Definition Nanny: See Under Caregiver, Superwoman, Servant, Agony Aunt and Educator

This is a guest post from Gaby Morris of Riverside Childcare.

When one hears the word ‘Nanny’ how one reacts can vary enormously. I’ve heard views that suggest that Nannies are only for the rich and famous and others that they are the saviours of the household carrying out all the duties a parent cannot by virtue of their work commitments, elderly parents and health issues.


The modern British interpretation is that Nanny undertakes all childcare duties either sole charge or is capable of sole charge, understands nutrition, is a competent first aider, qualified and all round star turn. She is (or should be) a respected professional. What’s interesting is that the historic description both in the role, the status of the Nanny in the household and the obligation the family had to the Nanny once the children had grown up and most likely gone away to school was somewhat different.


In the Victorian era Nannies were perceived to be servants, albeit senior servants, reporting directly to Mother but spending the majority of their day in the Nursery wing which was largely under their control often aided by a lowly nursemaid. Sometimes they were referred to as Nurse and were almost always female. They were far more actively involved in bringing up a child and it was not unusual for a child to see their parents once per day. Parents were more interested in undertaking roles such as teaching reading in preparation for the child going away to Boarding School – typically at seven years old. Nanny was not paid a great deal but was given bed and board, however she remained with the family well past the time when their services were needed and the family accepted their responsibility to the individual. As you can imagine as a result it has always made me smile when families have said they’d like an ‘old-fashioned Nanny’ as I think gosh that’s a big commitment!



The modern role of the Nanny appears to have developed differently and a material difference in an American household, as British perception is that the American Nanny’s role is wider and may well include more day to day household duties benefiting the whole family not just the child.


Marijo Tinlin, Editor-in-Chief of Family First, posed some interesting questions to us which we would like to share with you, but a little about us first!


Back in 1989 on October 23rd I gave birth to my first child, I was on maternity leave with a clock ticking until my return to work. I needed a Nanny and having come from an HR background, I thought it would be very straightforward. Phone a reputable agency and get fixed up! Boy how wrong was I! Living in a newly gentrified area of London led to a complete undervaluing of the seriousness of my requirements. Of course as we now know the gentrification of both the inner city areas of both London and New York changed the face of many districts. Back then the lack of vision manifested itself as poor service and in one instance specific misrepresentation. I felt there must be something better out there .


Utilizing my HR knowledge together with then pediatric nurse Jill Wheatcroft, in 1989 we created Riverside Nannies. Jill went on to become part of a specialist team caring for children with difficult life threatening conditions and a Lecturer in Child Health teaching the student nurses of two major London teaching hospitals alongside devising our ongoing accredited training programme. Heather Wilkinson joined the team bringing expertise in nannying, nursery management and training of child-carers. To this day that which we learned way back in ’89 underpins our approach to helping families.



Marijo’s questions:


Q: How are American kids different from British children in terms of behavior?



Jill Wheatcroft: British children tend to have more boundaries set from an early age and perhaps are subject to a more set routine, this may result in a slightly more constrained behavior.


Q: Do you solve behavior issues like the “Super Nanny” does? If so, what are the common problems you are helping parents deal with?


Jill Wheatcroft: Actually no! Philosophically we are in a different place to Super Nanny. My view it is generally better to try and encourage good behavior through positive reinforcement rather then utilizing ‘time out’. Of course ‘time out’ does have its place and can be effective.  Children tend to do much better if they know where they stand and have a clear sense of what’s right and wrong, with clear boundaries set. We believe that equally children clearly understand if their behavior has been very good and as a counter to being reprimanded should be praised when necessary.


It is very important for parents and nannies to agree what is acceptable behavior and what is not. Map out a plan of how to respond to support each other and stick to it. If the nanny is not supported by the parent then behavior is likely to be a problem as well as the problem of a disgruntled Nanny and visa versa.



Q: What, if any, are British (or your own) discipline techniques American parents should know?



Jill Wheatcroft: Following on from my earlier answer, Nanny and the parent(s) should sit down together and agree what defines acceptable and unacceptable behavior and then stick firmly to that agreement in the disciplining or a child. Equally the follow through is critical. Choose attainable goals.  Otherwise the child can become very confused and frustrated. Any disagreements on strategy need to be discussed privately not in front of the child.


Q: What, if any, challenges do you see in the structure of American families when you are helping them – such as both working parents, mom stays home but has help, etc.


Jill Wheatcroft: The challenge is actually universal. If both parents work it is important to have a set time when the children know a/both parents can really spend uninterrupted time with them. Simple things like doing the school run, looking at school projects together, making Sunday morning breakfast make a difference. Of course it is at the beginning of the working relationship, difficult for a nanny working alongside a parent and visa versa hence the need to have the same position on discipline – the worse case scenario for the child is to have Nanny say No and the parent say Yes, not because the answer is yes but for a quite life, or simply not to be seen as the villan of the piece. Consistency in message is the best way forward.


The Riverside team will be happy to take your questions and support your childcare needs and can be contacted by email at and can be followed on twitter @nannytraining and on our blog

At the time of writing, we are deeply saddened  by the tragic  death in New York of two children. Our thoughts are with the family.

Gaby Morris

October 2012

Please also check out this blog post from Morris on how to choose a nanny.

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