How to deal with an abusive nanny


Abusive nannies are not a new problem.

In 2014, a video of a nanny abusing a toddler went viral. In the video the nanny forces the child to eat and at the end the little girl throws up. The nanny gets irritated, throws the child to the floor, kicks, hits and steps on the child. This raised questions about how one chooses a good nanny and how to deal with an abusive nanny. Below we discuss some of the things you need to know when it comes to dealing with an abusive nanny.


Jennifer Papers, who is a counselling social worker at the Family Life Centre, says it is wise for parents to find a nanny from a registered agency which does background checks as well as criminal checks on behalf of the parents. “Parents can then follow an interviewing process to find a nanny best suited for their family’s needs. It is often helpful to have a recommended nanny referred by friends and family,” she says. Life coach Fundi Ndaba says when parents meet potential nannies they need to ask questions that will indicate how they would handle ‘unruly’ children, and even ask them to open up about a time where they had to deal with a difficult child. She adds that although we can never know the true answer, in that moment you have an opportunity to understand the child minder’s emotional state. “Parents are often rushed into hiring a nanny because the previous nanny left unceremoniously, forcing them to hire someone as soon as possible. This causes them to miss out on choosing the qualities that the child minder should have,” she says.


Jennifer also says a good nanny should possess a sincere love and care for children. She says honesty and integrity are qualities that will harness a trusting relationship. Fundi adds that nannies must have common sense, as she will be making endless decisions about your child’s health, safety and well-being throughout the day. “The nanny must assess an emergency situation and decide the safest course of action. A nanny must also be fun and enthusiastic about life,” she says. Jennifer also says that very often parents might choose an unemployed family member to become the nanny, overlooking all the necessary qualities. “In some cases this might be problematic when parents experience challenges with the relative. This can cause tension between loved ones and it can be tough getting rid of them too,” says Jennifer.


According to Jennifer, parents must ensure that the nanny’s primary responsibility is to care for the needs of the child. “The role of the nanny might be to make sure the child is fed, clean, takes naps, and has play time. A nanny should not have to be involved with running financial errands of the household such as being responsible for paying bills,” says Jennifer. “Their attention should be directed to the well-being of the children. Nannies should not in any form use punishment to discipline a child. Discipline should solely be the responsibility of parents. Having multiple disciplinarians can result in inconsistent forms of punishment, causing the child to become confused, anxious and aggressive.” Fundi says it must be made clear with the nanny what the Child Protection Act says about punishing children and also emphasise on the steps you might take in addressing any form of abuse that she might inflict on the child. “In an event where the child is visibly abused, the parent must inform the police and get the law to take its course. That should be done to ensure that the perpetrator does not do it again,” she says.


According to Jennifer, nannies can commit all kinds of abuse and as a parent you need to be very vigilant and aware of warning signs that your child is being abused.

¦ Physical abuse: Beating, pushing and kicking your child is unacceptable not just from your nanny, but from anyone. Look out for unexplained bruises on the child’s body. If your child is old enough, ask them as soon as you notice anything odd and get to the bottom of it. Fundi says luckily the Children’s Act protects children, so much so that even the parents can’t physically punish their children. She also adds that children who grow up exposed to abuse can become abusers themselves, or grow withdrawn, struggle to trust, become drug addicts or become alcoholics.

¦ Emotional abuse: This can include shouting at the child and not attending to the child’s emotional needs such as leaving the child to cry for hours unattended. As a parent, if you witness your nanny behaving this way, it is better to address it before it gets out of control.

¦ Psychological abuse: Calling the child names such as ugly or stupid because they are unable to do something, telling the child how spoilt and naughty they are or making the child feel guilt and shame is unacceptable. Psychological abuse can also include body shaming a child.

¦ Sexual abuse: The nanny may inappropriately touch the child, rape, expose their genitals to the child or watch pornography with the child. They could also have sex in the presence of the child. This must immediately be reported to the police.


Fundi says some signs that a child is being abused include changes in behaviour and certain emotional signs such as being withdrawn, suddenly behaving differently, anxious, clingy, depressed, aggressive, sleeping problems, eating disorders, regressing to bed wetting and soiling their clothes. “Take note of little things such as if the child might be persistently afraid to go home or to engage with the nanny. The child might also seem to be in too many accidents and have body bruises,” she says.


Jennifer says that abuse is a criminal offence and therefore the police should be alerted to avoid the same type of abuse happening to another child. The nanny should be fired immediately for the safety of the children. “Therapy is always a great way of dealing with the aftermath of abuse. Parents often blame themselves for what happened and therefore struggle to come to terms with it,” says Jennifer. Depending on the length and scale of abuse, Fundi says the parent must ensure that the child is seen by a child psychologist who will ensure that they undergo relevant counselling.

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