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Is Your Caregiver Undermining Your Parenting?

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Guest blogger Erik Fisher, a.k.a. Dr. E: We live in a time when so many of our kids are in childcare, and while there is a modicum of research that tells us that childcare is not detrimental to our children, it is well known that the people who care for our children can have a profound influence on them for the rest of their lives.

I qualify "caregivers" as childcare workers from infancy through toddlerhood: in-home nannies, family members and even educators. There are many qualified, well-meaning people who help care for children every day, at many ages of our children's development. As parents, many of us have our ideas of what we feel is in the best interest of our children and how we want them raised. It is our hope that those caring for our children are of like mind and will espouse those similar beliefs, attitudes and qualities. But when it comes down to it, we are at the mercy of those who care for our kids when we are not present. So what happens when your childcare is undermining or inconsistent with the structure that you've defined? 

Many of us have seen the nightmares of childcare workers abusing children, and this is a true tragedy that can have long-term impact. But there are more subtle yet still long-term consequences that can occur when the people who care for and/or educate our children are passive-aggressively defying, manipulating and/or disregarding rules that we have put in place. 

From my years of experience, I can tell you that there are many times that parents' behavior in itself can contribute to behavioral and emotional problems of children, so I am not trying to let anyone off the hook. But sometimes, problems arise from the childcare. What are the types of problems am I talking about? 

  • Lack of reinforcement or inconsistent reinforcement of behaviors and limits. If a caregiver does not set limits and you do, this can lead to tantrums and limit-testing on the part of the child -- or even more disruptive behaviors, like aggression or disrespect.
  • Your caregiver yells at your kids. Personally, I am not a yeller and do not believe that one needs to yell to manage behavior. However, if your caregiver yells at your kids, it can later result in outbursts toward you. Your children may feel that you are knowingly sending them into this threatening experience, which will decrease their trust in and feelings of safety with you. 
  • Your caregiver competes with you for the love of your children. I love that the people who look after my child love them dearly. But I also have seen situations where the caregiver turned love into a popularity contest. This can feel very confusing to your children and can be very damaging to your relationship with them. 
  • Sharing inappropriate information. Sometimes caregivers have very inappropriate boundaries with kids. They may talk about things that your kids should not hear, or they may talk about other people behind their back -- even you. This type of indiscretion can result in your child not respecting you or other people, and can also contribute to a lack of boundaries on their part. 
These are only a few of the issues that you may experience. If you feel that any or all of these issues are not significant, consider the fact that your children may spend more time in a week with their caregivers than with you. So just how much influence do they have on your child? Here are some tips to help you deal with the situation: 

