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Disagreement Dilemma: How Nannies Can Cope With Arguing Parents

May 21, 2014

arguingparentsIt is an understatement to say that being caught in the middle of a disagreement between your employers can put you in an awkward position as a nanny. Even witnessing the disagreement or argument can make the home and your job environment uncomfortable and, at times, unbearable.

Although it is inevitable that family members will have disagreements, finding strategies to discuss the arguing with your employers and putting the focus on the children may help to clear the air and minimize disagreements over time.

The Ripple Effect

It’s important to point out how disagreements affect the entire family. Even in the happiest couples, arguments are part of how disagreements are worked out, says Dr. Tamar Chansky, Philadelphia-based psychologist and author of “Freeing Yourself from Anxiety.” The issue for children is what they are exposed to and what messages are being sent, she says.

“Disagreements are not harmful if they are handled safely and respectfully and importantly, if they are resolved,” says Chansky. “What is de-stabilizing for children is when there is unresolved or unfinished conflict or hostility between parents.” If the latter is true in your household, it’s likely that the children feel scared, unsafe and responsible for cleaning up or fixing the issue.

“They also see the parents are upset and if they are not taking care of themselves to calm themselves down or console themselves, then children feel burdened and responsible to cheer their parents up or fix the problem,” says Chansky. “That’s a tall order for any child because when they can’t fix the problems, they feel anxious and think the conflict is their fault or that somehow they are the problem.”

It may be difficult to bring up this issue with the parents, but if you carefully explain how the children are affected, it may help them see the light and work toward a more cooperative way to communicate with each other.

As the nanny, know that many arguments grow out of frustration – when parents feel drained or do not have enough time to engage with each other without the pressure of work and responsibilities with the children. Help them plan some time alone so that they have a chance to ‘date’ each other once again.

Make it a ‘Mom and Dad’ Thing

When the children in your care witness an argument or disagreement between their parents, you can ease their mind by explaining that the issue is between mom and dad. It is inevitable that children will overhear or witness a disagreement, so you can explain that sometimes people don’t always agree, but it doesn’t mean they don’t love or care for one another. Try providing scenarios of how siblings argue and disagree but ultimately find a resolution and learn to play with each other.

If you have a curious child wanting to know every little detail, make it clear that some disagreements are for adults. “Parents don’t need to (and often it wouldn’t be appropriate to) explain what the arguments are about, but without being withholding, rather being reassuring, just explain this is a ‘mom and dad’ thing,” says Chansky. “Help them know that mom and dad love each other and sometimes they disagree so they have to talk it through so that they understand each other.”

Chansky recommends helping the children cope by testing their knowledge with a back and forth round of questions, such as “So whose job is it to fix the disagreements?” and “Right, it’s mom and dad’s.” This will help children to see where the responsibility lies.

In addition, suggest that parents allow the children to express their feelings when they witness disagreements. Phrases such as “What can you do when mom and dad are arguing?” and “You can tell us that it is bothering you if it is or you can play with your toys” help offer the child a voice in the matter.

While vocalizing your concerns to your employers, always stay positive and avoid placing blame. Emphasize that your primary concern is the well being of the children and that the communication barriers have taken a toll on the entire family. If you refrain from passing judgment, the parents will soon see that you have their child’s best interest at heart and, hopefully, will work to minimize the disagreements in the household.


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