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“With 3 Kids of My Own, How Do I Babysit a Difficult Child?”

Q: I am a stay-at-home mom to my three children who are 7, 3 and almost 2. I watch my neighbor’s son, who is in first grade like my oldest daughter, after school three days a week. His behavior has warranted discipline at times, but I have kept my patience and have always spoken calmly about sharing, cooperation, keeping hands to himself, etc. My children obviously are a handful at times too, but his behavior (aggression, yelling, not listening) has definitely added a layer of complexity to our already busy household.

I am not getting paid very much, maybe $100/month. My husband is always concerned about how I feel with being at home all day and he does not think the money is worth the added difficulty. However, I feel as though I should be able to handle this and feel badly for his parents to have to find alternative day care for him after school.

I never have had the conversation with his parents about how to handle discipline for him. I didn't anticipate that he would be as difficult as he is. Any advice as to how to handle this sticky situation would be helpful. —Elena

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A: Dear Elena,

You’re obviously a very nice person, but let me tell you what this situation looks like from the outside: It looks crazy. Before your new charge—let’s call him “Junior”—truly drives you mad, you must take action. Here are some things you can do right away:

Stop “should-ing” yourself. I sympathize with your desire to save All of the Children. You already have three kids, what’s one more, right? You’re meant to be a mother, and while you’re frustrated with Junior’s actions, you want to help him and his parents. But you, better than anyone, must know that adding one kid to a family adds a thousand times more work. Maybe the real question here is, "Why are you so hard on yourself?"

Talk to his parents! The solution could very well be as simple as that. I’m surprised you did not establish rules of discipline when you made this child-care arrangement. Junior’s parents may have very clear methods of helping him make better decisions—perhaps they also use the venerable time-out, or they may have some kind of positive reinforcement system in place that you can use together to improve his behavior. If they have no discipline, which is unfortunately so often the case, then firmly let the parents know that when their child is in your care he will be held to the same standards of behavior that you set for your own kids.

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Raise your rates. I suppose it would be a different matter if your new charge was a docile, quiet child who sat in the corner and said “Please” and “Thank you” and not much else. (Also, I imagine he would say these things in a soft voice with an English accent, but that’s MY fantasy ... ) This child’s antics, however, are worth a lot more than $100 a month. Your husband, who seems very wise, has already pointed this out, so why not listen to him?

In the end, perhaps it’s worth it to simply inform Junior’s parents that you are no longer able to watch him after school. Stop feeling bad or worrying about them—it’s their job see that he’s looked after, not yours. You must put yourself and your family first. Someday—and I know it feels impossible—your children will be older and you’ll able to take on more responsibility, but for now remember: everyone has limits. Junior seems to have found yours.

Do you have a dilemma that’s too big for your girlfriends, but too small for a therapist? Send it to me at mommecs@bermanbraun.com, and I may choose to answer it in next week’s column. I’ve got your back, sister.

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