babysitter is disrespectful of toddler
This is my first time contacting a counselor for parenting
advice. I am doing attachment parenting with my 19 month old
daughter, and something troubling happened to her and I in church
today. I could really use some advice on how to deal with this
type of situation:
My husband, daughter Anna & I went to church today; it was my
turn to care for her so he could listen to the service without
interruption. We have decided not to leave her in the nursery
there, unless one of us is with her. I decided to take her up
there and let her play with the toys while I stayed in the same
room. She was staying near me, watching the one other child there
and the babysitter. The woman who was babysitting started to talk
to Anna, asking her why she was looking at her (the babysitter),
asking why she was just sitting on my lap, saying "why are
you looking at me like that?" "why don't you come down
and play?" "why do you have that look on your
face?" and similar questions. I was uncomfortable with Anna
being bombarded with these questions - I replied that Anna was
just checking her out, and to just let her be, she would join in
when she was ready. But after a couple minutes the babysitter
again started asking the same questions, and again I said just let
her be, she's fine, I'm her mother, I'm taking care of her, etc.
This time the babysitter got upset with me, said she had to get to
know the children in her care (I told her I planned to stay with
Anna), said I was rude, said she'd been working in daycare for 9
years, and always spoke to children that way. She said she wanted
to understand; I then asked her how she would feel if she were
questioned that way; she replied that people often asked her those
kind of questions, which I find hard to believe. I did not want a
confrontation, I just wanted her to not harass my daughter. We
ended up not having an understanding; I feel very badly about that
and am wondering how I could have better handled this situation.
My husband pointed out that this babysitter perhaps felt I
was invading her turf; yet, she's been an employee of my church
for less than 2 months. I've been a member for years, and also
work at this church occasionally as organist.
I have a hard time with people saying/doing annoying things
to my daughter. The foot-pulling, cheek-pinching, seems so
disrespectful; also Anna dislikes it when people get "in her
face" such as when they come within inches of her face and
loudly say "Hi" and other things, especially when she
doesn't know them. People have made her cry sometimes by doing
these things to her. I don't know how to get people to be
respectful of her; I am frequently shocked at how babies are
treated as though they have no feelings. I have started asking
people who are new to Anna to go easy at first, to leave her alone
and let her get to know them first. Sometimes people are gracious,
sometimes not. I don't seem to have a good way to deal with these
situations. Today's situation was the farthest I've gone in
standing up for what I think is right. But it didn't go well. Any
advice, sympathy, pithy comebacks, would be greatly appreciated.
- Name withheld
I'm so sorry to hear that you had this frustrating experience!
It's always hard to know what to say in these awkward situations,
especially in a fellowship like a church where our relationships
are important to us, in a place that we often attend, and where it
is expected that we will be polite and flexible.
From your description, it sounds like you did a great job of
standing up for your daughter! You recognized that her personal
space was being invaded and you said the right kinds of things to
stand up for her. We all hope that we can do this in a way that is
100% non-confrontational, and that no one's feelings will be hurt
and no one will be upset or angry. The reality is that it just
won't always be possible to avoid confrontation, but over time it
does get easier to speak out in a way that protects your child
without hurting the other person's feelings. It also gets easier
to accept someone's reactions without taking it personally!
Standing up for our child is often the first time in our lives
where assertiveness becomes a necessary skill. But this skill
takes time to develop, whether by trial and error or through
assertiveness books and classes.
Let me assure you that no parent knows right from their child's
birth how to handle these tricky situations! I have been a parent
for 19 years now and I still have difficulty knowing how best to
intervene on behalf of children. I'm sorry to say that sometimes I
just lose it, despite all of my best intentions. But even at those
times when I haven't spoken out on behalf of a child, or have
spoken in a less than caring way, I always think of things I
should have said, and that has helped me the next time. We all
need experience to learn how best to deal with people who don't
"get it" that children deserve to be treated with
dignity and respect. It can be very difficult in our society,
because for the most part, children are not taken seriously, and
their rights are not well understood or respected.
Adults who prod, question, badger, or otherwise bother a child
don't expect to be stopped or even questioned, because what they
are doing is considered "normal". Standing up for
children is a new skill for a parent to learn - and it's also a
new experience for the adults whose behavior we are questioning.
Because of the newness on both sides, we just won't always know
the very best thing to do. But it's important to do our best, and
to realize that our child always counts on our help. It's like the
slogan we're considering for a bumper sticker: "If you aren't
on your child's side, who will be?"
One practical way to discourage people from intruding on your
daughter's space is to carry her in a sling or hold her close to
you. Most adults are less likely to invade your personal space
than your daughter's - even though she deserves that respect no
less than you do. Toddlers are usually happier to be carried or
held, and that should ease the situation that much more.
For good "comebacks", I would say you're right on
track - it's best to keep things simple, honest, and
straightforward. It can be helpful to memorize a few key phrases,
such as these:
"Thank you for your friendliness, but she needs some time
to warm up with new people." (try to avoid labeling her as
"shy" which has negative connotations in our society)
"I know you just want to be friendly, but this is
something she doesn't like us to do."
"She needs quiet time right now."
"She need to rest now. Please come back later."
Unfortunately, many adults in our society mistrust and actually
dislike children, even those who are in professions working with
children. And many adults don't make the effort to understand the
causes of a child's behavior - they focus on the behavior alone
and jump to the wrong conclusions - in large part because they
simply don't know our child as well as we do. If you have trouble
getting through, it can help to use the "broken record"
technique. Just keep repeating the phrases. Eventually they will
stop what they're doing. But if they can't, then the best answer
may be to avoid that person as far as possible. In the situation
you describe, it may even be appropriate in the future to call
this behavior to the attention of the minister if it persists.
It's important for your daughter - and for your relationship
with her - to let people know that she needs and deserves her own
personal space. This is an appropriate request even if the person
doesn't understand or like what we are saying. Unfortunately,
there will always be some people who will be offended by our
statements no matter how carefully phrased. But most people will
respect our requests if reasonably expressed and explained. And
even if they don't "get it" immediately, it can sink in
over time. The babysitter will have a week to think over what you
told her, and may surprise you with more understanding behavior
If you feel that something needs to be said to the babysitter
the next time you see her, you might try something like this:
"I know we have some different ideas about children, but I'd
really like us to work together to make Anna's experience in the
nursery as happy and positive as possible. From what I know of
Anna, she needs some time to warm up to a new person or situation.
It would help if for the first while, you just let me watch Anna
while she plays. I'm sure she'll be more comfortable with you when
she gets to know you."
I commend you for standing up for your child and for wanting to
do that in a way that avoids hurting anyone. With these good
intentions, you can't miss - you'll develop the necessary
assertiveness from future experiences, and it will get
I'd like to add a caution about something here, even though you
didn't ask about it. In many church nurseries and day cares,
parents who are not present are not always told when their
children have been crying, hurt, or distressed. I have seen this
happen often in church nurseries and classes. It's ironic that we
can't always trust adult caregivers to be honest with us, even in
a church setting. It's good that you stayed with your daughter!
These articles may give you more ideas:
There is an excellent web site on handling verbal abuse in an
assertive yet kind way at www.DrIrene.com.
Another site with information on assertive communication skills
is at www.growthgroups.com/AssertivenessWorkbook.htm.