Nanny Knows Best

Although Mary Poppins may have saved the day with "a spoon full of sugar", Nanny V employs a more pragmatic approach. No magic, just simple love, attention and consistency. And a healthy dose of humour.

Pets and kids

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on Monday, 17 November 2014
My childhood pet was a goldfish. I wanted a barn owl but mum bought me a goldfish. I couldn’t cuddle or pat Sunny but he was a good listener when I was sent to my room and needed to voice my frustrations. Although I daydreamed about telling John Travolta whose face was plastered on my walls, how unfair my life was, Sunny’s meditative laps of his fishbowl brought me calm.

A family pet, whether dog, cat, or chameleon, encourages a child’s social, physical, emotional and cognitive development.

Keeping the family pet alive and hygienic can be a child’s first step in taking responsibility and even if part of the routine falls to you, there is still a mutual understanding and need for being reliable. Pets make a good vehicle for learning a concept I’d wish more adults would also embrace.

Because of the special bond that often develops between pet and child, pets can sometimes fill the role of comforter. Since the relationship is non-judgemental, a hurting child might be more willing to trust a pet than a person, and with this trust comes companionship, an early practice for socialising.

As 25% of UK households have a dog it’s a great opportunity for children to get outdoors to play. Or maybe take the pet guinea pig for a walk in the stroller. Take vegetable scraps to the bunny in the garden. Spending time with animals away from electronic gadgets in the fresh air is healthy for both body and brain.

Research has also shown that pets make great reading buddies at home and at school. Some schools have reading programs, a fun experience for kids especially if they get nervous reading in front of other kids and adults.

“I think it takes away the children’s inhibitions when they’re reading so they’re not judged by their peer group or anybody”, says Mary Sulter who runs a Canine Classrooms Program in Australian Schools.

“It’s really beneficial and not only for reading but their overall development and self-confidence”, she adds.

So consider adopting a wonderful addition to your family, one that is right for your situation and one that will benefit the family, including mum and dad.

Thank heaven for little girls

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on Monday, 10 November 2014
Growing up isn’t easy. Learning who you are and how to fit in can be confusing, sometimes a sad struggle and I often wonder how we adults can ease this development and make it the enjoyable time it should be.

Life is a long road but if  “a girl’s self-esteem peaks when she is about 9 before it nosedives”; the beginning can have a profound and lasting impact on the journey ahead.

Yes, we are not all happy every moment of every day and yes, sometimes our confidence can be fragile. However, how we teach and, more importantly, show girls how to deal with the internal and external pressures can make a difference on many levels.

Take for example, body image. Apart from the physical development with puberty, there are the hormones to contend with, the magazines and images of female perfection, peers and boys. Just one of these issues is a battle, collectively, ingredients for all-out war.

It’s ok if they want to play princess and dress up and it’s ok if they don’t. It’s not ok to dress the way fashion editors want you to dress and it is ok to dress the way they dress. More often than not, there’s a great disparity as designers mostly look rubbish in the clothes their models wear.

Show the joy; teach curiosity, question norms, talk, talk, talk. And get dads involved. Hanging out with a dad who gives unconditional love and attention (without the overindulgence of consumerism) is a precious gift.

When a girl knows her dad thinks she is beautiful, and tells her, repeatedly, it’s a feeling no-one else can spoil.

And if I may quote the delicious Dawn French, “he told me I was completely beautiful, said how amazing I looked and warned that I would get loads of attention (from boys) and that I ought to choose the best. I went on cloud nine to that party, and I’ve actually never left that party. It was armour.”

There are many books, quotes, affirmations and any number of smart people who have good advice. My simple offering is to love, hug and talk. Lots.

How was school today?

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on Friday, 31 October 2014
If you have a teen who doesn’t talk, you know this question or starting any conversation about their thoughts and emotions can be more challenging than expecting (take your pick), a clean bedroom, a reasonable bedtime, or ignoring their ringing mobile phone.

The chatty munchkin who only yesterday couldn’t wait to tell you all about, well, EVERYTHING, almost overnight has become mute or barely able to offer, “fine”, “good”, same as yesterday”. So you give them a little time, and hope the poppet you know and love just needs a little space.

Hormones have much to answer for, but more than likely, you will have to become more creative about reconnecting. The simple questions you once asked to help you understand and check-in with their development and state of mind may no longer be effective. You may also need a more subtle approach if your teen suddenly has also become secretive or defensive.

