Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Can You Hear Me Now?

"Can you hear me now?" may be a catchy advertising slogan, but is also a great question to ask ourselves when talking about effective, open communication. Both nannies and families know the importance of communication in their relationship, so why is it sometimes such a challenge?

Part of the reason could be that often the subjects nannies and families deal with come with an emotional attachment. Discussing issues regarding the children or job performance can be sensitive. Here are some techniques that may help when conversations have an emotional component.
  • Planning ahead by preparing notes about the issues can help compose thoughts and feelings, so that everyone can focus on goals or solutions.
  • Communicate concerns as quickly as possible. Don't wait for issues to "grow" into major problems or assume that the other party knows there is an issue that needs to be discussed.
  • Setting a time to talk and a location that is conducive for conversation is important. Trying to have a serious or detailed conversation while children are needing attention is difficult, if not impossible.
  • Be positive in initiating communication. This is a time to be constructive and share in an amiable, non-threatening manner.
  • Being aware of your emotional factors and being sensitive to others emotional responses can be helpful as you choose how to introduce issues.
  • Allow time for all parties to consider the information before making changes or implementing plans. Feedback is important for all concerned.
Two additional keys in improving communication are clarity of expression and reflective listening.
  • Clarity of expression deals with how we speak to others. Avoid being vague or abstract. Carefully choose words and phrases that are clear and free from jargon to minimize being misinterpreted.
  • Reflective listening is a technique to ensure that interpretation of information is accurate. By restating what we've heard in our own words to the speaker, we can begin to ensure that we haven't misread them.
My experiences communicating with my employers have generally been good, but there have been occasions over the years that I've needed to rely on these skills. When addressing an issue, I want to approach it from my personal view. The use of "I feel . . . " or "I have noticed . . ." rather than "You said . . ." or "You did . . ." is a more open form of getting the point across. I want to listen closely to responses which will let me know if I am being understood and also giving me insight into their feeling, concerns and viewpoint. By modeling an open communication style I have noticed that they will also use those techniques with me.

When we are talking about child related issues we work together to come up with a plan that we feel
will work for that child and agree to get back together after a particular time period to reassess the progress. When discussing job performance issues we also agree to thoughtfully consider any new goals, changes, or issues and revisit them at a later time for finalization. I recommend a periodic employment review so that all aspects of the position can be examined by the nanny and family.

I statements also work wonderfully when communicating with children. I can't tell you how many times using "I need you . . . ", "I would like . . ." and "I expect . . ." have made a huge difference in their willingness to complete chores or school assignments without the negativity that can come with other approaches. As the children grow they will pick up on the communication skills that they have observed all of us using.

Effective communication is a skill for life. When everyone is genuinely willing and committed, most issues can be resolved if they are handled in a timely, effective manner.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Ghost Cookies

by Kelly Miller

For the past seven years I have made these cookies with the children I care for.  They are quick and easy to make because they require no baking!  Have fun!  I have enjoyed making these cookies with toddlers through school age children.

          1 package Nutter Butter cookies
          1 package almond bark
          chocolate chips
          sprinkles, if desired

Melt almond bark.  Dip Nutter Butter cookies in almond bark; completely cover.  Set cookie on waxed paper.  Decorate with chocolate chip eyes, and sprinkles, if desired.  They look like ghosts!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

First Teacher - That's You!

Do you remember your first teacher? I'd be willing to bet that you are thinking of your Kindergarten or first grade teacher. But did you think of your parents, preschool teacher or nanny? In fact our parents and caregivers were our first teachers, and now we are teachers ourselves. Teachable moments abound in those early years and we have the privilege of taking advantage of them.

Teaching the children in your care doesn't need to have a formal feel. What's so wonderful about teaching young children is that much of it is done spontaneously or incorporated into activities we are normally doing with them. Encouraging the natural curiosity of children is a great place to start. Taking their interests to new levels is where we can incorporate trips to the library, museums or events, projects in art or science, use of dramatic play and even snack time.

Although you don't need a formal lesson plan or curriculum, planning is needed. Using themes can be helpful to your plan. You also want to consider the children's ages, abilities and interests. Including a balance of activities supports learning and keeps the child's attention (and ours as well). Have movement activities or games balanced with quiet time. Offer both large and small muscle development, creative expression and specific skill practice along with the inclusion of music, literature, food fun and experimentation provides for enjoyable learning for everyone. Children will undoubtedly offer plenty of input as you expose them to new ideas and concepts. Be ready to change gears and take advantage of the "spark" of interest can bring even greater enrichment.

