For many parents, nannies make the world go ‘round. They’re there with our children even when we can’t be, and they often love and adore our children just as much as we do. But it can be difficult, as a parent, to watch your child bond with another person in a way that’s so similar to the bond they share with you. When your toddler bumps her head and goes running for the nanny, even though you just walked in the door, it’s easy to feel like, Hey, what about me?! But there’s an important reason why your children may look to the nanny at the first sign of trouble, and believe it or not, it’s actually a good thing.
First, you should know that your fears about your child’s attachment to the nanny are totally normal. In fact, even the beloved Princess Diana was reportedly hurt by Prince William’s intense attachment to his nanny, so much so that rumors circulated that Diana had let the nanny go because she was “jealous.” But worrying that your child will love the nanny more than you doesn’t make you overly emotional or jealous; it makes you a normal, loving parent who is experiencing the same fears and worries that almost any mom or dad has in a caregiver situation. Still, no matter how normal your fears, you should also know that your child’s love for the nanny is healthy and will never, ever diminish their love for you.
“What I find is the biggest fear in situations like this is parents feel like the child will perceive the nanny as being their mom, and I will say, that will never happen,” says The Nanny Doctor Lindsay Heller, a prominent nanny consultant and childcare expert. “A child always knows who their parent is and who their caregiver is, and they can have healthy attachments simultaneously with both of them.”
And, in fact, being able to form a secure attachment to a nanny can be read as a sign of how closely attached your child is to you. According to British psychologist John Bowlby’s theory of attachment in child development, a child is demonstrating secure attachment when they are “strongly disposed to seek proximity to and contact with a specific figure and to do so in certain situations, notably when he is frightened, tired or ill.” Once the child experiences that depth of attachment, he notes, they develop the courage to explore away from their primary caregiver, which includes not just being away from them in proximity, but also developing other kinds of bonds and relationships. In other words, you, as a parent, are your child’s first physical and emotional home base, and your attachment gives him or her the ability to explore, try new things, face new situations, and yes, even develop other secure attachments.
“When a family has a nanny that a child is really attached to, that can be really wonderful because they have developed a bond with the person who is responsible for their emotional wellbeing and physical safety, and that’s what we want,” says Heller.
On the other hand, if your child was not attached to their nanny, that could actually put them at risk. “They might not listen to that person in the same way, they might run into the street, they might do things that might harm them,” notes Heller. “But if they have a strong bond of attachment, the child is going to listen to the nanny more.”
So, the next time your child runs to the nanny to show off the picture they just drew or cries for the nanny when they get hurt, know that you hired an amazing caregiver who makes your child feel safe, and that it’s your love that has given your child the tools they need to feel attached to their nanny in the first place.
And if there is a distressing moment when the nanny leaves and your child is upset or crying, honor those feelings, says Heller. “One error would be saying, ‘You don’t think that,’ or, ‘You don’t feel that way,’ or, ‘Don’t tell me about that,’ and squashing those feelings,” she explains. “Instead, you want to reflect the feelings that you’re seeing your child having.”
Tell your child that you understand they’re upset that it’s time for the nanny to go home, but you’ll see him or her again tomorrow or on Monday, and remind them that their nanny always comes back. If they’re still experiencing strong emotions even after the nanny leaves, you can also let them do an activity to help them process those feelings, like drawing the nanny a picture or writing him or her a note to be given to them the next day.
They may be upset about the nanny going home, but they’re turning to you for love and comfort in that situation, because ultimately they know that you are their safest place, no matter what.