Last week, I interviewed Nick Mitchell, one of a handful of male nannies in the UK, about how and why he chose a career looking after other people’s kids. This week, as promised, Nick shares his childcare advice and tips on everything from behaviour to eating to great days out.
If you’d like to contact Nick he has his own website, http://nannynick.com and also Tweets @nannynick
Reluctant Housedad: Do you have any favourite strategies for dealing with difficult behaviour e.g. temper tantrums; not eating; pinching/biting?
NannyNick: I go with the flow thus preventing many temper tantrums occurring as I am not needing to encourage a child to do something they don’t want to do that often. Sometimes a tantrum does occur and it can happen when we are out and about which will mean that we pack up and go home.
Children eat when they want to eat. I don’t feel a child will starve themselves. They will at times have a very select diet which may not be desirable. I like to give them some limited choices, so they can decide what to do, what to eat, all within some limitations… so you might give them we can go to X or Y. The older the child the more choices they can have, though with under 5’s I tend to keep it as 2 things to choose between or perhaps three. Siblings fight, a lot of the time it’s play fighting, so you need to stand back and observe what is happening… are the children playing, or is it becoming
bullying? Intentionally hurting others is discouraged.
RH: I’m going to have my three children (girl, 9; boys, 6 and 3) for the whole of the summer holidays and I’m dreading it. They have completely different needs and so are virtually impossible to keep happy all at the same time. Do you have any advice, insights, tips, specific things to do that would help achieve family harmony?
NN: My biggest tip is to get out of the house. Children often don’t like being cooped up, they like being outdoors and being able to run about and make noise. Summer is much easier than winter as the warm weather
lends itself well to spending most of the day outside, having a picnic lunch in the woods, at a park, or in the grounds of an historic house or castle. Each child may like to do different things, so I find woodland can be great as a child could look for bugs, another could be building a den, whilst another may be sitting on a log reading a book.
Where possible let the children, especially your older two decide what is you are doing each day, where you are going, what they want for lunch (they can even make lunch themselves). Some of our best outings have resulted from a child saying that they wanted to see something, to sit in something – for example one of the children wanted to sit in a helicopter, so I Googled and found a helicopter museum (Museum of Army Flying, Middle Wallop) and hoped that they had one which children could sit inside… they did. Would never have thought to go to that museum if I was the one coming up with places to visit.
RH: Reading your Tweets, you seem to get out and about a lot. What are your top 3/4/5 favourite places to take children and why?
NN: I am not sure we have favourite places. We have places we visit quite often due to them being local but I would say the places the children seem to like the best tend to be further away so we don’t get to go that often. In March 2010 I saw an episode of Country House Rescue about a house in Kent. I kept an eye on the website and in Summer 2010 we went to visit Riverhill Himalayan Gardens (www.riverhillgardens.co.uk) and the children really liked it – hunting for keys, building dens in the woods, clambering up into the treehouse, wandering around the plants and of course having ice-cream at the café. We have been a couple of times now and will be going back this summer. It is quite a long drive from West Surrey but that
does not put us off when we have all day to do something such as during the school summer holidays.
Living near Legoland (www.legoland.co.uk) we go there almost weekly term-time during opening season (it gets very busy in school holidays so we don’t go as often then). I suppose to us it’s just like a local park, somewhere we go to play and have a picnic. The rides add to the fun but having three children with me of varying ages limits what rides we can do, so I feel the rides are secondary to being able to look at the Lego models and play at the playgrounds. If you go often enough I feel the price compares well to indoor-play type places, or going swimming.
During term-time we often have a routine of places we visit, such as going swimming one day, going to toddler group, going to Legoland and having a day when we may go exploring the countryside or local parks/woodland or exploring the railway taking the train to some nearby town. When the weather isn’t that great, I find train ride can be good as it gets us out and about and off to somewhere different. Going on the train is as much part of the trip for the children as going to the place the train terminates at. We can take a train to Reading and ride the escalators or lifts, or both at a department store like John Lewis (who also provide great parent friendly toileting facilities and a place to feed a baby, plus warm a bottle). Children love to go shopping, as long as it’s their view of shopping, which is often not buying things but looking at things, looking at people and just watching the world go by. I nanny in a small village, so a trip to a City is exciting for the children. They see the hustle and bustle of the City, look at all the different coloured buses, listen to street musicians, smell the flowers at the flower stall, drink a babycino at the café (our trips often involve a visit to a café, it’s a good place to have a rest and refill). We often visit the Toy Deparment at John Lewis and often we do spend some
money there, but it’s great as they have some lovely small little things as well as the larger toys so the children can get something for around a pound, or if I have a voucher to spend we may get something bigger, often a book or puzzle. So I suppose a favourite place to visit is John Lewis Reading (www.johnlewis.com/reading) and Reading in general as it has a Museum and a playground (by the river – George Street, Caversham, Reading, RG4 8BY ).
Exploring is what we like doing so visiting new places is exploring. I find out about new places to visit by looking up special offers on the internet and reading other people’s Tweets on twitter about places they have visited, as well as the children randomly saying they want to see something thus resulting in a Google search for somewhere within a reasonable drive to see that thing. Not all trips are successful, sometimes we have turned up at the wrong place (trusting
SatNav isn’t always a good idea) or find that something mentioned in a news article hasn’t been built at the time we visit (dinosaur at Southsea for example from Summer 2010). It all adds to the fun and I feel helps to show the children that sometimes things do go wrong and you need to make the most of the situation. So what if the big dinosaur isn’t built on the seafront, there is a nice small museum down the road where they have a paper mache dinosaur and a butterfly room (www.portsmouthnaturalhistory.co.uk ). As I mentioned earlier, how someone was raised when as a child does I feel influence them as an adult. I still remember a trip I had as a child somewhere, I don’t recall where we were going but I do recall that we stopped by a field and saw a hot air balloon take off. That’s what has stuck in my mind, not the place we went to visit but getting to see a hot air balloon take off. Make the most of the unexpected when it occurs, children can remember those events much better than the trip you had planned.