‘What do you call your private parts?’ and other awkward conversations to have with your nanny — and how to do it professionally
When I was working as a nanny, a mother gave me a heads up before my first day with her kids: "Just so you know, we use anatomical names for body parts, so don't be alarmed if you hear that when you're helping in the bathroom.” I certainly appreciated the information.
Each day of parenthood is filled with awkward moments with your favorite little humans, whether it’s your son pointing out your stretch marks or your daughter openly discussing the details of toilet training. As a parent, you can quickly decide how best to handle these interactions, whether to ignore questions or turn them into teaching moments. As a nanny, however, these situations always gave me pause.
From getting dressed in front of the kids to understanding what level of physical affection is acceptable, every family has a unique approach to the intimate moments that arise. Nannies can be the best at their job when they understand the family culture in these situations — but too often, these conversations are skipped because they can be uncomfortable.
“The No. 1 thing parents need to do is just become comfortable with the information themselves,” says Barbara Harvey, an early childhood expert and parent coach at Parents, Teachers and Advocates, Inc. “Once they are comfortable, then the conversation will be less awkward.”
It’s also important to remember that while you may not have anticipated discussing these topics, your nanny has likely had similar conversations before.
“Since parents are speaking with professional caregivers, it is likely [the caregivers] are already prepared to have these kinds of conversations with parents,” she said. “The parents may feel awkward, but often the caregiver will take this conversation in stride as part of their job.”
When that mother told me to expect to hear anatomical terms, I was relieved that she was so up front because it made my job easier and made the kids more comfortable with me. From body anatomy to spending money on lunch out, communicating openly about tricky topics can make the parent-caregiver relationship more transparent and help ensure that everyone who cares for your kids is on the same page.
Here are five awkward conversations that may come up with a new nanny caring for your kids — and tips for how to discuss them with care.
1. Knowing what to call your ‘private parts’
When it comes to talking about genitals, family policies range from saying nothing or using nicknames to specifying anatomically correct terms. It’s uncomfortable to talk about, but what your kids call their private parts will inevitably come up, especially if your nanny is caring for young children who are still in diapers or need help in the bathroom.
Having a shared vocabulary helps avoid confusion between the nanny and the children. I once worked for a family who used terms from another language to refer to their genitals. The child was frustrated when I didn’t know what she was talking about, and I wasn’t able to help her until I deciphered what she was trying to say.
To prepare for this conversation, Harvey says, take a straightforward, simple approach.
“Know what your expectations are and state them as clearly and succinctly as possible without being overly specific,” she says.
For example, say, “We would really like you to use the proper terminology for our children's body parts. We want them to know and be comfortable saying words like penis and vagina.”
Remind yourself that just as doctors and nurses are able to talk about body anatomy, so, too, will an experienced nanny, Harvey says. And if you’re feeling awkward just remember that this small conversation will help your nanny care for the kids more effectively.
“As a care professional, your nanny is an extension of not only your authority, but your teaching your child about life,” she says. “In order for them to help your child feel comfortable about their bodies, using the same language is important.”
2. Explaining the family policy on nudity
There are very few jobs where you have to discuss the nudity policy with your potential employee, but it’s bound to come up as your nanny cares for your kids. This conversation has two layers: the amount of nudity that the kids are allowed and what’s OK for the nanny.
Now, before you say that the nanny should never be naked in front of the kids, think about how easily this situation arises. For example, if she takes the kids to the pool, is it acceptable to change in front of them? Similarly, think about how often your kids are without clothes. Are they allowed to run through the sprinkler in the buff? Play in their underwear? Change in front of each other? All of this is important information for your nanny to have.
“Every family has their views on what privacy is and what it takes to maintain it,” Harvey says.
Make sure your nanny knows where your boundaries are so that she can help support them. For this conversation, it’s best to use first-person statements to emphasize that you’re letting the nanny know about your policy rather than insinuating that she is doing anything wrong, Harvey says.
For example, you could say, “We have decided that it is important for us to keep our children innocent of the in and outs of the adult body until they are older. We are never unclothed in front of the children.” Then, let your nanny know you would appreciate if she would do the same.
3. Managing privacy expectations during toilet time
How often have you lamented your lack of toilet privacy since becoming a parent? If your kids won’t leave you alone in the bathroom at home, they’re unlikely to cut your caregiver a break. Talk with your nanny about how you would like her to approach this. Should she leave the kids outside the door, bring them in or leave the door open a crack?
“With the advent of family restrooms, especially with small children, restroom privacy has changed,” Harvey says. “How do you feel about the nanny at Target using the restroom with your kids in the room? Would you consider that taboo or your preferred method for safety reasons?”
This is especially important to consider for younger toddlers who need constant supervision or if your nanny takes the kids out in public, where crowd safety becomes a concern. Before heading into this conversation think about what you’d like your caregiver to take away, and let her know specifically.
For example, Harvey recommends saying, “We understand that in a family restroom situation there may be some awkwardness, but we would like you to have the children face the wall while you use the facilities.”
4. Defining your family’s social policy
These days, most parents know to talk to their nanny about social media — but it’s also important that you talk to her about good, old-fashioned socialization. One day while I was working, I took the kids to my mom’s house to visit with family friends who were in town. The friends’ kids were similar ages to the children I was nannying, and they had a blast playing. Still, as the morning progressed, I realized I was a little uncomfortable. Was this OK? Or was I socializing during business hours?
To avoid communication clashes, be clear with your nanny about whether it’s acceptable to socialize with other adults or children during the time she’s with your children. Consider different scenarios. Can she meet a friend for a walk while your kids ride in the stroller? What if she’s meeting a friend at the park who also nannies kids around the same age?
When deciding what you’re comfortable with, Harvey says the most important thing to consider is safety.
“Do you trust that out at the park with a friend your kids would still be safe because [both adults] would be paying attention?” she says. “Or do you think there is distraction in that arena? Maturity plays a big part in this area.”
Harvey recommends having this conversation before a social situation arises, preferably soon after the nanny is hired. That way your caregiver knows that you’re just relaying information, not chastising her.
5. Knowing when it’s OK to use the family’s money
“Can we have lunch here? Please?” During the summer I spent nannying school-aged kids, I heard this refrain constantly. We went to the swim club almost every morning, and every day I had to make the decision whether to have lunch there or at home. Having lunch at the club was fun for the kids and also made my job easier, but I ultimately needed to talk with my employers about how often they wanted us charging our lunch to their club account.
Many nannies have access to the family’s money in some form, whether it’s a club account or a credit card. To avoid misunderstandings, it’s important that you are up front with the nanny about what are acceptable expenses. If she’s out with the kids and stops for coffee and a muffin, does she pay with her own money or can she swipe the family’s card? If she purchases a toy for the kids, should that come from your funds or hers?
Help your nanny to understand your family culture around spending. Harvey suggests setting up a monthly budget with a prepaid account after discussing the kids’ activities with your nanny. That way, you’re controlling what is spent but giving your nanny the autonomy to make the day-to-day spending decisions.
The relationship between parents and caregivers is a business one, but it’s also an intimate partnership. In order to build trust and streamline communication, have the tough conversations — and your caregiver will appreciate it.
“Focus on the fact that this is a professional conversation you are having with a professional person about the work they are doing with your children,” Harvey says. “It is about body and privacy issues, but also about how parents want their child to be treated, respected and protected in this area.”