking forward to the sitter's arrival.
Ilene Jacobs is a mom and freelance writer in Dallas. She enjoys writing about a variety of topics, ranging from food and travel to kids, pets and senior care. You can find her work here. Care.com is an online service that matches families with great caregivers for children, seniors, pets and more.
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