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What to say to your child when parting ways with your nanny — and how to manage separation sadness

Amanda Dundas
Oct. 31, 2018

When Kathryn and Dominick von Jan moved upstate from Brooklyn, New York, it meant parting with their beloved nanny of five years. "Excited as we were for our move, it was devastating to say goodbye to our wonderful nanny, especially for our daughter and son," explains Kathryn. "And I know our nanny was also really upset."

So it was no surprise when the couple received a call from the nanny a few months after their move, asking if she could come visit them for a weekend.  "We loved the idea but wasn't sure how it would work," she says. "Was she a houseguest, that we should entertain, or would she want time alone with my kids?  And if we went out to give her time alone with them, should we pay her?"

When the working relationship with a nanny ends, developing a new type of relationship can be confusing for both employer and employee. But that doesn't mean you should avoid it, says psychotherapist Robi Ludwig, Psy.D of New York, New York. "When you hire a nanny, they become part of the family, and to just sever ties seems very severe, especially to a child who probably loves this person," she says.

It’s never easy to say goodbye to someone we love. Here are some tips for helping your child through the transition after their nanny leaves — and how to help them when it’s particularly hard to let nanny go.

How children handle separation with a loved one

Before the age of 3, most kids won't have too much trouble adjusting to losing a nanny, says Ludwig, adding that kids this age may let the relationship taper off naturally.

After age 3, the transition gets trickier. "If your child shows signs of withdrawal — if he seems sad, talks about the nanny a lot, or has trouble adjusting to a new nanny — he may not be transitioning well," she says. "It's important to talk to your child about his feelings, and let him know that it's okay to miss his nanny, but that it's also okay to have fun with a new nanny."

How to tell your child your nanny’s leaving

The key to a successful transition is making sure your child understands what is going on, says Ludwig. Sit down and explain, as much as possible, why the nanny is leaving.

What to say when your nanny’s leaving on good terms:

  • Explain that they'll still be able to see the nanny, although not as frequently, if no one is moving far away.

  • "Let them know that even though the nanny may not be in their lives in the same daily way, they can still be a part of each other's lives," says Ludwig

  • Suggest keeping in touch through letters or email

  • Most importantly, says Ludwig, make sure your child knows he didn't do anything wrong.

What to say when your nanny’s leaving on not-so-good terms:

Sometimes families have falling outs with their nanny and the goodbye is more, well, permanent. Ludwig suggests using these tactics when explaining the separation to your child:

  • "With younger kids, you don't want to tell them more than they can handle," she says. "You can be vague and say that the nanny had to move on, making sure that your children know it had nothing to do with them."

  • For kids 5 and older, who can handle more of the truth, "explain that the nanny behaved in a way that made you uncomfortable," says Ludwig. "Older kids understand that."

How to help your child maintain a relationship with a former nanny

"Maintaining a relationship with a former nanny isn't a must," says Ludwig, adding that most kids are resilient enough to handle losing a nanny. "But if you really love her, and your kids love her, it's wonderful to continue the relationship, and transition it from a working relationship to more of a family one."

Many nannies pride themselves on maintaining relationships with the children they've cared for, says Ludwig, who suggests having a frank conversation with your nanny about the ways you'd like to keep in touch.

Staying in touch is good for the child too.

"Maintaining the relationship gives the child a sense of continuity and lets them know that this person will still be in their life, even if not in the same way," says Ludwig.

Ideas for keeping in touch:

  • Invite your former nanny to birthday parties

  • Set up special one-on-one dates

  • Stay in touch via email and phone calls

  • Help younger kids send letters and pictures

Should you pay for visits with a former nanny?

For many parents, including the von Jans, the question is whether to pay your nanny for the time spent alone with their children. "If you're asking your former nanny to babysit, then yes, you should pay her," Ludwig says. "But otherwise it's a personal relationship, one that your nanny is choosing to continue on her own personal time, and you shouldn't pay her, even if you're the one who suggested the visit."

Most nannies love staying connected with the children that they've cared for, and some maintain the relationship long past childhood. Still, if your nanny is taking time out of her schedule, or incurring expensive commuting costs, it's nice to acknowledge how much it means to you by giving her spending money to take your child out somewhere special, says Ludwig.

Mrs. von Jan and her husband wound up inviting her nanny for the weekend, and asking her how she wanted to spend her time. "She said she wanted to spend a lot of time with the kids because she missed them, and told us to feel free to go out and run errands or go to dinner," she says. "We definitely gave her a lot of time alone with the kids but then also made sure she had time to relax in her room and unwind, so she would feel like she really got a weekend away." The visit was such a success that their nanny has plans to come back in a few months.

Read next: 6 Mistakes Families Make When Hiring a Nanny

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