Defining the working relationship with your nanny

Nannies and au pairs can be domestic dreams, household heroes and child whisperers but any relationship that involves living with a stranger can be fraught with difficulties. When you consider different cultures, a distance in ages in ages and homesickness it can easily be a disaster while you try to establish an equilibrium.

Whether it is your first live-in child care or the fifth, each nanny or au pair is different and can be frustrating in different ways. However by maintaining a few ground rules and structure while being understanding of their position and firm of your own, you can live in a household of harmony.

au Pair and child

 

Clarity

When interviewing potential staff be upfront with them. Though the nanny agency would have vetted them, and given them some details about your family, clear and honest communication from the start will ensure that everybody is on the same page and working towards the same goal.

Listing all the duties expected of them, showing them where everything is and ensuring they are aware of the standard you anticipate, will make the first week intense but it will also give you a decent framework to build on and then negotiate if things do not go as well as planned.

Structure

While sticking to a routine week after week may seem impossible with modern living, it is important to ensure your child will be covered. A last minute announcement that the au pair is needed to babysit may be fine once in a while (though may cause some resentment) however if it is a regular occurrence it can cause similar problems.

The same is true for a nanny, while illness and family emergencies cannot be anticipated, social engagements should never be prioritised over their duties. If you give them notice of discrepancies in your schedule, they can do the same to nurture a relationship based on mutual respect.

Discipline

Everybody begins with the best of intentions, a new nanny, and a new regime. You may plan to restrict the television to half an hour a day, and never over meal times, or introduce a sugar free diet for the whole family, however the reality is often very different. Over time standards may slip, a sickly child can be coaxed with nothing but custard or fighting your child over his television time may seem impossible after a long day at work. Maintaining the standard of discipline that you expect from your au pair is not always easy however, you cannot let them always play bad cop.

Continuing to update your nanny on the standards you expect them to maintain, will not only ensure they are aligned with your own views, but will also make you aware of the times you fail to meet these standards. A consistent approach will not only make the children aware of the rules (that should not be bent) but also will help you nanny deal with any situation without any doubt.

Image Credit: Adina Voicu

Downton Abbey vs Reality

The television show Downton Abbey has been a roaring success, enjoying six seasons and with talk of a film on the horizon.  Not only has the British population relished a peek at life upstairs and down, but it was received with enormous praise by those across the pond.

There have been some criticisms of the series and the portrayal of not only the relationship between the upper crust and the serving class but also the conditions they worked in. While it is tempting to believe in a history of benevolent masters and loyal household staff, the reality was in fact very different.

There is much evidence from maids’ diaries and journals that confirm that the Crawleys were a rare breed of management. Mostly the living conditions were poor, either over crowded attics or chilly basements, the wages were minimal and the codes of etiquette more strictly enforced. While Downton conforms to modern standards, the reality would have been servants who were grubby at best but probably smelled. The nobility would have disregarded staff in an ambivalent manner, when attention was paid it would often be to criticise and to lash out either physically or verbally.

Maids from 1907

Though many of the personal aids (like ladies maids and valets) have something akin to friendship with their member of the household, giving advice and making personal marks above their station, this would only have been permitted in the rarest of cases. Instead any scandal would have a maid out on the street with no character reference, often condemning her to poverty.

As times have changed so have our expectations of household staff. Being based on much more than wages, instead mutual respect, friendship and often true affinity come into place, with many staff feeling more like family than hired help. Au pairs often keep in touch with their young charges and employers have a vested interest in their staff’s well-being as well as their future. Though we may like to indulge in the fantasy that Downton encourages, of perfect civility ensconced in lace and velvet, the modern day version is much more palatable.

Image Credit: photos of the past

Inside Norland College – training the world’s most sought-after nannies

cooking-header

Norland College in Bath is training the world’s most sought-after nannies, according to a recent article.

The piece in Business Insider delved into the inner workings of this prestigious childcare academy, which provides unique opportunities for nannies to work for celebrities and the Royals. Norland College has offered childcare training for private household staff for over 125 years. The academy was founded by Emily Ward and its graduates have gone on to care for Prince George and the children of Mick Jagger and Jerry Hall, according to the article.

Mandy Donaldson, vice principal at Norland College, told Business Insider: “When they’re in uniform, they’re representing 125 years of history and quality.” The uniforms are old-fashioned, made up of a brown felt hat, a pale brown dress and a brown wool shrug, as well as white gloves in the summer and brown gloves in the winter. Male students wear a jacket, shirt, tie and trousers.