Try a little humour. You will probably look uncool, weird, and just plain old, but if you get more than a monosyllabic response, you have leapt a great divide.

So here are a few openers:-
  • Did your teacher stand on her head or sing the whole lesson today?
  • Would you like pig’s feet or chicken’s feet for lunch?
  • By the way, I have organised Harry Potter to help you with your homework this week.
  • If aliens landed in your school tomorrow, which teacher would you buy a one way ticket back to their planet?

As a nanny and a parent your skills as a therapist, tutor, chef, and the many other hats you wear require regular modification when you have a teenager. What you do one day with success does not mean it will also work next week. It’s not always easy but it can be fun. Well, sometimes.

Dining out

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on Monday, 27 October 2014
Children are messy. Sometimes loud, naughty and frustratingly disobedient. And yet there are parents who expect cafes and restaurants to smile politely as they step over little Sarah in the midst of a tantrum or balance a tray of hot drinks as Mr Timmy dashes past.

"If you are looking for a cafe with a children’s menu, baby chinos, a play area, lounges for your children to jump on, vast space for your prams, an area for your children to run rampant, and annoy other customers, whilst you are oblivious to them - then the short answer is No we are not child friendly," was the online response from a café owner who had one too many exasperating moments.

And rightly so.

It perplexes me why parents imagine their little darlings would somehow miraculously become little angels when dining out or that fellow customers could be enchanted by their disruptive misbehaviour.

"I have been subjected to children emptying salt and pepper shakers into my fireplaces, parents changing nappies on my lounges, kids grinding their own food into my carpet, parents sitting babies in nappies in the middle of dining tables, kids running around the cafe like it's a formula 1 track, jumping on the furniture, screaming - just for fun - not pain, and encouraged by their parents, upsetting the rest of the customers and I'd really just had enough,” the post continues.

Parents, nannies, grannies, and pops, I blame you for putting too much responsibility on the children in your care. Why do you expect them to behave differently from when you ask them to sit still at your dinner table at home?

So before you venture out with the mini-me’s in tow, check out the child-friendly establishments who welcome you with open arms. They love chaos, the crumbs, are deaf to the squeals, have extra toys if you’ve forgot yours, and most of all; they want you to come back again, and again.

And let me allow our weary café owner the last word.

"And yes, I am a mother. A single mother at that. Instead of being a "burden" on society, I scrimped every last penny and put it into this cafe, and I'm very proud of it. When I have to stand there and watch people disrespect and damage MY belongings and property, it breaks a piece of my heart every time”.

Smart kids

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on Monday, 20 October 2014
Children are taught 1 + 1 = 2, reading, and writing, for an equal start in life. But where and how they are taught is far from equal and varies greatly on the school they attend.

The notion that a university education ensures more success in life is quite ingrained in society, education being fundamental to prosperity. So how do you provide your children with the opportunities to excel and fulfil their potential?
Catherine Stoker is an Education Consultant who advises parents how to choose a school best suited to each child’s personality and ability. “Their educational focus is not just on academic excellence, but on offering pupils diverse opportunities to develop their capabilities in Sport, Music, Art and Design, or The Arts.”

The right school may not always be the best private institution money can buy, “…as a shy child may need to build their confidence through the small, nurturing environment of a private school, while a sibling may be out-going and confident, so attending the right state school may suit them just as well,” she suggests.

Another avenue to consider is joining an after-school or weekend club. A US study from Brigham University reports, “...teenagers who take part in extracurricular activities with students who achieve good grades, have double the chance of going to university”.

It reinforces the notion that peer groups do have an impact on behaviour, both positive and the not so desirable.

“Students who mix with bright students are more motivated and do achieve more highly. They will be mixing with kids with high aspirations and talking about university as a given, opening up a whole range of possibilities”.

Apparently the club or activity does not need to necessarily be academic to improve school grades, as the focus is to “hang out” in chess club, ballet classes, tennis coaching, or even art lessons with the smart kids. If your child is interested in coin/stamp collection or astronomy, the internet is a good place to start to find other like-minded enthusiasts, and maybe start your own club.

“Children who are with other high achievers will always tend to achieve higher because they are aware it’s possible and that they too can do it,” says the co-author Lance Erickson.

It may take more time and energy in your day to help motivate your children or simply drive them to and fro, and Mr Erickson warns that if you don’t “… they are more likely to end up living at your house because they won’t be going to university”.

“How long?”

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