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On the Park Bench: How this social worker-turned-nanny helps kids deal with the emotional stuff

Gabrielle B.
Sept. 7, 2018

Erin G. has been caring for children for as long as she can remember. Her mother ran an in-home daycare, and most days she’d come home from school to a house full of babies. That formative experience led her to a career working with children — as a camp counselor, an art teacher and at an after-school program. And for most of the past four years, Erin, who has a master’s degree in social work, had a career as a play therapist with abused and neglected children. In March, she decided to take a break from that work to become a full-time nanny and to devote her free time to her art. (She’s at work on a series of illustrations called “The Empathy Alphabet,” including “A is for Aahhhh! That sounds awful,” and “B is for “I believe you.”)

Her belief in the power of empathy and her social work background informs her work as a nanny. Erin, who divides her 40-hour workweek between six Austin, Texas, families, is always on the lookout for the social-emotional needs that underpin behaviors. When children have big emotions, what they need is to be with an adult who isn’t trying to “fix” them, she said.

In a recent interview with Care.com, Erin shared her tips for interviewing, communicating with parents, and tackling the hardest conversations with young kids.

1. Pay attention to the family dynamic.

When she interviews with a new family, she makes sure that both the parents and the children are present, and she is careful to observe the dynamics at play.

“I pay attention to how [the parents] interact with the kids, and whether I’m being treated like a human or like a service," she says. "There are people who are as caring to me as they are to their own children."

2. Positive communication is key.

At the end of her shift, Erin always writes a note to the parents. With babies and young toddlers, she’ll include information about feedings and bowel movements; with older kids, she’ll give an overview of the day’s activities. When she wants to bring up larger concerns, she’ll do it over the phone or in person when the child is not present.

“I also try as much as possible to give positive feedback about their child, out loud, in front of [the parents], especially if their child is struggling with a behavior,” she says, explaining how she takes note every time one little boy shows patience or flexibility. “He loves getting his daily report at the end of the day in front of mom or dad.” 

3. Help kids get in touch with their emotions.

Erin also relishes the difficult conversations many other caregivers try to avoid. Recently, one little girl she works with was was exhibiting signs of anxiety in advance of a camp competition. So they spent 90 minutes together, drawing what anxiety feels like in the body — replete with scribbles around the belly button.

“Knowing I can be with a child as they work through it is a big perk of the job for me,” she says. “Especially with boys or girls who may have been told to feel otherwise — ‘Don’t cry,’ ‘You’re fine,’ ‘Be a big boy.’ Dan Siegel’s books, like ‘The Whole Brain Child,’ [written with Tina Payne Bryson] should be mandatory reading for all caregivers and parents.”

Read next: On the Park Bench with Sydnee

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