Modeling is another way that children learn. Sometimes we don't realize how much they
watch us until we hear them use one of our expressions or quote us. We often think of modeling good eating habits or appropriate speech, but remember that they are watching us under all situations. What are you modeling when you are stressed or frustrated? How we express emotions, spend our free time, interact with others are all being carefully observed. If this gives you pause, it should. Children are like sponges and we should be continually asking ourselves what are they absorbing from us? Sometimes the most important life lessons are ones we learned just from watching others.

           What a privilege it is to be a teacher. Embrace this opportunity and see the wonderful difference you make in a child's life.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Advice on Communication

This article comes from the International Nanny Association (INA) recent newsletter. The current Nanny of the Year, Joanne Barrow, writes some practical advice on communication. For more information about INA please visit www.nanny.org.

Effective Communication
By Joanne Barrow, 2013 INA Nanny of the Year
Joanne Barrow
For those of us caring for school age children the early September bedlam of back to school nights, meet the teacher, activity registration and getting back in the swing of homework is starting to settle down and find its groove again. As the families (and your own) routine begin to normalize now’s a great time to suggest a quiet meeting with your employers to plan and review schedules, give and receive feedback, discuss any changes that have taken place over the summer and reassess theirs, and your own needs moving forward.

One of the most important factors in the success and stability of my career has been direct, open and honest communication. Relationships with our families are personal and intimate and like any close connection it requires open, ongoing dialogue. As I read the blogs and group discussions in Nanny world it seems the
number 1 breakdown (in otherwise) great working relationships is the difficulty we have in addressing issues ‘head on’ with our employers. It’s imperative to air thoughts and observations openly and frequently before grievances begin to
fester. It doesn’t have to be daunting and once you get in the swing of things it’ll become second nature and something you may even come to look forward to. 

Here are a few steps that have helped me navigate these conversations.
  • Be professional- Focus on being constructive, not critical and keep emotions to a minimum.
  • Start on a positive note- Perhaps a brief synopsis of the kids latest strides and accomplishments.
  • Come prepared- Write down in advance the points you need to cover in the time frame you have. Know your objectives and direct the pace of the conversation so you don’t run out of time.
  • Bringing up a problem? Bring a solution….or two! Be proactive and offer up solutions or ‘give and take’ ideas that will work for everyone involved.
  • Don’t be intimidated- Some subjects are more difficult to discuss than others; for me money has always been my least favorite topic. Preface difficult issues by saying, ‘I feel a little awkward mentioning/ asking this but…. its important for the children/ its been on my mind / it’s necessary for us to clarify’ etc.… 
  • Don’t be defensive- Do you close up like a clam the second you receive criticism- constructive or otherwise? Take a moment before you respond and attempt to see the issue through their eyes as parents. If you can do that, you’ll likely find a way to adapt that will make them more comfortable. Long term success with our families is all about flexibility and understanding.
  • End the way you began- on a positive note! Thank them for their time and remind them you’re there to
    help and always open to suggestions and constructive advice.
Start this new school year as you mean to go on, talk it out before you walk out. And finally…Don’t wait until there’s a problem, request a monthly meeting with your employers, the better the lines of communication the stronger your relationship and position will remain.
Good Luck!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Apple Pizza - Delicious Fall Dessert

Here is a quick and easy recipe that is a delicious way to celebrate fall. This is also great without the topping if you'd like a more apple tart type dish. A great recipe to make with the children. They can cut apples, roll out the dough, arrange apples, mix topping ingredients and assemble the pizza.


          1 package pizza dough
          6 apples, peeled, cored, sliced
          1/3 cup sugar
          1 tsp cinnamon

                3/4 cup flour
        3/4 cup sugar
        1/4 cup butter, melted

For the pizza, roll the dough to the desired thickness. Place on a round baking pan. Arrange apple slices on the dough. Combine sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl and mix well. Sprinkle over apples.

For the topping, combine – flour, sugar and melted butter in a bowl. Mix with hands until the topping is crumbly. Sprinkle over pizza.

Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. Cut into slices, serve warm . . . also great cold.