Though from the outside it appears the school has fairly stringent rules to follow in regard to composure and appearance, Donaldson insists the trainee nannies are not always on duty: “They’re in a city with other universities and lots of student life, so once they’re not in uniform, we want them to have fun and enjoy themselves.”

Students at Norland College graduate with a three-year BA (Hons) in Early Development and Learning from the University of Gloucestershire and covers a range of subjects. According to the report, the course aims to teach the trainees the theory of social and emotional development they need to properly look after a child. As well as the traditional childcare skills, the trainees are taught to prepare and cook elaborate meals, learn about nutrition, allergies and dietary requirements, sew, make clothes and plan parties.

Though there are many essential skills to learn to prepare the trainee nannies for private household staff roles, Donaldson added: “Every family and child is different – there’s no ‘one size fits all’ solution, so they need to have plenty of different strategies in their toolbox so they can understand how the family operates.”

Real-life Mary Poppins handbook discovered

notebook

Amid the excitement of the upcoming Mary Poppins remake, a real-life Mary Poppins manual has been found.

According to a report in the Metro, the handwritten manual is by the “real-life” Mary Poppins, whose name was Emily Ward. She founded the most famous childcare academy, Norland College, in 1892. The college, training private household staff, was the first to offer any kind of childcare training, according to the article. The newly discovered manual was written by Emily 125 years ago and covers 1892 to 1919.

The notebook was found by Elizabeth Kerry, a lecturer at Norland College, while she was sorting through old boxes from the college’s previous site in Bath, Somerset. She told South West News Service: “As soon as I opened the first page and saw the handwriting and the date 1892, and I thought ‘oh my goodness, this is Emily Ward’s notebook’. I gently packaged up the book and brought it into the college for the team to see.”

Inside the notebook, Emily has written personal reflections as well as the training manual, expressing her vision for Norland College and her students. In the notebook, Emily wrote: “To the mother means freedom from some of the most wearying anxiety that comes with the care of children, more leisure for her own recreation; pleasure in the company of an educated equal and the help which comes in working hand-in-hand with another bent on the same object.

“To the nurse it means a home where the ordinary domestic virtues of no special market value are appreciated – a position of confidence and trust, a healthful life, and above all, the sense that the character of a future generation is to a certain extent, in her hands.”

The remake of the 1964 classic Mary Poppins will hit cinemas in 2018, with Emily Blunt taking the lead role.

Image credit: Pezibear

How to get children to eat healthy food

Healthy food

As a member of private household staff, you may also have a responsibility to look after the children in the home. Alongside your usual duties, you may be required to provide an example of how to eat and live healthily by preparing meals and maintaining a healthy diet in the family home.

It can be a challenge to encourage children that fruit and vegetables are an important and tasty part of their diet. A recent blog by Wellness Mama said junk food is largely to blame for fussy eaters: “It’s quite obvious, with a quick stroll down the perilous middle aisles of any grocery store, that a lot of food marketing targets children. It is also no secret that obesity and type 2 diabetes are skyrocketing in kids and appearing at younger and younger ages.”

To help encourage children to eat well and enjoy a healthy diet, Wellness Mama recommends a few rules.

Commit to making a healthy, positive change

“When it comes to dietary shifts, you must present a confident front, and believe the information you are telling your kids,” says Wellness Mama. The same applies to nannies caring for children. “Research, meal plan and commit to making this positive change.”

Introduce food gradually

“While your kids won’t make the jump from happy meals to veggie smoothies in a day, they will adapt faster than you expect, and they will learn to love healthy foods. To start, put one small bite of each food you have cooked on a child’s plate.” This encourages children to try new foods without feeling overwhelmed.

Let the children make healthy choices

According to the blog, it is important to continue to give children the option to choose what they eat, within reason: “Whenever possible, let the kids make their own choices on healthy options for food. Not only will they feel better about trying a good they chose, but it will help break down their perception that you have hijacked their ability to eat what they want.”

Set an example

As a member of the private household staff, you will be spending a lot of time with the family and children. It is essential to remember that you will be influencing young minds. According to the blog: “Parenting experts agree that children pick up behaviour based much less on what they are told and much more on what they observe. If they see you routinely eating veggies and enjoying them, they will start to choose it themselves.”

