Nanny 911: Managing Disciplinarian Differences

Photo by Andy M Taylor via Flickr Creative Commons.
Photo by Andy M Taylor via Flickr Creative Commons.

by amanda dunyak

It’s about time for you to leave for the day. The parents are home from work early. You just got finished quelling a tantrum one of the children had over watching TV. You finally distracted the child with something else, but then the parents walk in and the tantrum for the television starts all over again. The child appeals to Mommy and Daddy for the television time because they know their parents are likely to bend for them more easily. You explain to the parents why the child wasn’t watching television in the first place, but they end up appeasing the child while you are still on the clock.

Situations like this happen.

Most likely, we have all been in a similar scenario at some point in our career where our rules cross with the parents’ rules. No one is perfect. Even if you work as a team 90% of the time, there may still be that 10% of the time that the parents just don’t feel like battling their child and will give in to them just to make their own lives easier. A situation like this can be extremely frustrating to the nanny.

How Do You Cope?

Stewing about it can make the situation worse. The best way to deal with the disciplinary issue is to discuss it with your bosses. Also, by taking the best measures possible ahead of time, you can ensure that these sticky situations are few and far between and so you can try to circumvent any issues before they arise.

Preventive Measures

It is important, when interviewing for a new family, that you ask your own set of questions. In this economy, the need to be employed can become a sort of desperation. When working with children, especially as closely as you do as a nanny, it is very important that you don’t just “settle” for a job because you need the position. You need to be sure that you are the right fit for the opening as that they are the right fit for you!

Know Your Discipline Personality

In her article in The Journal of Early Adolescence, psychologist Diana Baumrind describes a classification system of four discipline styles used by caregivers:

  • Authoritative is a child-rearing style in which the caregiver is restrictive and demanding. They have a clear idea of how they want the child to behave with rules and guidelines. At the same time, an authoritative discipline style shows respect for the child, offers support, and is more nurturing and forgiving toward the child. An authoritative caregiver is “assertive, but not intrusive and restrictive.” Children of an authoritative caregiver tend to be self-reliant and independent with high self-esteem. (Baumrind, 1991a).
  • Authoritarian caregivers are labeled as the “because I said so” disciplinarians. They believe children should adhere to a strict guideline of what is right and wrong, allowing no room for the child to question the rules. Like authoritative discipline, authoritarian can be controlling, but unlike authoritative, an authoritarian caregiver is not very communicative or warm toward the child. Children who were raised with an authoritarian discipline style generally turn out obedient but are not as happy and exhibit lower self-esteem than those raised by an authoritative caregiver.
  • Permissive caregivers are sometimes referred to as “indulgent.” They make few demands and rarely discipline the child. They are nurturing and they communicate well with the child. This leads the children to become fairly high in social competence and self-confidence, but less competent in school; children raised by permissive parents and caregivers also tend to exhibit more deviant behavior (Baumrind, 1991a).
  • Uninvolved caretakers are similar to permissive in that they do not demand mature behavior, nor do they attempt to control the child, but unlike a permissive caregiver, they show a lack of support and little or no warmth and responsiveness to the child. An uninvolved caregiver can be very neglectful to the child. These children tend to be the least competent and capable, lacking responsibility and maturity.

Dr. Christine Tintorer says that, “More important than identifying what kind of disciplinarian you are is to identify what kind of discipline the child actually responds to. Children all have temperaments of their own, just like adults do. For an independent child, an authoritarian approach could lead to more opposition. If the child is well behaved but fearful or wetting the bed, doing poorly in school, or showing any other signs of anxiety or depression, you are probably being too authoritarian with a sensitive child. If your child is poorly behaved, then you need to change your style and not expect the child’s behavior to change on its own just because you say so.” Tintorer believes that providing children with their own choices while helping them to understand the outcomes and to the live with the consequences is one of the best things you can do for the child as a caregiver. “If you enable them, how can they believe that their choices really affect and can change their lives?” she says.

Roni LeDuc, a licensed clinical social worker from Tinton Falls, New Jersey believes that discipline styles can change over time. “This can be dependent on various factors such as the age of the child, addition of children to the family, separation, divorce, or other factors that may impact the family functioning.” She believes that the four categories of discipline are just a guideline to assist a caregiver in understanding their style of discipline, and a parent or caregiver has the ability to change their style at any time if they are uncomfortable with it. “How we react to our children shapes the individuals they become. Whether they are confident, kind, and emphatic is impacted by how we as parents and caregivers interact and react to them.”

