By Danielle Taylor


Connecting with Early Elementary Schoolers

A huge tenet of Positive Discipline is building & nurturing the relationship between you and the child(ren) you care for.  We call this connection.  Some connection-building is instant and easy: you’ll end up bonding with just about any child in your circle, but if you find yourself in power struggles or asking “why aren’t they listening to me?” then it’s time to focus on building connection.  Faith Collins, who wrote “Joyful Toddlers and Preschoolers,” one of our favorite parenting books here at Sproutable, says that, “Most of the time, when children say no to us, what they are really saying is, “I don’t feel as connected to you right now as I wish I did.” She’s right – kiddos who feel connected to their adults are simply & truly happier to work collaboratively and cooperatively with you.  

People comment on my “magic touch” and “toddler whispering,” but really, it’s just building connection.  Aside from keeping my nanny charges safe, keeping our connection strong is my biggest priority.  Here are five of my personal, all-time favorite ways to bond with the six-year-old that I nanny and that you may enjoy with early elementary schoolers as well.  

I come from a teaching background and my plan was always to be a teacher.  I loved many aspects of classroom teaching, but found nannying to be a better fit for me.  Regardless, nannies sure do end up doing a lot of teaching, so I still get to scratch that itch.  Sure, we’re always going to be teaching kiddos academic stuff like their alphabet, and it’s vital to teach practical life skills, but what I truly find joyful is teaching my nanny kiddo something just for fun.  Sharing something I loved when I was a kiddo with her just because we’ll enjoy it!  

A recent example was when I taught my little friend how to braid!  Since it’s just for fun, there’s no pressure around “getting it right,” so it’s easy not to stress about any mistakes.  It feels like hanging out with an old friend.  I love teaching my nanny kiddos the random stuff that made me laugh when I was a kiddo: how to speak pig Latin, clapping to Miss Mary Mack, or recreating a favorite art project from when I was in first grade.  

Keep it light, keep it fun, and teach them something new. 

On the flip side, you can be the student and let your nanny kiddo share a skill or talent with you!  The 6-year old I care for is truly a talented, amazing gymnast.  I, on the other hand, can barely touch my toes.  She thinks it is absolutely hilarious to attempt to teach me her moves and we always end up cracking each other up.  She’s a great little teacher, my flexibility is improving, and our connection continues to build!  Kiddos know all kinds of things that they can teach you about and be the expert in.  I can tell you so, so much about trucks, Zelda, Tangled, outer space, Minecraft, rocks & gems, and a zillion other topics because I love when kids share their intense interests and teach me about their passion.  

Similarly, you can tackle a new skill that you can both learn together!  I’ve written before about how my nanny kiddo and I are both learning to cook.  The stakes are low and we’re learning a handy life skill.  I get to model trying new things, letting mistakes roll off my back, and again, our connection is stronger because we’re in on something together.  There are so many fun classes for adults & children to do together that your nanny family may be happy to pay for.  Check locally for yoga, cooking, arts & crafts, or hiking groups specifically for bigs & littles to enjoy together!  

I’m guessing this one is pretty obvious, but keeping a sense of humor is one of the things that helps me find success in this field.  Nannying is hard work and burn-out abounds, so you absolutely have to find the humor in the little moments and laugh when you can!  Kids can absolutely tell when you’re faking, so I’m not encouraging you to phone it in here with some fake, forced laughter.  They are just inherently funny little beings.  My nanny kiddos and I are always cracking jokes & making each other laugh.  

Here’s my 6-year old buddy’s all time favorite joke: 

Why do ducks have feathers?  To cover their butt quacks!

Come on, that’s funny!  Have some jokes in your back pocket.  There have been countless times where I see sibling bickering ramping up or after we’ve been cooped up inside all day, where I can feel the sizzle in the air and know some conflict is around the corner – you can break that tension with a joke!  There’s room for humor all over the place, if you’re looking.  If you have the rapport, you can even use humor to say “no” or correct behavior, but we do want to be conscientious that we’re never making fun of or laughing at our nanny charges in an unkind way.  Again, Faith Collins nails this when she says, 

“Humor can be enormously connecting when it is shared.  When a child says no and we respond with humor, that no can often dissipate quite quickly.  Not because we are distracting them or tricking them, but because we are rekindling our sense of “us” . . . the no’s melt away as the two of you connect.” 