Home cooking

Cooking may or may not be part of your job description in the domestic service sector. If you are looking for a household staff role, it may be worth picking up some home cooking skills just in case. “Your chances of eating healthily drastically increase when you cook at home,” says Wellness Mama. “You have the option of using more natural ingredients and more variety.”

Surge in requests for nannies with unique skillsets

Learning languages

People are increasingly looking for nannies with a unique skillset, according to a recent article. Skills such as yoga, cooking and music are fast becoming popular requirements for UK nannies. According to a 2015 survey by caretaker payroll service Nannytax, over 75% of parents want nannies to offer additional skills as well as traditional childcare, to give their child the best opportunities to succeed later in life.

The bespoke babysitting sector has had a massive boost in recent years. Those considering joining thousands as member of private household staff in the UK could help their career by adding additional talents to their skillset. Whether this involves learning how to cook healthy meals, how to tutor children in specific subjects or teach fitness classes, it is becoming clear that the more skills you possess beside “traditional” nannying, the more employable you are.

There are many courses designed to help nannies, domestic workers, housekeepers and au pairs to cook healthy meals for children. In today’s world of clean eating and an emphasis on nutrition, it is helpful to know the basics of healthy cooking.

When it comes to languages, it is often debated on nannying and parenting blogs which languages are the most useful to learn in this profession. Popular languages required include Mandarin, Spanish and sign language. Beauchamp Partners currently has a vacancy for a Mandarin speaking nanny in Oxfordshire. Learning a new language is also extremely useful if you’re considering taking your career abroad.

Learning a new skill can only be a good thing when it comes to domestic service. In an ever-changing world, being as dynamic as you can in your profession will serve you well.

World’s first virtual nanny unveiled by Mattel

Sleepig baby

Anyone who has worked for – or hired the services of – London-based domestic staff agencies will know that nannies and other private household staff do not have an easy job. Looking after somebody else’s children is surely one of the biggest responsibilities that someone can have; it is quite amazing, therefore, that the American toymakers Mattel have just released details of what they hope will be the world’s first successful ‘virtual nanny’.

As reported in the Mail Online, Mattel’s new ‘Aristotle’ system – which is scheduled for release in June of this year at a retail price of $399 – is designed to mimic the actions that are carried out by traditional nannies without any ongoing cost.

According to the company, Aristotle will recognise when a baby wakes up and will be able to send it back to sleep by playing a lullaby or other favourite song or emitting a night light; it will automatically log when a parent changes their child’s nappy or feeds them, and can reorder supplies accordingly; it can play games with the child via a voice recognition system; and it will allow parents to check their babies are OK via video link.

The device is designed to be compatible with Amazon’s Alexa system, which means owners of the Amazon Echo should not have much trouble getting used to interacting with it. Amazon’s shopping platform is even built into Aristotle, and parents can switch between whether their device responds to them or their child by simply saying ‘Alexa’ or ‘Aristotle’. As the makers point out, this is an important feature to ensure that children do not accidentally order items such as nappies when they are not needed!

Mattel have responded to the inevitable questions about security with reassurances that its Aristotle device will be fully encrypted and virtually impossible for hackers to compromise.

Of course, no matter how advanced this technology is, we are confident that there can be no true replacement for the skill, compassion and experience of a good nanny. As anyone who has employed a professional nanny will know, there can be no substitute for the real thing!

Image Credit: Andrew Malone

Will Amazon Prime customers soon be getting butlers?

Capture

If you are a regular user of the Amazon shopping website, it will not have escaped your attention that the retail giant is pushing the benefits of its Prime membership scheme with a great deal of enthusiasm.

Even the most loyal of brand advocates, however, will surely be surprised by one service that may shortly be available to Prime customers: personal butlers.

The various adverts across the site and beyond which have been encouraging shoppers to sign up to the loyalty programme since 2007 (yes, it did launch in the UK almost 10 years ago!) tend to emphasise Prime’s quick delivery times and access to exclusive content, but not the chance to make use of ‘Amazon Assistants’ – at least, not until now.

First spotted in November by Angel Gonzalez of the Seattle Times, two American job vacancy listings were recently posted by Amazon which asked to hear from applications who would be interested in ‘helping Amazon customers keep up their home’.