Find Your Perfect Match

Ronnie Friedland, editor at, wrote a Child Care Guide for the website describing the best questions to ask the parents during an interview. You need to be sure that your personality and caretaker and discipline styles will mesh well with the family you may be working for. Friedland writes that you should ask the parents about a typical day for the children. What is expected of you? Do the parents expect you to discipline their children, and if so, what discipline style do they prefer? Do they want you to contact them should a disciplinary issue arise? Sometimes your potential bosses may ask you about your discipline style before you have the chance to ask them. Even though you want to impress them, you need to stand firm in who you are as a professional and what your beliefs are. It can be very easy to tell a prospective employer what they want to hear to convince them to hire you, but we all know that this can backfire and you may end up working for a family that you are truly unhappy with and vice versa.

Susan Fordham from South Orange County, California says this of the interview process: “At first I try to ascertain what the parents’ desire in discipline is, and after I hear their answers, then I tell them mine.” I agree that that is an excellent way to approach the interviewing process. Stay true to who you are, but be open to other ideas and styles, and hopefully you will find a family that feels the same way.

Teaching Parents How to Discipline

So then, what are some successful ways to discipline your charges so that the parents might be inclined to follow? Michaela Barnes from Canberra, Australia says that “successful discipline is about consistency and maintaining the same ground rules all the time.” It is important that you communicate with the parents and be on the same page as them with disciplinary measures. But what do you do if your MomBoss or DadBoss simply doesn’t discipline their children or constantly gives in to temper tantrums that you’ve worked so hard to squash?

“Giving children choices and teaching them that good behaviors will be rewarded and that bad behaviors will not is my general rule of thumb,” says Tintorer. She believes that it is crucial for the child to have a clear idea of what their rights and privileges are. “You will not deny your child food, shelter, or healthcare as a punishment for bad behavior. However, TV, video games, cell phones, computer, special dinners, and snacks, should all be earned. Point boards using stickers or other counters to chart good deeds and good behaviors or chores and other expectations can be equated with earning privileges.” Tintorer believes that behavior and chore charts can compel a child to be on their best behavior at all times. “There is nothing wrong with rewarding and encouraging good behaviors,” she says. “Rewards shouldn’t really be money either. Use special privileges like the opportunity to make family decisions like choosing dinner, a movie or activity, or a special outing); non-monetary rewards are limitless!” What it all comes down to is generalized behavior intervention and it can be done!

Something I love to do is keep a notebook where I write down what the children do all day, how they feel, and how they behave. As they get older, it is easier to keep track of rewards and punishments for certain behaviors, and it is something you can leave at the house for your bosses to refer to as well. Consistency in the children’s day-to-day living with their parents to their day-to-day interactions with their nanny is very important.

Helen Royce, owner of A Perfect Nanny Agency in the United Kingdom says that the guilt of a working parent can get in the way when it comes to discipline as well. No parent likes to hear their child cry, especially when they have been gone all day. When it comes to their parents versus their nanny, “children sense the difference and play up to it.” Whether it is a more relaxed approach on their nanny’s part or on their parents’, the child will naturally try to appeal to the party that will be most likely to give them what they want. “I find that a child wants to know where their boundaries are, and although they will try to push them, whether that be with a parent or a nanny, they will respect you more for sticking to them, as long as they know they still can have fun within those boundaries and hopefully become well-mannered and confident adults,” Royce says.

Sarah Tree from Sydney, Australia says that her biggest issue with discipline is when the parents are around and she loses all control over her charges. Their routine gets interrupted and the children will appeal to their parents as the higher power.

Lindsay Heller, “The Nanny Doctor”, says that it is important for parents and nannies to be on the same page. “You should work together to find solutions that work with each child individually in order to curb naughty behavior. Weekly meetings may be needed if the situation is particularly tough, and should be carried out face to face.” Therefore, when you regularly encounter situations in which you feel like you’re losing control, you should be able to talk to your bosses about your concern and how you feel and come up with remedies.

Making It Work or Coping When It Doesn’t

When it comes to discipline, make sure you are on the same page as your nanny family. The lines of communication should be open at all times and you should be able to work together to come up with solutions. We, as nannies, need to respect that the parents are the parents! These are their children and they know what is best for them. At the same time, though, your bosses need to respect that their nanny is a childcare professional with experience in handling certain situations that they might not have faced yet as parents.

If you are constantly finding that you and your bosses are not on the same page when it comes to raising and disciplining the children, and approaching them about it has not helped, it may be time to move on and to find a family that may be a better fit. When in doubt, you can always turn to your nanny network and other resources and discussion groups for support and advice!


Baumrind, D. (1991a) The influence of parenting style on adolescent competence and substance use. Journal of Early Adolescence, 11, 56-95.

Rathus, S. A. (2003) Parenting Styles: How Parents Transmit Values and Standards. Voyages: Childhood and Adolescence,10, 355-57.