I had a chance to talk with Nanny Whisperer Tammy Gold, LCSW, MSW, CEC, whose book was reviewed recently on these pages. As founder of Gold Parent Coaching, Gold is one of the most sought-after parenting and childcare experts in the country, and is a frequent guest on TV’s Good Morning America and Today.
From your background in child development, what have you discovered about the importance of quality childcare?
As a therapist who worked with children, and a supporter of Attachment Psychology, I knew that quality childcare is critical to a child’s well-being. Two things occur: First, as a child’s brain is growing and developing (90 percent of brain development occurs by age 3), caregivers can have a large effect on cognitive development. By talking, laughing, engaging with and simply responding to a child’s needs, caregivers literally help create neural pathways in the child’s brain.
Second, according to Attachment Psychology (Dr. John Bowlby) and Psychosocial Development (Dr. Erik Erikson), caregivers literally shape who children become. During infancy and the early years, having a loving, responsive, regular group of caregivers allows babies to become attached to others and feel secure. Erikson describes this as learning “trust versus mistrust.”
Babies who have an uninvolved, unresponsive caregiver lose trust and cannot move through each developmental stage. Every developmental stage requires a devoted and loving caregiver who can stimulate and support the child’s developmental milestones. If the caregivers are not paying attention-often on their phone, unsupportive, or not fostering a child’s ability to play, explore and learn-they hinder developmental advancement.
What are some of the common pitfalls parents fall into when they look for a caregiver?
Parents often rush to hire a caregiver and fail to zero in on the important items. Whether it’s choosing a daycare center, a nanny or a babysitter, parents need to allow themselves plenty of time (ideally 3-4 weeks) so they can outline their needs and make good choices.
Studies show that stress interferes with clear thinking, so if parents are stressed and pressed for time they can overlook qualities they are uncomfortable with-such as a nanny who may be too quiet or a daycare center with not enough staff-because they feel pressure to choose.
Parents also tend to look first and figure out later what they need in a caregiver, which wastes time and causes stress. Parents also tend to push themselves to make their hiring decision during the interview phase, but decisions are best made after conducting daycare trials or nanny trials to really assess if the child and caregiver are a match.
Finally, parents often choose a friend’s or relative’s nanny. But just because a nanny was great with another family does not mean that person-or a daycare location-will be right for their own needs.
What would an ideal nanny look like?
The ideal nanny is someone who loves children, has a positive and happy attitude, and is receptive and attentive. Parents tend to focus on a candidate’s education (which can be a plus), but a nanny can have little education and still possess the essential skills to promote cognitive development-such as engaging with children, having the patience to handle and support tantrums and disappointments, and most of all, having a flexible and devoted attitude toward the entire family unit. An ideal nanny is never cranky or snappy; as a paid caregiver, nannies must maintain a personal and professional demeanor for a child’s continued well-being.
If a babysitter comes only occasionally to care for children during hours when they are mostly sleeping, parents need not be as discerning about the babysitter’s manner or level of interaction. However, a nanny who comes regularly from week to week must be warm, upbeat, loving and receptive so that the child feels safe, loved and stimulated.
In my book, Secrets of the Nanny Whisperer, I present a detailed, step-by-step process parents can follow to find, interview, hire, and manage a caregiver who is ideally suited to their child and to the family’s needs.