  • Observe what's going on. If your children can talk, ask them questions about what may be going on with their caregiver. If your kids are like my daughter, she'll often give up the goods while just talking about her day with us, and then I can ask more questions. The difficulty is when your child feels like he/she got this person in trouble, and/or the caregiver tells your child to keep a secret -- or blames you, the parent, for having a problem with what the caregiver did. 
  • Talk to your caregiver about your concerns. Don't avoid it. Like a bad infection, it will only get worse and spread if you don't deal with it. If you feel you may lose your temper when talking, try to script out your concerns, observations and questions and do your best to follow that. Be concrete with examples and solutions. 
  • Provide a time frame for change, and stick to it. Your child's trust in you can depend on this. 
  • Involve your child, but reassure her that what the caregiver does is not her fault. Sometimes kids can internalize guilt and shame. Even if she encouraged the caregiver to do what she did (which is where your child shares responsibility), your caregiver is responsible for her own actions, not your child. If your caregiver blames your child, give one quick correction; if it happens again, take your kid and run. 
  • Don't wait to intervene. Remember the infection? The longer you wait, the worse it will get. The caregiver is reinforced to do what she is doing, and your child is reinforced that you either don't care or are not consistent. Your child's behaviors may even become more resistant to change. 
  • Find other options. See if there are ways you can support behavior change. Be a part of the solution and help your caregiver brainstorm what can be done to improve the situation. For example, if your caregiver is letting your child watch too much TV or inappropriate shows, help her to develop a list of other activities, and/or a list of kid-friendly shows or movies. 
  • Don't count on the caregiver to know what your threshold is or to share your same values. I have an issue with older Disney movies because of the message I felt they sent to my daughter about women waiting for men to come rescue them. I have had to communicate this to her caregivers, and explain why I felt that way. 
  • Know when to say when. Sometimes, you might find that you have an absolutely wonderful caregiver who is wonderful with your kids, takes care of things and is basically your dream come true. Then one day you wake up to see that things just aren't the same and there may be some significant issues. There are any number of reasons this might happen. If you have tried to talk with your caregiver, made sure your kids weren't trying to sabotage, given suggestions and direction and still no dice, it may be time to part ways. If it is possible to fade exposure so it is not a major distress to your kids, try to do that. Don't discount the attachment your children have with your caregiver. 
  • When finding a new caregiver, start your search as soon as you know that there may be a problem. All of our kids deserve the best, and those who care for kids should be willing to give their best and continue to get better. If you settle for less and people become complacent, they will not excel. This does not mean to be a thorn in the side of those caring for your kids, but to make sure their needs are being taken care of and they are getting proper attention and care. 
Erik Fisher, PhD, a.k.a. Dr. E, is a licensed psychologist and author who has been featured on NBC, CBS, FOX and CNN. Visit him at to learn more about his books "The Art of Empowered Parenting" and "The Art of Managing Everyday Conflict," or to check out his blog.

next: Do NOT Go into the Nursery!
3 comments so far | Post a comment now
Julia November 8, 2010, 3:58 AM

This is very important for parents who live overseas and have a live in nanny. Without the honest communication and the expectations set out front, the nanny and the child suffers. Kids need to know that the parents give demands to both the child and the nanny. These rules or demands must be fulfilled. TCK’s need guidance on how to interact with the families staff members. Give them help to be successful.

Deirdre Kelly November 8, 2010, 7:40 AM

Dr. Fisher,

You are right in everything you say but you also need to realize that most of us need to work to help provide for our family. That women do not want to fall off their career tracks. That 50% of marriages end in divorse so we need to maintain our skills and ability to provide an income for our families. That with infants and toddlers we have very varied quality child care that Nationwide only 5% of child care center capacity is for this age group forcing working mothers to leave their children with alternative very varied quality care, nannies, au-pairs, licensed & unlicense family child care homes. Our governments solution has been licensed family child care homes FCCH - take a close look at this solution 1/3 of FCCH go out of business their first year, there is practically no training of providers, licensing visit a licensed FCCH once every 5 years practically no oversight and 85% of licensed FCCH do not carry the liability insurance they are required to carry so if your child is hurt or abused in a licensed FCCH good luck hiring a lawyer, without a way of being paid they will not take on your case.

Early Childhood Education Center market is dominated by for profit companies so they do not want to enroll infants and toddlers where they have a lower teacher:child ratio. These teachers are trained & having taken the Infant & Toddler Montessori class at University of California Irvine I would say they are very well trained and yes, trained to address all these issues you mention in your article.

I ask you what is the point of describing the water to the working moms who are out there drowning in it!

What I recommend you do is Educate the working moms and get them actively involved in helping improve this situation. Stop taking about the problem start fixing it e.g. Tell them to go talk to their city council members about this issue and ask their city council members to help, they can do a LOT to help - check out report by the Kenneddy Commission

Mona November 8, 2010, 9:12 AM

Deirdre, the article DID mention solutions. IMO, if you feel you have to work, or if you choose to have a career outside of motherhood (a career unto itself) then you may have to deal with caregivers whose views and policies differ from yours. If you want to raise your children your way, then YOU do it.

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