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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

User in Las Vegas, NV
Feb. 16, 2019

I'm not nanny but as math tutor, this happens a lot. After student(s) improve and stay on top of their grade, they no longer need me (unless that student need me due to learning disability). It is sad thing to experience but I always feel glad that I was able to help those students. Moreover, as those students doing better in school and in their careers, I know I've done my job and glad that I was part of their lives.

I strongly disagree with the statement that leaving a child before three-years-old is no problem. I was the nanny for a wonderful little boy from birth to two-years-old (when his parents decided to put him in daycare and move to a new home several miles away). To have simply walked away from him at the age of two, when I was a constant in his life for his entire life, would have been akin to abandoning him and destroyed his sense of security. So, with the parents' blessing, I arranged my new schedule to always have Friday's off and I spend the afternoon with my former charge (for free - I am not paid for it) -- we have been doing this for 6 months now and although I know it cannot continue forever, it has made his adjustment to daycare and his new home much easier.

April 15, 2014

Our nanny left after 7 years. I had kept her on for another couple of years after she had her first child although she kept bringing the baby / toddler with her without prior agreement and seemed to spend most of her time looking after her own child, always left at least half an hour early and sometimes did not even clean up her own child's mess properly. Then she became pregnant again and decided to leave. She initially texted about a visit, then kept putting it off and then never responded to my last two texts. I was very disappointed that after so much time she had so little regard for my child and overall it ended up a very negative experience. My husband had thought she was just there for the money after she had the first baby and was no longer interested in caring for my daughter and wanted to terminate her a year ago and I would not let him - unfortunately he turned out to be right. My view is now that I would not hire a nanny for more than a couple of years as the child becomes too attached and the nannies sometimes manipulate this attachment to keep the job.

March 19, 2014

I need advise from nannies. We have had ours since youngest was 18 months, oldest was 3. Duties are 4 hrs a day for pickup , after school care and dinner/ready to bed routine. They are now 7.5 yrs and almost 5 with the youngest starting Kindergarten next year. We are at the point where we feel we can now handle duties based on age now, career stability and wanting to save $$. We are her main source of \

March 7, 2014

Hi all, I'm looking for some help. I have just started a new position looking after 2 boys, 6 and 8. Their previous nanny is gone on maternity leave and the 6 year old does not seem to be coping very well. He is causing trouble at school and also at home for me and both his parents. I have tried explaining that his previous nanny is only gone to have her baby and that she will be back in a few months and that he will still see her etc. She has cared for him since he was a baby so he was very attached to her. I have talked about his feelings etc with him but no difference, he just seems to be getting worse. Any suggestions on how else to make it easier on him? I have taken him out, spent loads of 1 on 1 time with him. I am really starting to worry as I do not want his schoolwork to suffer.

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