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On the Park Bench: The toolkit that makes this nanny a ‘child whisperer’

Gabrielle B.
Sept. 14, 2018

When Leslie, a classically trained opera singer, first started nannying more than 25 years ago, her friends would ask her when she was going to get “a real job.”

“I would just look at them and say, ‘You can’t do my job,’” she recalls, explaining that child care is far more rigorous than many people imagine.

In recent years, though, she’s noticed a change for the better.

“I think people understand and appreciate caregivers more,” says Leslie, who, throughout her career, has worked for three different families for about 10 years each. “People are paying more attention to children — that how they’re raised affects how they turn out.”

Leslie has always had a knack for caregiving. She began babysitting at age 11, and at summer camp, she was so maternal, her nickname was “Mom,” she says.

“People call me a child whisperer,” Leslie says, noting that young kids often start talking to her unprompted, whether she’s at the bus stop or the grocery store. She shared with us her top four tips for making every day a success with the kids in her care.

1. Dress for success

Forget about looking “professional” — at least while on the job. Leslie’s work outfits consist of comfortable clothes she doesn’t mind getting dirty. When you’re working with kids, agility is key and stains are inevitable, she says.

“I hate going to playgrounds and seeing the nanny sitting on the bench, in high heels while the child is running around,” she says. “Sometimes the kids will ask, ‘Why are you always wearing that shirt?’ and I’m like, ‘You see this big stain? That’s where you spit up on me.’”

2. Always have snacks  

When she’s out with kids, she always brings ample snacks — simple, nutritious foods she knows they like, such as apple slices, dried mango and crackers.

“When they get hungry, they lose their minds, and it happens very quickly,” she says.

Experience tells her it’s important to make sure kids are fed before they “spin out, and they’re crying and they don’t know why.” She prepares a snack bag for each child she’s caring for to prevent bickering among siblings, and she always brings drinks to wash it down, noting the lack of water fountains in New York City, where she lives.

3. Take a deep breath

When a child is distressed, it’s important to look for the root cause, which is not always obvious, Leslie says.

“I teach kids to take a deep breath, which creates a pause,” so she can assess the situation and her role in making it better. “Are they hungry? Do they need to go outside and run around for awhile? Is it too hot? I ask myself ‘What created this situation?’ And then I crawl out of the hole from there,” Leslie says.

4. Sing your heart out

Leslie, a high soprano, studied opera at State University of New York, Purchase. These days, her musical skill is one of the things that draws parents to her profile on Care.com.

“They see ‘opera’ and they know I’m cultured,” she says.

While she no longer performs professionally, she continues to sing and play the guitar and puts her musical skills to use while caring for children. One little girl she works with likes to wear a princess dress and dance while Leslie sings silly songs to her.

“Music helps them learn,” she says. “Music is a very good teacher, and they enjoy it.”

Read next: On the Park Bench with Erin

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