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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Nanny Nook: How Do You Deal with Out-of-Control Children?

Writer and nanny, Elizabeth Hawksworth, gives some sage advice for nannies and parents alike when dealing with a complete meltdown.


It really is one of my worst nightmares – dealing with a child who is 100% completely out of control. Oh, tantrums are par for the course with nannying, but when the child has completely lost it? It can be daunting.

For one, there’s so much emotion in that one little body. It’s hard to watch and it’s hard to deal with, because as a nanny, I’m in this because I love kids. Seeing a kid that upset is really upsetting to me, too. I feel the utter desperation and frustration, and sometimes, I’m at a momentary loss as to how to help. How do you rein in emotion that strong?

For another, sometimes they’re that upset because the situation can never feasibly go their way. Either it’s too dangerous, it’s just out of the question, or they’re acting inappropriately and need to be gently corrected. When someone is that upset, they’re not willing to listen to what you have to say. Any well-meaning advice you have is not going to be heard. So what do you do?

I take time. It’s not a time out. I’m not punishing them. We’re just taking time. We stop what we’re doing, sit down if the child wants to sit, hug if the child wants to hug, and just let the storm play itself out. I’ve done this in the middle of the grocery store, at the park, on a walk, and before naptime. Most of the time, the child’s screaming, crying, kicking and hitting subsides quickly when they know I’m just not going to react at all. The silence makes the behaviour seem strange, I think, and it tends to stop sooner than if I cajoled, pleaded and begged them to stop.

After the child is calmer, I ask them if they want to talk about it now or later. Clearly, this method doesn’t work with young toddlers or babies (in that case, I name their emotions and why they’re upset, and give them a lot of hugs and cuddles), but for older kids, giving them the option to address the behaviour allows them to feel more in control. We will be talking about it, but they can choose when. Right now, we’re just working on calming down.

Most children are able to articulate later why they get so upset. They either feel that I wasn’t listening, that I didn’t care, or that I wasn’t going to entertain the option of giving them what they want. All of these reasons may be true – nannies make mistakes and I have been known to try to hurry children along, not listen to what they want to tell me, or not really care that they want ice cream or a toy at the store or what have you. In that case, I apologize. Whether or not I would have given them what they want is beside the point – it’s about giving them the respect that I expect from them. I expect them to listen to me, so I need to return the favour. The tantrum may have still happened, but the child likely would not have felt I was being uncaring or unfair, which is often why anyone gets out of control. We all want to be heard.

How do you deal with children who are out of control? What tips would you give if asked?



  1. these are great tips, thanks for sharing

    Claudia @

  2. All three of mine need different things. One needs me to name emotions and when I hit the right one acknowledge that I know and understand it and explain why things are the way they are (I know you are frustrated that Izzy has the toy but it is her turn. When her turn is over, then you get to play with it. It's frustrating when we can't play with something right away, isn't it? Etc). One of them needs me to completely ignore it while talking cheerfully about normal things. And the other needs me to ask silly questions. We do our routines, they calm down, we move forward.

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