How Should a Nanny Discipline a Child?

Being a nanny is one of the most rewarding careers you can have, as it gives you the opportunity to be a child's teacher and carer, and support them to grow more confident. However, as well as being a caring presence in a child's life, you must also be a figure of respect and discipline, especially for children who exhibit difficult behaviour. Part of your role is to set clear boundaries for a child and help them understand the importance of good behaviour as you prepare them for social interactions in the outside world.

It is essential that younger children learn how to behave well before they start to attend school, as this will help them apply themselves to their education and develop appropriately. For older children, challenging behaviour may be a symptom of a bigger problem - a developmental disorder, for example, or problems at school - and you may be able to help them express and resolve the challenges they are facing by identifying inappropriate behaviour.

While it is often necessary, it can be uncomfortable to switch gears and act as a figure of authority to a child in your care, especially if you share a close bond and are usually viewed as more of a friend. Here, the childcare experts at Nannies Matter will explain how you should approach children's behaviour and positive discipline, prevent behavioural issues from arising, and help a child in your care to meet the standards that are expected of them.

Manage a Child's Behaviour by Understanding the Causes

When it comes to discipline, it is just as important to know what a nanny should avoid doing. There are a number of different techniques you can apply when a child misbehaves. However, many traditional disciplinarian approaches can have a negative impact on a child's health and wellbeing and send the wrong message about how to deal with issues, which is ultimately not effective for behaviour management. This applies especially to using physical punishment, shame or other negative experiences to try to correct behaviour.

It should go without saying that you should never physically punish a child. Punishments like smacking or caning children are illegal and they are not effective in nurturing good behaviour. This approach will damage your relationship with the child, affect their emotional wellbeing and break down trust, which will ultimately make it more difficult to make them behave appropriately. There may also be legal and professional consequences for you. If your employer encourages physical punishment, this is an opportunity to show them that positive encouragement works more effectively.

All of this means that it is vital to learn a more positive approach to behaviour management. To address misbehaviour, try to find the root cause. Does the child exhibit disruptive behaviour on a regular basis, or are you dealing with isolated incidents? Persistent challenging behaviour may be a symptom of some mental health disorders or emotional problems, although you may be able to help the child to make improvements by paying attention to their needs.

Isolated incidents may be caused by a desire for attention, a surplus of energy or an inability to express an emotional problem like feeling upset. In either of the above cases, help your child to talk about how they feel and equip them with a vocabulary they can use to express themselves verbally (instead of through negative behaviour). This is a good way to build your relationship with the child and address the underlying causes of behavioural issues. It can also help you to identify developmental problems in younger children (using the early years foundation stage statutory framework as a guide) and help parents to seek professional help wherever necessary. Alternatively, activities that encourage creativity or enable children to exercise can also help to address negative behaviour.

While a nanny has a degree of freedom when disciplining children, they should ultimately make sure to follow the parents’ guidance as they set the rules of the house.

Reinforce Positive Behaviour in Younger Children

The best way to teach a child appropriate behaviour is to encourage them and give positive feedback when they exhibit good behaviour. Offering positive consequences for good behaviour as part of a reward system will build your relationship with a child and help them to learn without the negativity that comes with punishment. This might include a reward chart, where children can see how engaging in positive behaviours contributes towards their growth and directly rewards them.

Even when taking this approach, you will need to apply discipline when the child breaks the rules. Children often learn by testing boundaries and it is inevitable that they will behave badly at some point. You should view this as an opportunity to teach them, rather than to punish and discourage them.

Remain calm and explain to the child in simple terms the natural consequences of their actions. If they behave selfishly or refuse to share, they will damage their friendships. If they are violent or they lash out, they will hurt people and make their problems worse. Ask them why they behaved as they did, and suggest a positive way that they should express the same emotion or impulse next time. You must be firm and help the child learn that their actions were not acceptable, but you should stay calm - in some cases, children act out because they want attention, and an emotional reaction from a parent or nanny may encourage them to act out again in the future. If you feel it is necessary to punish the child for their negative behaviour, removing progress from a reward chart is one way to do so without taking away anything the child needs, and allows you to demonstrate that there are consequences for their actions.

You should encourage the child to open up about their emotions, but if they are unable to do so, you can suggest other ways for them to express themselves - for example, by writing down their feelings.

It is important that you clearly articulate the specific rules that the child must follow, as this will help to establish clear boundaries and help the child understand the standards they will be expected to meet and obey the rules. Developing this type of open communication between you and a child in your care is paramount in supporting the child throughout the early stages of their development and beyond.

If you are seeking work as a nanny, discipline is just one of the many skills you will need to master. Nannies Matter can help you to understand this by answering your questions such as 'how should a nanny discipline a child?'. If you are looking for work as a nanny, browse our available job opportunities or contact us to apply. Call us on 0800 121 4881 or use the online enquiry form on this page to apply for a role or arrange a call back.

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