Posted By

Amanda Dundas

Here's how to handle a child who has trouble letting the nanny go.

When Kathryn and Dominick von Jan moved upstate from Brooklyn, NY, it meant parting with their beloved nanny of 5 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. and Care.com's resident parenting expert. "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. "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."

Most 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. "Many parents invite former nannies to birthday parties, or set up special one-on-one dates," she says. "Older children can maintain the relationship themselves through email or phone calls, but if your kids are younger and want to stay in touch you should facilitate their sending letters and pictures."

How Children Handle the Nanny Transition

Before the age of three, 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 three, 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."

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. If the parting is amicable and you're not moving too far away, explain that they'll still be able to see the nanny although not as frequently. "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. "If you're moving, explain that you can still keep in touch through letters or email, or when you come back to visit." Most importantly, says Ludwig, make sure your child knows he didn't do anything wrong. 

Sometimes families have falling outs with their nanny and the goodbye is more, well, permanent. "With younger kids, you don't want to tell them more than they can handle," says Ludwig. "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." Kids who are five and older can handle more of the truth. "Explain that the nanny behaved in a way that made you uncomfortable," says Ludwig. "Older kids understand that."

Paying for Visits

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.

"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."

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