Another quick way that my nanny kiddos and I have made each other laugh recently is by going way over the top and telling each other exaggerated opposites of what we actually need to do.  For example, if I say, “Mama will be working downstairs when we get home.  How will we walk in so we don’t disturb her?”  They’ll tell me, “We’ll STOMP in and SLAM the door!  We’ll scream hello to her down the stairs!”  and I’ll reply with, “Oh, perfect!  Yay!  Thank you!”  We’re all dripping with sarcasm, and they know that’s not what we’re actually going to do on our way in.  It’s just a silly little way to review expectations in a fun way.  I would not try this on my first day with a new family or with young kiddos; this is a bit I only do with elementary school children who know their routines & expectations backwards and forwards.  

Another one that’s always guaranteed to get a laugh: tell a funny story from when your nanny kiddo was younger!  The child I care for loves to hear stories about when she was a baby (as well as looking at old pictures from those days).  I have so many funny ones – the time she thought my yellow post-it note was a cheese slice & got so mad I wouldn’t share with her or the time I jokingly called her a “little turkey” and she smiled up at me mischievously and said “gobble gobble!” 

Like I mentioned above, lean into their interests as much as you can!  Julietta, our amazing early-years lead, is the expert on “finding the fun,” and one of the easiest ways to make things more fun is to bring in their interests!  Instead of just getting dressed, you can be queens getting dressed for the ball.  Instead of nagging and nagging to get out the door, be cheetahs having a race through the jungle.  Aside from being a helpful tool, though, it’s just kind & friendly to listen to the people around you when they share.  I sure share about my hobbies & interests, and I want to hear about theirs, too!  If you do screen time with your nanny kiddo, see if you can actually pause what you’re doing to sit down and watch their show with them.  Who are their favorite characters?  When you read together, let them choose the book.  You don’t have to fake it (in fact, don’t, kids can tell when you’re being phony) but be open!  I would never pick up Minecraft on my own, but I do have a better appreciation for it now that I know more about it. 

My current early-elementary schooler loves music.  It’s really fun watching her explore new artists and genres.  We go back & forth sharing songs with each other – she doesn’t get to pick every song, and neither do I.  We take turns, we compromise, and we end up finding tunes we didn’t expect to enjoy.  Sure, I’m not listening to Jojo Siwa on my weekend, but I know all the words to all of her songs.  I’m not a big Taylor Swift girl either, but one of my favorite memories is scream-singing “Shake It Off” with my little friend in the car.  We’ve really bonded over this shared love, even though we enjoy different genres and artists.  

This also gives us an opportunity to practice being kind and polite when you don’t care for something that is shared with you.

I’m sure it’s no surprise that the best way you’re going to forge a connection with a child is by playing together!  I have yet to meet a child who isn’t absolutely delighted when an adult gives them full, focused attention and plays with them.  I love Jeff Johnson & Denita Dinger’s quote, “Play is not frivolous.  It is not a luxury.  It is not something to fit in after completing all the important stuff.  Play is the important stuff.”  So true!  I know that playing comes more naturally to some of us than others (see my tips on messy play, risky play, & imaginative play), but you can do it!  Don’t direct their play; follow their lead and go with it.  Let them choose what you all play together, and it’s even better if you can do this regularly in small, frequent blocks of special time.  If you’re really not up for hours of open-ended Barbie play spread out on the floor, try something more structured like a card game or board game.  We love Uno Flip, Wig Out, & Slamwich.  I think most of us get into nannying because we truly enjoy being with children, so let’s lean into that!  We can get paid to play – that’s amazing! 

My last note is that building connection will be unique to you and your nanny charge.  Both personalities will play into how you relate to each other.  What works well for me and my nanny kiddos may not be the same strategies that resonate with you.  Faith Collins says, “Taking the time to learn how children feel connected enriches both of our lives” and gives the helpful advice that, “you can tell when that connection is happening when a person’s reaction is, Yes!  Let’s do it again!”  

So pay attention to the activities, times, & conversations that make your nanny charge light up and say “Again!”

Try keeping a focus on building connection this week and see what happens.  All the other stuff – behavior, routines, academics – all of it will feel easier once your connection is established.  We’re all on the same team, so let’s act like it, and nurture those relationships.  Not only will you get the pay-off of connected kids who listen & cooperate, but you’ll get to know your nanny kids a little better, and that’s always worth the effort!   

Author bio

Danielle Taylor is a Certified Positive Discipline Parent Educator and Certified Positive Discipline Early Childhood Educator. Danielle has over 13 years of experience working with children in various capacities, primarily as a nanny and a classroom teacher. Danielle is a passionate life-longer learner and enjoys sharing Positive Discipline tips, tools, and tricks with others.


Add a Comment

Similar posts