By: Aliza Tropper, LMHC
Many of our young children are being cared for by nannies. Whether you’re a homemaker or a working mom, you did your research on getting the best nanny. She speaks English, has the right references, and maybe even knows how to navigate a kosher kitchen. You asked her about her experience and her thoughts on child rearing.
However, there is another question that may have never occurred to you: How will this caregiver impact your child’s development? Studies and research show that children whose relationships with their earliest caregivers are not consistent and secure also exhibit difficulties in their adult relationships, success in school, careers, and emotional stability.
If you have found that perfect nanny who has been with you for years, manages to cook, clean, and be attentive to your child, this article is probably not for you. For the rest of us who have either been bouncing from nanny to nanny or have one that’s inattentive to the children: did you ever stop to think about the emotional impact this is having on your child? We primarily consider the physical safety of our children. Perhaps we need to think about their emotional safety. How well is your nanny attending and responding to your child’s emotional needs?
Early relationships and experiences with caregivers impact children’s developing brains and significantly influence their ability to learn, regulate emotions, and form future relationships. A secure attachment between you and your child or your caregiver and your child is the foundation to his future learning, behavior, and relationships.
Secure attachment is when a child feels safe, secure, and protected by her caregiver. Children must feel confident that the caregiver will be available to meet their needs. Infants develop a secure attachment when the caregiver is predictable, consistent, and responds appropriately to their needs.
Children raised with secure attachment learn to trust their “attachment figures” to provide support when they need it. The secure child feels confident to explore the world because they know that when they go back to their caregiver, that person will be there when they return.
A secure adult has a similar relationship with their partner and others. They feel secure and connected while allowing themselves and their partner to be independent. They are confident and are able to easily interact with others, meeting both their own and the other person’s needs.
Here are some practical tips for you and your nanny to build a secure attachment with your child:
• Respond to an infant’s physical cues, such as feeding them when they are hungry, changing their diaper when needed, putting them to sleep when they are tired, soothing them, and making them comfortable
• As they get older, respond to a child’s emotional cues. Make sure your child knows they can get your attention when they’re feeling scared or upset or when they want to share positive emotions and experiences. This can be done by validating their feelings and experiences: “I see that you are feeling sad right now” or “Sounds like you had a great day at school. Tell me more about it.”
• Be affectionate. Hug your child. Use gentle touch and eye contact when talking to your child.
• Be predictable. Don’t sneak out the door when your child isn’t looking. If your child is naturally anxious, routines will help your child know what to expect. Set a routine for separating and greeting each other.
• Reassure your child that you will be back by stating “Mommy has to go to work now. Miss X will be watching you today. I will be back later.” Then give her a hug and a kiss and leave quickly. Don’t prolong the process.
• Greet your child mindfully after a separation. A separation can be as little as retuning from an errand or as much as a business trip. Notice how much time your child needs to reconnect with you before you start preparing dinner or get distracted with other activities.
• When interviewing a babysitter, ask how long she thinks she can stay with your family. If you are considering a day care facility, try to keep your child in the same setting as long as you can, including the summers if possible. Consistency makes a child feel secure.
• Try modeling to your nanny what you would want for your child. If you don’t like something she is doing, communicate gently and explain what you think should be done instead.
• Just as you must inform your child when you will be away, your nanny will need to explain if she isn’t available. For example, “I have to prepare lunch now. I will play with you as soon as I am done.” Even though your child might not understand you just yet, talking to your child and reassuring them is important so they won’t feel ignored or abandoned.
• Spending quality time is more important that quantity. Be mindful of that when you are home. Even spending five minutes a day playing with your child builds healthy attachment.
Keep in mind that none of us can always respond as soon as our children need us. That’s O.K. If you are able, let them know that you are listening and reassure them that you will help them soon.
Remember we all mess up at times. No one is a perfect parent! If you mess up, apologize to your child. Attachment is fundamentally about trust. Genuine apologies enhance trust in any relationship. Apologies show that you care about the other person’s feelings. Building trust and secure attachment is not about never making mistakes. It’s about repairing trust when you do.
Aliza Tropper, LMHC, is a psychotherapist with a private practice in the Five Towns. Aliza specializes in treating adults and children with anxiety, depression, trauma, life transitions, relationships, and parenting issues. Aliza can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 347-374-0480.