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Lessons From the Nanny: What Every Family Should Know

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Mothers know best, but you'd be surprised at how much the nanny knows. Years of experience taking care of children of all temperaments, from all types of families and environments gives nannies a unique perspective on what works with kids and what doesn't, including interesting twists on common child care practices. Elizabeth Lebherz (Lizzie), a popular nanny and babysitter on with more than 10 years of experience with kids of all ages, spills the beans on a few lessons parents can learn from her experience.

1. Routines are truly essential for happy, well-behaved kids.
Why are routines so important even when it's difficult to get kids to adhere to them? Routines ensure kids know what to expect from their day and understand what is expected of them, which gives them confidence in their environment and in themselves. Consistent routines also create comfort and security. "One of the things I've seen again and again, across all of the families I've helped over the years, is that the kids who have the most consistent routines are typically the happiest and most well adjusted," said Lizzie. "It can be as simple as providing a regular nap and sleep schedule along with a consistent eating schedule. Making those two things consistent in a kid's life can really impact his temperament and well being."

2. Rules (and roles) are meant to be broken.
As hard as we work to establish healthy routines and serve as responsible role models for our children, it's also essential to let kids be kids and sometimes act like a kid ourselves. "While it's important for kids to understand that their dinner and bedtime will be around the same time each night, letting there be a little wiggle room is good for both parents and kids," said Lizzie. "I've found that kids are happiest and will eat and sleep better when they're around adults who are more relaxed. When I get down to a kid's level, playing chase or going up and down the slide a million times, both of us acting like kids, it relaxes them and helps them feel safe being their silly selves. They also typically wear themselves out, and happily fall asleep without complaint. They feel like they are playing with a friend, and at the end of the day they know who is in charge and will respect that."

3. A nanny or babysitter isn't your temporary stand-in, she's your teammate.
When you've hired a sitter so you can enjoy a meal with your spouse without having to dodge chicken fingers flung from the high chair, the last thing you want to do is prepare a meal for the kids before you leave home. It's tempting to leave it up to the babysitter, after all, isn't that why you are paying her? Not really. "When you consistently leave me a box of mac and cheese to feed the kids when you're out for the night, they begin to relate the meal to me -- not healthy and not fun," said Lizzie. "You can help me do a better job by doing a bit of prep work, maybe leaving cut-up fruit or a dinner your kids are excited about. Together, we can create a healthy, entertaining environment for your kids."

The same goes for bedtimes. Families and nannies should work together to create a routine that works for everyone involved. If you want to spend more time with your kids when you get home from work and are consequently lax about getting them to bed, you're likely leaving the nanny with tired, cranky kids to deal with the next day. A team has to support its members, all of them, in order to be successful and effective.

4. We all need to know our boundaries.
Kids need to know who's in charge. That means handing over the reigns to the nanny when she arrives, and making it clear to your kids that she's in charge in your absence. It also means not lingering too long at hand-off, which only confuses kids and makes any separation anxieties worse. Make sure you respect your sitter's authority while you're away, and have her back when you return. For instance, backing up a discipline consequence she's given while you were away shows her and your kids that you respect her decisions. "I was the nanny for a family with a mom who worked from home," said Lizzie. "She was constantly checking in on us, which made it really difficult for the child to know who was in charge. It made it really hard for me to do my job."

There's a lot we as parents can learn from the talented, loving people we hire to care for our children. While we certainly know our own children better than anyone else, sometimes the nannies and sitters who care for them may be able to share some insights that we're just too close to see on our own.