Not everyone is going to like you. This includes children – and often, when children don’t like you, you have less time to try to get them to come around before they decide to write you off forever. I’ve had a few cases where children just haven’t liked me (and I haven’t liked them much, either!), and it’s hard. It’s challenging, and you feel wrong for disliking the child, and you also feel a bit rejected and hurt. I mean, I’m a great nanny, here I am trying to bend over backwards to make you happy, and you just don’t like me? Ugh.
I looked after a little girl who was adorable. Beautiful wispy blonde hair, huge blue eyes, and a lovely smile. But I could never connect with her, though I tried. The first time I came over, she hid behind her mother until her mother pried her off her legs and she left. Now, this is normal for a three-year-old – she cried and cried until I was able to try to distract her. But she wouldn’t be distracted. She went over and sat on the couch and glared at me. I managed, after an hour of that, to get her warmed up enough to do a puzzle with me, and even got a few smiles out of her, so I figured that it was just due to shyness and separation anxiety, and the next time would be better.
The next few times, the same thing happened. Over and over again, she would wail heartbrokenly and then glare at me on the sofa. And it became harder and harder to distract her. I tried to talk to her. I tried to offer things to do, and she didn’t want to do anything. She would turn her back on me and snap, “Don’t talk to me!” One day, I asked her in mock-exasperation if she just wanted to go to bed. To my surprise, she said yes, and went to her room and shut the door. At 6 pm in the evening. When I peeped into her room 15 minutes later, she was sitting in bed, dressed in her pajamas. I asked her if she wanted me to read a story, and she replied, “No. Go away, I don’t like you.”
I was hurt. I’d had kids say that before, but I’d always been able to win them over. I’d done everything to try to win this little girl over, and she just wasn’t having anything to do with it. I went back to the living room, leaving her in peace, and then considered what I’d do. I’d try one more time, the next time I babysat, and if her attitude didn’t change at all, I’d leave the job and let her mother find someone she would like. It’s hard to deal with a child who doesn’t want anything to do with you.
The next time, I brought a special treat – a brand-new Tinker Bell book. I knew this little girl liked Tinker Bell, and I thought maybe this would be a peace offering. But unfortunately, the same thing happened. She cried, sat on the couch, and even when I proffered the book, she snatched it from my hands, looked it over, and then shoved it back at me contemptuously, saying, “I hate Tinker Bell. I don’t want this, take it away.”
I left that job feeling very defeated. But upon further thought, there was nothing I could do to change the situation. The little girl may have not been ready to have a babysitter, or she may just have really not liked me. Children are allowed their likes and dislikes, the same as adults, and beyond trying to engage them, there’s nothing you can really do.
Despite that, here are some things I have done that have worked to win wary children over:
1. Find a special activity that the child and I can do together: Sometimes, finding a special activity (safe activity that is sanctioned by the parents!) that the child only gets to do when I’m over has gone a long way to getting a petulant child to warm up. I’ve taken children to parks they don’t normally go to, played a special movie for them, or made up a make-believe game that we can continue together the next time I come over. They associate the fun activity with you, and sometimes their feelings of dislike are replaced by feelings of excitement!
2. Take the child for a special treat: Again, this must be sanctioned by the parents and food allergies and other dietary restrictions must be cleared, but sometimes making or taking a child for a special treat can help get them more comfortable with me.
3. Outright asking them why they are angry with me: Children can’t always put names to their emotions, and “I don’t like you!” can be code for, “I’m angry that you’re here because Mommy left.” I’ve had a lot of success with this, and children who have turned their backs on me when I came into the house at the beginning of the babysitting job have opened up to me when we were able to chat. Hugs and cuddles can help with the feelings, too, if the child will let you do so. Sometimes, the feelings of loneliness can be assuaged by a caring babysitter who doesn’t write the child off (and this can be hard when all the dislike is projected on you!).
4. Ignoring them and doing something they would find fun: When nothing else works, I find the “ignore and play with a child-friendly activity” technique really gets their curiosity piqued. They can stay on the couch and glare at me, or they can come over and join me in doing a puzzle or playing a game. This leaves the choice of interaction up to the child, and many a frozen child has warmed up to me when they see me playing. I get a hand on my shoulder, a little head hanging down into my field of vision, and then “I don’t play that way. I think you’re doing it wrong. Let me show you,” and we’re off to the races!
5. Leaving the job if nothing else works: If you don’t like a child, or if a child doesn’t like you, it’s not a good relationship. There’s always a warming-up period, but I’ve left jobs before because it’s not fair to anyone if the relationship isn’t improving after a generous period of adjustment time. Better to find someone who can get along with the child, and to find someone you can get along with. When leaving a job, never present it as “the child just won’t get along with me”. Present it as a personality conflict between you and the child, and explain that the relationship isn’t improving, nor is it beneficial to either of you to continue. Parents will be upset about this, but showing them what you’ve tried to get the child to warm up to you can help to smooth it over. Never tell a parent you personally don’t like their child!
I am happy to say that the majority of children I’ve dealt with who were a little cold at first have warmed up considerably and enjoy our time together. The few that haven’t, I hope they found someone they could get along with. I do get along with most children, which is why I love my job so much – but when I don’t, I do everything I can before I leave. It’s only fair!
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