Parents may be nervous about the type of relationship their child forms with their hired caregiver. They may view this relationship as a threat to the personal relationship that they have with their own child. On the other hand, they may have fears of potential separation anxiety when their nanny leaves.
Founder of the “attachment theory “, John Browlby gave a recognised theory for the affectionate relationships that children formed with others. Browlby was a British psychiatrist and psychoanalyst. He explained that forming positive bonds with others including caregivers was important for children’s psychological development. Browlby noted that children aged 6 months to 2 years old who developed credulous and sensitive relationships (or became “attached”) with others, were more likely to demonstrate healthy relations throughout their lives.
Creating a secure base
According to psychologist, Lindsay Heller, a healthy attachment between nanny and child is a sign that the child feels safe with his nanny. Heller explained that a “secure base” is essential in a healthy upbringing. This means that the child will go to the nanny for support. Parents may feel nervous about this strong bond between their child and nanny, but they need to take into consideration the future benefits that this will imply for their child’s psychological development.
When Nanny Leaves
Browlby’s work on the effect of caregivers on children was taken from his own life experiences. He grew up in a British upper-middle class family. His five siblings were raised by a nanny. Browlby himself only saw his mother for no more than an hour a day, and was also raised by a nanny who was his primary caregiver. At the age of four, the nanny left. Browlby described this experience of separation as a child as being as traumatic as the death of his mother. At the age of seven, Browlby went to boarding school. This environment also became emotionally unfavourable for the little boy as explained by his writing later on life.
Psychologist Ann Wycoff recommends parents to find a nanny who is able to stay with their child for at least a year. According to the psychologist, this will encourage a secure attachment and thus, healthy child development. Spending at least fifteen hours a week with the nanny will help facilitate this type of development. If a nanny is due to leave, informing children beforehand and comforting them during this process will alleviate the possibility of self-blame, and help them deal with the imminent loss of their beloved nanny.
The attachment process
Children can experience separation anxiety towards the loss of a nanny too. This anxiety may occur as children are afraid or saddened by this separation. Separation anxiety may take place as early as eight months old. Children usually outgrow this anxiety. Nevertheless, this is a normal stage of development. Overtime, children learn to become more independent.
In early childhood, crying and fussing are normal signs of reaction towards the loss of a caregiver. If the child is unwilling to be separated from his caregiver, this is a sign of attachment. At this early stage of his life, the child is aware of the fact that his environment and the people in it are permanent. His naivety towards the concept of time means that when an adult leaves, he does not know whether or not the adult will ever come back. In reaction to this, the child will cling onto his caregiver as a way to securely remain close to her.
Like Browlby, a child who is often in the care of a nanny develops familiarity and a sense of security towards his nanny. Browlby explains this attachment as a means for infants to seek closeness from another individual when they feel upset or threatened. In an old study by Rudolph Shaffer and Peggy Emerson, sixty babies in their first eighteen months of life were analysed in their home. These babies were visited by caregivers monthly for about a year. Through this, patterns were extracted from the observations of the caregivers. Evidence of attachment indicated that these babies showed separation anxiety when the caregiver left.
Shaffer and Emerson noted four distinct stages:
- 0-three months old: The infant does not show any particular attachment to an adult. He responds equally to any caregiver in his presence.
- After four months: The infant shows a liking towards certain adults. At this stage, infants were able to distinguish the difference between primary and secondary caregivers but were still open to care from any of these adults.
- After seven months: The infant develops a preference towards a particular adult who becomes the attachment figure. This adult is one from which the baby seeks security and comfort. During this stage, infants are upset to be separated from their attachment figure (known as separation anxiety). Other babies were more fearful of strangers (stranger fear) than others.
- After nine months: The infant develops an attachment (or preference) towards more than one adult.
From these findings, Shaffer and Emerson deduced that infants develop attachments towards adults who respond effectively and appropriately to their needs (indicated by crying, smiling and other signals). They called this sensitive responsiveness. Browlby and other experts agree that, from attachment figures, infants seek a safety and a support net through care.
In today’s evolutionary society, nannies play an important role in the way that children seek validation within their environment. Nannies are able to comfort, care and protect children – which is why parents seek competent nannies for their children.
The positive bond that exists between nannies and children, experts say, is important for their psychological development. This can facilitate healthy future relationships with others. As suggested, this attachment is a precious component of your child’s life. Before the nanny leaves, letting them know that it is not the child’s fault or that the nanny will be leaving soon is a way to help mitigate the effects of their potential nanny loss.
A relationship between nanny and child founded on care and support is essential for your child’s development and helps to instigate future healthy relationships.