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The Attachment of Children to Nannies

by Kristine Tucker, studioD

A nanny doesn't have a magical umbrella like Mary Poppins, but her attachment to children is spellbinding. Since emotional attachment is a normal part of childhood development, a deep connection between a child and her nanny is normal. As a parent, you may wonder if the strong attachment is healthy and feel a little sad or jealous if your child shows the nanny preference over you. Understanding the nanny-child relationship can help you deal with uncertainties and anxieties.

Nanny's Job

Even though a nanny may perform minor household chores, her main responsibility is tending to the children. Because her attention isn't divided, she spends most of her time playing, laughing, cuddling, and interacting with the kids. If she is a live-in nanny or if she works 40 hours a week, she will likely develop a strong emotional bond with the children because they will learn to trust her to meet their everyday needs. A nanny's job can also include teaching the parent what to do and what not to do, according to the Forbes April 4, 2013 article, ''Confessions of the Best Nanny in the World.'' Forbes staff writer Susan Adams interviewed British-born Joanne Barrow, who was Nanny of the Year in 2012. In the Forbes article, Barrows states, "the biggest problem in my job hasn’t been the kids. It has been the parents, getting them to change their behavior. I had a parent say to a child, you don’t get your dessert if you don’t eat your dinner. Then she said, you can have a bowl of ice cream but we’re not going to call it dessert. I had to explain to her why that didn’t work.''

Healthy Relationship

More than 4 million babies are born in the United States every year, and 55 percent of their mothers work, according to The New York Times. Since families often move away from their roots to pursue careers, grandparents aren't always around to provide childcare. As a result, nannies are in high demand. Nannies provide the stability and individualized attention that day care centers don't offer. A nanny can be an additional caregiver for the child. At other times, the parent or parents have such demanding jobs that they have little time for the hands-on care for their child. In that case, the nanny functions as a substitute parent. In the Forbes April 4, 2013 article, ''Confessions of the Best Nanny in the World,'' staff writer Susan Adams interviewed British-born Joanne Barrow, who was a nanny for a single mother who worked 150 hours a week. Barrow did the planning, the doctor visits and the school applications, which, Barrow says, is the norm for high-profile families. By building healthy relationships with the kids, nannies can offer their young charges security, dependability and reassurance when their parents


You know your child has developed a positive relationship with the nanny when he talks about her kindly, even when she is not there. He may even express sadness when it is time for her to leave, or they will ask about her when she has gone. Your child's enthusiasm about activities he did with the nanny and how he expressed excitement when he hears she's coming back are good signs, states Toronto nanny Elizabeth Hawksworth on her website Regarding Nannies. Some kids want to show her their special toys, or will make a special drawing just for her, Hawksworth notes. Other little tykes crave the physical closeness with their nanny, and want to be on her lap a lot. Some kids share secrets with their nannies. These are all good things, because they indicate a child is able trust a caregiver. Some parents may feel resentful if they feel their child is getting too close to the nanny. For parents, it is not a time to worry. Once your children see that you're fully engaged, they'll likely draw you into their little world.

Room for Mom and Dad

Children generally bond with both their nanny and their parents, as long as each plays an active and loving role in their lives. According to Cameron McDonald, author of the book "Shadow Mothers," nannies have a difficult role, because they must form a strong emotional bond with the children, without threatening the mother's role, as discussed in the interview ''Who's Your Mommy? The Secret Struggle Between Mothers And Nannies'' by "Forbes" magazine staff writer Meghan Casserly. Parents often deny nannies the respect they deserve because parents feel guilty about their parental absence, according to "The New York Times" article, "Love, Money and Other People's Children." As a parent, you may worry that your child's attachment to the nanny detracts from your relationship with your child. However, that is not generally the case.

About the Author

As curriculum developer and educator, Kristine Tucker has enjoyed the plethora of English assignments she's read (and graded!) over the years. Her experiences as vice-president of an energy consulting firm have given her the opportunity to explore business writing and HR. Tucker has a BA and holds Ohio teaching credentials.

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