Specific tasks listed in the job description which the successful applicants ‘will become awesome at’ include ‘tidying up around the home, laundry, and helping put groceries and essentials like toilet paper and paper towels away’. All of which seems to suggest that what the business is really looking for is expert household staff like experienced or aspiring butlers who will be able to ensure that Amazon customers, in the company’s words, can live ‘errand-free’ lives.

Just a stunt?

The idea that this is at least partly just an experiment or maybe even a marketing tactic to entice more Prime members came from a line in the ad which states that the future employees would be expected to provide ‘timesaving assistance to Amazon Prime members’.

However, a Business Insider UK article spotted that the reference to Prime was actually removed from the listings later on.

Whether or not the vacancies are filled and whether Amazon – who are yet to comment on the story – continue with their new employment drive, one thing is for sure: this development reinforces the notion that butlers and other household staff are back in fashion and are now once again appreciated by busy modern families.

Can robot nannies really replace the real thing?

RobotMany of us dream of having a robot assistant that can supersonically complete the more mundane chores of daily life. Although technology is developing every year, this dream remains elusive – no dusting maids, no waiting butlers occupy the average household. However, an altogether more complex task usually reserved for caregivers and domestic staff may be delegated to our robotic companions in the near future.

According to recent reports, there is a new robot on the scene – the “robot nanny”, and it may soon be making its way into urban households. According to Mobile Mag, these affordable robots will be able to “bottle-feed babies, change diapers, and even iron the kids’ clothes.” Created by Avatar Mind, the new robot nanny is called iPal and is equipped with the mind (learning engine) of an adult but with the general conversational capacities of a four- to eight-year-old, allowing it to better relate to the child.

“The robot’s mind is also set to remember a child’s likes and dislikes and uses this knowledge to improve conversation”, says Mobile Mag. “Its super brain is also keen on always researching on the internet to learn more about topics that are interesting to the child.” Avatar Mind claim that not only is the robot created to take care of a child while handling minor tasks like ironing and folding  clothes, but is also able to replace the hours of digital entertainment many children are exposed to in the modern day.

But can robots really replace nannies?

In her article for The Week, Ruth Margolis emphasises that, although the idea of her children playing with an interactive robot rather than staring at a screen is appealing, it is important to remember that: “iPal is designed exclusively for the three-plus set and it’s a glorified toy rather than a robot sitter. You shouldn’t actually leave a child — of any age — in its care.” Agreeing with this sentiment, QZ says, “The robot essentially serves as a glorified baby monitor and that’s perhaps its most useful feature: it not only keeps children engaged, but gives parents the power to check on children remotely and even video chat with them through the tablet embedded in the iPal’s chest, which runs Android applications. In the future, the robot could provide a convenient lens for caregivers to look over children with special needs or the aging elderly population at times when they cannot be physically present.”

Despite its potentials, even Avatar Mind themselves insist that “it cannot replace a babysitter.” Madeline Duva, an adviser to the company, says that iPal ought to only be used to occupy a child for a brief period. Similarly, as QZ report, researchers from University of Lisbon have found that children need actual human role models to help them develop cultural values, master a sense of morality. No matter how sophisticated robots become, they cannot replicate the social values that a real human nanny will pass on to children in their care.

Mobile Mag points out that other experts are concerned that long-term exposure to robots instead of humans may cause some psychological effects on the child. They also ask:

“While that may seem like a good thing given that robot nannies don’t need to call in sick or ask for vacation leave, there are other important aspects to consider. How will iPal react if a fire breaks out? Can it squish poisonous spiders nearing the child? What will it do if the child is choking?”

These questions remain unanswered, so Mobile Mag suggests that, rather than investing in the risks of a robot, “it’s time to give your present human nanny a pay raise and better sick leave benefits.” If you are in need of household staff or nannies, remember that only human beings can truly understand your family’s unique needs and provide the human contact that children need to grow into fulfilled adults. A nanny agency will be able to find the perfect employee to not only fulfil all of the daily chores as efficiently as any computerised being, but also provide the empathy and bond that a growing family needs. We may be in the computer age, but there are some things that code cannot replace.

Private chefs are the secret to dinner party success

Private chef

Image Credit: Chrisda (VisualHunt.com / CC BY)

The secret to hosting a truly successful dinner party is in hiring a private chef, according to a recent article in The Standard. In the piece, Rosamund Urwin explains that, despite her best efforts as a solo host, the pressure of pleasing her guests overwhelmed every occasion until she decided to enlist professional private household staff.

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