M.M. asks from Edmonds, WA on April 29, 2009
7 Year Old Acting up for Babysitters
Help! My 7 year old daughter has been causing trouble for our babysitters, to the point where they don't want to babysit for us anymore. My daughter is very sensitive, and always thinks the babysitter is playing more with my 9 year old, or with the neighbor kids if they are all outside. Then she goes inside to pout, and once she even locked herself in the bathroom. She yells at them that she hates them. Something always comes up to make her mad, whether it's that or playing a game, or whatever. She also doesn't go to bed for them, getting up repeatedly, and generally disobeying. She can be moody and grumpy for us, too, but most often she is nice, gentle, obedient, and can easily be joked into a better mood. She's a great student at school, ballet, and piano, always listening to her instructors. A neighbor told me it sounds like a power struggle. However, I don't know how to regain the power, or to give it to the babysitters. Part of me wants to just have the babysitter be more firm, and either ignore her or order her to do things, but I guess they won't do that...? Any advice is welcome. Thank you!
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So What Happened?™
Thank you to everyone who responded. It was great to get so many good ideas to try. We've had two babysitters since my message, and I had talks with both my daughter and the sitter, incorporating many of your ideas. The first time, she still didn't go to bed for the sitter, but the sitter didn't follow what we had said either. The second time, with a different sitter, went spectacularly! Probably experiencing the repercussions after the last time helped, but the babysitter had nothing bad to report at all, and bedtime was smooth! We're definitely heading in the right direction, and I will keep all of your suggestions in mind. Thanks so much!
E.W. answers from Seattle on April 30, 2009
My daughter also tends to act naughty with babysitters. She learned quickly that teenage girls are a lot nicer than Moms and don't know how to or want to discipline.
You could look for older babysitters. Maybe set up trading childcare with another couple.
When I have to use a teenager, before I go I get the babysitter and my daughter together. I tell my daughter (in front of the babysitter) I expect her to ... and I tell the babysitter (in front of my daughter) "you just heard that my daughter said she is going to obey you just like she obeys me. I want you to tell me anything she does that is not obedient." Then I tell my daughter, "If ... "Sally" tells me you did not obey her, ... (name the consequence. Make it one that she actually won't like.) THEN if there are typical misbehaviors, talk about that with the two of them. Like you said she sometimes locks herself in someplace. Say, "if you get angry with a decision sally makes, what are you going to do? Are you going to lock yourself in?" Get her commitment to wise choices. Then say, "I expect you to accept sally's choices. She has to divide her time. She cannot be focusing her attention on you ALL the time." Do this right before you leave, so it is all fresh.
As far as consequences, of course you know best, but if she is mean to the babysitter, then the NEXT time you ahve a babysitter, don't ALLOW her to be a part of that. Say, because you did not treat the babysitter with respect ... either stay in her room or come with you but have to read a book in the corner. Something really boring that causes her to wish she was having fun with the babysitter.
Also, if she gives the babysitter a hard time, then I make my daughter make her a card with an apology, listing the things she did that were naughty and pledging to behave better next time. This makes the babysitter more likely to come back, and teaches your daughter she can't just get away with things like that.
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L.U. answers from Seattle on April 29, 2009
M. - Your babysitter needs to let your daughter know who is boss, and when she is babysitting, the BABYSITTER is boss.
I used to watch a little girl, 6, who would do the same thing. Tell me she hated me, pout in her room, have temper tantrums...ect. I used to go in and try and talk with her, tell her how great she was (even when she was acting up), offer the sun and the moon. Nothing worked. So I decided that when she wanted to misbehave or pout then she could do it on her own. I would let her know that her behavior was not acceptable and that she would be in time-out for her 6 minutes. I would stick my head in the room to tell her when it was over, and let her know that she could come out when she apologized. She didn't like that. She stayed in her room for an hour and a half until she was ready to make nice. I didn't go in and look for her once, she knew that she could come out, she just wanted to sulk. The next couple of times became shorter and shorter, and soon she just figured out that I was not going to enter into a power struggle with her. When she figured out that MY rules (which were the same as her mothers) were the ones she was going to follow, then she became much easier to watch.
You did not say how old your babysitters were. It is hard when it is young ladies watching your daughter, and I think your neighbor is spot on. it's a power struggle.
