Episode 4: My Opinion about the Role House-Helps and Nannies have on Growing Your Child’s Language

Let’s face it, if you live in a developing country, there are some luxuries we are afforded, such as the choice of live –in or a house-help to assist with the children and the house chores. As a working mother I am particularly grateful for this. I most certainly feel I am a better mom because I have help. Children are hard work period. Most times when I get home from work, I just want to crash on the couch. If I had to imagine, I would leave work, pass by the daycare /afterschool care to pick up my little darlings then head home, go through the evening routine (shower, snack, feeding, homework etc) with each of my children and also embark on dinner preparation, cleaning up, etc, my mind actually refuses to conceptualise. I have to say, I have utmost respect for two kinds of people in this world: Stay at home mothers and mothers living in developed countries, who manage all the responsibilities of being a mother without very much support. Please try not to feel too terrible about your situation as ours isn’t entirely rosy. The honest truth is that in Kenya today, a great percentage of homes are run by house-helps. It also goes without saying that so many children in Kenya are raised by people other than ourselves. I insist that this new reality calls for a lot more thoughtfulness with how we vet, recruit and train the persons we entrust our children to. Research is very clear on the importance of early experiences in children and how quality interaction, engaging and informed caregiver have on the cognitive (brain) development of young children. Early years form the very critical foundation for all other development Most households in Kenya continue to entrust this very delicate role of caregiving to young children to untrained ‘minders” who we choose to refer to as house-helps. The traditional role of house-helps is predominantly cleaning, washing and perhaps food preparation. House-helps freed up time or rather were meant to free up time for mothers in order for them to concentrate fully on the children. Our modern society has seen the role of house-help evolve to what it is today, which is, for lack of a better term, a co-parent with a big chunk of households, with both mom and dad working, house-helps are left with more and more responsibilities, which stretch beyond the initial description into areas little to no training has been offered. Does your current house-help have any training into how to raise your children according to the principles and morals you wish to see in your children? Do you train your house-help on how you like your clothes, washed, ironed even hang on the hanger, but have overlooked the most important training you ought to have given them? STT Web Strip ADs 17•04•20216 My opinion is that if you are a conscious parent with a vision of what kind of children /adults you would like to raise, then it is important that you make a clear distinction between the staff you hire in your home for the various jobs. The job of raising children should be only delegated, to suitably qualified persons, who you further train to suit your family‘s unique needs. There are key differences between a nanny and a help and it is possible for a nanny to double up in roles, but I think it is difficult for a house-help to also perform the duties of a nanny without sufficient training. House-help Responsible for the general housekeeping; Meal preparation House chores Laundry Nanny Responsible for not only the safety and health of the child, but also the cognitive growth of the child and overall child development. The following activities encourage child development; Quality interactions with the child Language stimulatory engagements Play activities i.e. nanny modeling various play (with toys, pretend /imaginative). Outdoor activities such as walks, explorations Schoolwork/craft Safety and health of a child Meals –prepay nutritionally balanced food Ensuring all accidents are reported to parents and if possible dealt with beforehand. Ensuring all medication is administered accurately and tracked sufficiently Behavior Management Ensuring the parents behavior managements strategies are upheld. Fostering independence by continually expecting the child to self-manage their activities of daily living and other age appropriate chores. Accompany the children to any periodic activities e.g. sports /educational if the parent is not available. Clearly, if by looking at the 2 columns, the nanny is more of a co-parent, whether we choose to accept it or not. If we’re completely honest with ourselves, the people who assist us in our homes become more of co-parents. When we delegate both the responsibilities of housekeeping and nannying to one individual or one with just the capabilities of a house-help, then the people that suffer are our little people. I doubt anyone would disagree that raising children is a difficult job. There are many documented (even undocumented ) cases of mental health issues in mothers because it is a job that requires you to keep giving causing one to burn out and still not ask for help. So when help is available, we are grateful, but this help can also be detrimental  to our children if we don’t plan it well. It is sometimes easy to forget how difficult a job raising a child /children is when we are privileged to have help. When we fail to ensure there is a distribution of work given to the people we hire in our homes, we run the risks of having certain things (or people ) neglected as a result. For example, if you expect your house help to also carry out some of the responsibilities of a nanny, then, the help will at some point burn out and therefore leave or cut corners in some areas and the most obvious area will be your child. Helps who have a lot of housekeeping to do, will find a ‘sitter’ for your child in order to free up time to complete the house chores.
The ‘sitter’ in most cases are screens (tv, smartphones, tablets etc). I have indeed noted with deep concern the number of children who experience language delays for whom the language delays could have been contributed to by the unconducive home environment they live in. Most of these children, not surprisingly, are cared for by helps. Again, I maintain that gone should the days be when we got given helps by family or concerned friends, who we don’t get to interview before they begin. It is absolutely essential that we interview a number of leads before we hire nanny for our children. It is also crucial that we train the person on how we want the person to care for our children. The training should include, but not be limited to:-
  • Food selection + when/what to offer as snack + intake of water
  • Schedules (eating / play/nap, reading, bath time).
  • Language activities
  • Discipline, etc.
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