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10 Rules for Every Toddler Caregiver

Photograph by Twenty20

When my girls were 2 and 3, I had a fantastic sitter. She was equal parts strict and laid-back and I couldn't have asked for a more fitting person to watch my darlings the one or two days I worked outside the home.

Even though we adored and trusted her, I doubted that even the most exemplary nanny-type would be as diligent about behavior expectations and daily manners when it came to helping me raise my girls the few days she was with us.

So, I came up with some hard and semi-bitchy rules for my sitter to not only keep my kids safe, but also raise them to be capable, smart, and aligned with my own expectations and values, so that I didn't have to undo bad habits that my fabulous sitter had unintentionally created while on the clock. (For example: "Don't worry about picking up your toys, girls. I'll do it. It's my job.") You get me?

If your toddlers are under someone else's care, setting rules like these might give you more peace of mind when you're not there and also help your littles grow into big kids that aren't so chaotic to live with later. So, here are 10 rules your caregiver should live by.

1. Use toddler leashes in public places. Kids get lost faster than we can blink our eyes, sometimes—we know this, moms. If you're venturing in public, tie those toddlers up. (Don't judge. You have no idea how much peace of mind this gave me.)

Even the best of caregivers have brain farts. It's our job to remind them to stay focused and not unintentionally lose our kids when out and about.

2. Stop the stroller screen time. This one's for the nannies I constantly see pushing strollers around town, containing toddlers whose tiny hands are grasping their phone with eyes glued to the screen and aren't even looking around at the scenery flying by. Not. Good. For. The. Kids. In. Many. Ways. So, tell our caregivers, "No-go." If they're showing my baby the world, which I hope they do, their view shouldn't be distracted by a screen.

3. No taking/posting pictures of my kid on social media. The only person who should be creating and cultivating our kids' digital footprint is us.

4. Talk out loud to them. I'm a big believer in asking babies what they want for breakfast. (Anyone read my book?) Talking out loud to small kids—even if they don't have the complete language skills to talk back in a way that makes sense—raises them to be better aware, better listeners, better behaved, more empathetic and just plain better. (Check out First5 California for science and specifics on this.)

5. Everyone goes to the bathroom together. Thanks to my then 4-year-old, I once found out my awesome sitter innocently left her outside a public bathroom while she took my 3-year-old in to go potty!? Not OK! Even the best of caregivers have brain farts. It's our job to remind them to stay focused and not unintentionally lose our kids when out and about.

6. My kid picks up his/her own trash and takes his/her own plate to the sink. Just because you're paying someone to take care of your child and home for the day doesn't mean kids should get used to having an all-day maid. Trust me, starting chores at early ages WORKS. My girls now automatically take all plates/cups/utensils up to the sink after every meal without me even asking ... and also pick up after themselves ... and also fix their own beds. No joke! Require that your sitter insist your toddler take on these tasks. Once it's habit, watch her start loving her job even more—and watch yourself glow with pride having extra helping hands around the house.

7. Let my kids play by themselves sometimes. Yes, we want our caregivers to talk and play with our kids, but entertaining toddlers 24/7, without letting them explore and think for themselves, establishes a lazy mindset of "I'll just wait for someone else to tell me what to play and/or do this for me." Every kindergarten teacher I know has requested our kids learn self-starting skills and self-regulation before we send them into the classroom. Do this for our teachers.

8. Go outside, or else. I can enlist the TV to babysit on the days when I need to get something urgent done (like cook dinner or write a blog post).

9. Read at least one book to them per day. Not even going to justify this one. Just show me which book(s) you read when I get home and we're good.

10. No social calls unless it's nap time. I'm not paying for you to be distracted by gossiping friends. (Too brutal? Nope. Just real.)

It's good for our kids to have sitters and caregivers outside of our own families—hello, it builds social skills and empathy—but toddlers also need consistency and rules. Sometimes, caregivers are the only ones there to tackle this during the day, so we must set the rules and insist they follow them or else. Our common goal as parents and nannies is to raise good humans for the present and future—and that's not bitchy at all.

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