You need to let her know that when she is being watched by someone else that she is expected to behave just like she would with you. You need to let your babysitters know that they have the power to discipline and guide the way that THEY see fit (of course you want to be sure you are all on the same page). And when your daughter comes and tells you that the babysitter is being mean, I would maybe have the three of you (sitter, daughter and yourself) sit down and talk about her behavior.
Good Luck! L.
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D.H. answers from Seattle on April 30, 2009
How old is the babysitter you get? I only ask, because in certain situations, if the babysitter is younger and has less experience, it is easy for the child to manipulate the situation. I suggest maybe getting a sitter who is very experienced, and maybe has younger siblings. Another suggestion is a babysitting service where it's an adult woman. In the meantime, I see a couple things you could nip in the bud....#1 Have the sitter keep the kids in the yard, or indoors, no friends over, no going anywhere. That keeps the jealousy to a dull roar. #2 Sitter needs to keep the key on her person if they do go outside so she can get back in. #3 Maybe the sitter needs to focus on doing things with both kids, games, coloring, popcorn and a movie. Obviously your daughter doesn't like having a sitter. I use to find out who my kids wanted to come sit, then before the sitter came, we went out and got special treats for the evening so they would have a fun treat in my absence....amde it a big deal...something to look forward to. I also use to talk to the mom of the girl who was sitting, explain some of the issues, and ask her if she'd be willing to come over and help out if her daughter (sitter) called her for assistance. I just tried to cover all my bases so my children knew they weren't in control. I don't think the sitter acting more strict will help...she's not mom and "you can't make me" behave. Sometimes I called at bedtime and talked to my child. I also had a talk with my child and explained that if I had to cut my evening short and come home, there would be consequences and I meant it. I cut my evening short a time or two (follow through) and I don't think my children wanted that to happen again. I only had consequences for the offender though. If your daughter won't stay in bed, then you decide ahead of time what you want the sitter to do....tell the sitter in front of your 7 yo. what you expect and then that impowers the sitter, lay out what discipline you want her to use. I babysat for a family once, the kids never wanted to stay in bed. The parents told me in front of the kids "if XXX and XXX don't stay in bed after you put them to bed, I want you to sit in the doorway and read a book, magazine, and ignore them (whatever they were doing in the room) and I'll take care of the problem when I get home. So I would ignore them talking, dancing, jumping on the bed, etc. and I just sat in a chair in the doorway and did crossword puzzles. Things have changed a bit, now the sitter will probably text message! LOL.
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M.P. answers from Portland on April 30, 2009
I agree with Laura. If it'a a power struggle both parties are participating.
How old are your babysitters? How much experience do they have?
If your babysitters are young I don't know that they can opt out of the power struggle.
Often babysitters are as young as 12 or 13. That is when my daughter started babysitting. She wouldn't have known how or been able to deal with the behavior you're describing.
When my daughter was young her babysitter was a college student. Yes, she was more expensive but she had the maturity and experience to do a wonderful job. She was old enough to not be seen as part of the kid's group by the kids. She was confident and thus could be firm. She didn't need to be friends with kids so there was no competition for her attention. She paid attention to all of them. She did play with the kids but the play was an adult with a child and not children all playing together. I don't know if this fits with your situation. I'm just throwing it out in case it does fit.
If the babysitter is in reality one of the kids, you're right that suggesting that she be more firm and that she ignore your daughter will not help. A child does not have the maturity to consistently do that.
No matter the age of your babysitter I suggest that you'll need to start over with a different sitter. It's difficult to change dynamics once they've reached the point that the sitter refuses to sit. Discuss with the new sitter the difficulties that the other sitters had with her and plan together how she would be able to handle it. If the sitter doesn't have plans for how to interact with your girls, discuss possibilities that would include both girls.
Have you talked with your 7 yo about her behavior? What is her side of the story? If you're able to listen to the under tone of what she says you may be able to clue in the babysitter on how to deal with your daughter's feelings. Also what does your 9 yo say? Is she, perhaps without realizing it, making the situation more difficult? For example; is she monompolizing the sitter's attention or giving her younger sister a bad time?
I wouldn't let the babysitter and the girls play outside with other kids. That does make the babysitter more of an equal. It also adds to the difficulty of babysitting by setting up a more complex situation. There are too many kids for her to know what is going on with your two.
Another suggestion is that you stay at home while the sitter is there for a time or two so that you can see the dynamics. This may help you know what to do and say to the sitter and your girls.
I also don't know how often or for how long the sitter is there. Having an occasional sitter requires different skills than having one every day or most days.
It may help if you have a list of rules written down along with consequences for violating those rules and then go over the list with the sitter and your children.
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J.W. answers from Seattle on April 30, 2009
Sibling rivalry can be the cause of the discord between the girls. You think you know and see everything between your kids, but a lot more goes on than most parents know. So you need to sit down and talk with both of them at the same time. The arguments belong to both of them, their reactions are their own, so sit them both down and let them know that the bickering has to stop or they will find themselves sitting in their rooms reading, etc. away from friends in the neighborhood, etc. The older daughter should be more inclusive of the younger sister when playing outside.
Now when it comes to the babysitters, 'giving them power?', why do you have them if not to discipline when there is a need? To have them there to just sit back and watch is a waste. It's like watching a train wreck when all you have to do is switch the tracks. If your girls are fighting that much, you need to correct the problem before it gets that much more serious.
You say your daughter does well at school and her extra curricular activities. The focus is on her and there is a defined routine. Maybe you're not giving her the attention she needs and craves. Make time for each of your girls, one on one. Then take them places or do things two on one. Don't compare their behaviors or make comments about how you did such and such with #1 daughter when talking to #2. Have you taken a few moments without an audience to ask her what's wrong or why? If this continues, talk to their pediatrician, ask for help.
I wish you well. The relationship that the girls build today will last a life time.
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W.C. answers from Seattle on April 30, 2009
A couple of suggestions. When you have babysitters, no visitors. That way there are no distractions. Take of the locks of all the rooms so she can't lock herself in any room.
Try offering a really special reward for no trouble during a babysitting time. Like going to a movie, or trip shopping, new clothes, special time with mom or dad, etc. Things she really likes. You can use a chart and give her two or three chances to mess up. Don't expect perfection from her--she is high strung, as my mother would say--and you will never get smooth sailing from her.
Good luck. W.
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B.M. answers from Portland on April 30, 2009
My first thought is how often do you have them being watched by someone else? How often does your 7 year old have time with you? Perhaps the babysitter can do games with everyone invovled. Taking turns who picks the game. It might be that she does feel left out or that she is in need of more time with mom or dad. I am only a parent of a 5 and 2 yr old so I am not there yet, but I know that kids can be sensitive to things we really did not think they were tuned into as well.. Hope this helps
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H.D. answers from Portland on April 30, 2009
I have to agree wholeheartedly that, in this case, teenagers might not be the best babysitters for you. I've worked with kids for a long time, and even in my first years, I don't know that I would have been emotionally capable from disengaging in a situation like that. Remembering what it was like to be a teen, I know that there's a lot of pressure not to screw up when watching someone's children. It's a hard for anyone who isn't an adult and secure in what they are doing.
I realize that staying home constantly won't really do, either. We all need to get out.
As someone who has nannied for families with difficult children in the past, what worked well was to make clear boundaries and to be consistent with follow-through. This didn't always have to be a punishment, but certainly there were moments when the children needed to go chill out and come back when they could be around others without being disruptive. Sometimes we had to try it a few times, and I was always willing to listen when the child was talking (not shouting) at me, but for the most part, the child needs clear directions on what it is we want them to do.
One way you could address this is to give your daughter some clear, positive directions about what happens when the babysitter comes. (make sure you talk to your sitter about this in advance.) Let her have her feelings, but give them a context. "It's not okay for you to scream at the sitter, even if you are mad. If you are so mad you have to scream, I want you to scream into your pillow. When you are ready to talk about why you are upset, you can share that with the sitter. She isn't able to hear you unless you can talk to her. If you need to be alone, you can go to your room and ask to be alone if anyone follows you. Just come out when you are ready."
I'd also let your daughter know that getting along with sitters is something she is just going to have to do, and that she is going to have to figure out how to do that. Let her know that you, too, want to listen if she wants to share with you, esp. if she has any ideas. Once again, finding an adult sitter who has the experience to work as a team with you will be helpful in the long run. It may cost more money, but ultimately, it's worth it.
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