Separation Sadness: Handling Your Child’s Emotions When Their Nanny Leaves

May 10, 2019 | GTM Blog, Parenting


Here are some tips to ease your children’s “separation sadness” when their nanny leaves and turn saying goodbye into a positive life lesson.

A nanny may leave their job for any number of reasons. Sometimes they move on by choice. Sometimes you need to let your nanny go immediately. It can be acrimonious or joyful. Regardless of how or why your nanny is leaving, your children may experience “separation sadness.” Handling these emotions can make a big difference in how your child deals with the loss of their caregiver and transitions to a new nanny. At the same time, you may be experiencing different emotions like stress and anger.

Understanding that you and your children may have different reactions to your nanny leaving is the first step to successfully navigating the situation.

While they are technically an employee, the personal nature of their work makes it easy for a nanny to become more like a family member. Now you must explain to your children that someone they may care deeply for is leaving.

Here are some tips to ease your children’s “separation sadness” and create a life lesson.

Remain positive

You would have every reason to feel resentment and anxiety if your nanny quits with little to no notice. You’re stuck without a caregiver, scrambling for backup care, and wondering what could have gone wrong. It’s a little easier if there’s a reason behind the departure and notice to go along with it. Your nanny may be moving, going back to school or, perhaps, starting a family of their own. Even if they found a better job – more money, better hours, a shorter commute, etc. – you can understand their leaving and but it still may be a stressful time until you hire your next caregiver.

Whatever the reason for your nanny’s departure, your children may be confused and upset. They are likely more attached to their nanny that you are. Older kids may understand why their nanny is leaving but for younger children, this could be a new experience.

They’ll be watching your reactions to the unfolding events. If you’re mad and upset, they may think those are ok emotions to have. After all, it’s easier to be outraged than confused.

That means, despite your negative emotions, you need to remain positive when speaking about the nanny’s departure with your children. They’re losing a beloved, trusted caregiver and will look to you for help in dealing with the situation.

Show model behavior

As your children watch your reactions, this is an opportunity to show them that change is not always a bad thing. Try to look on the bright side and find the positive. Talk about the fun they had and ask them about their favorite times with their nanny. Discuss how their nanny is going to help another family or how they are going to do something different for work.

Always speak positively about the relationship even if you’re upset that you had to fire your nanny for cause. Talk about all the good your nanny did from making your children feel safe and comfortable to taking them on fun trips to the park or playground to helping them potty train or learn to read.

Your children are looking to you for guidance on how to act in a difficult time and treat people.

Remember that children are resilient and may handle change even better than adults. If you keep your negative emotions in check and show that it’ll be okay, your children will follow your lead.

Let them share their feelings

Your children likely had a special bond with their nanny and may have a mix of emotions when learning of their departure. They could be experiencing a profound loss. Encourage them to talk about their feelings whether they’re sad, confused or upset. Listen, allow them time to cope and, most of all, show your support. Now’s not the time to tell them how they should feel. Empathizing with your children’s feelings may help them feel safer and more loved.

You could also see some behavior and/or mood changes after their nanny leaves and while they transition to a new caregiver. They could show signs of withdrawal and may have trouble adjusting to a new nanny. Let them know that it’s okay to miss their former nanny while still having fun with their new caregiver.

Answer their questions

Your children will likely have many questions about their nanny leaving. Answer them the best you can in an age-appropriate manner. You don’t need to provide all of the details of the departure. Just provide enough information necessary to respond to their questions.

You may even want to include your nanny when you “break the news” and in some of the discussions around their departure. In fact, having your nanny explain why they’re leaving could be beneficial. Either way, open communications make saying goodbye a little easier.

Most importantly, reassure your children that it’s not their fault their nanny is leaving.

Discuss how you will say goodbye

If your nanny gives proper notice or you give them notice that you no longer need their services (maybe you’re moving or the children are now old enough for school), consider a proper send-off. Maybe it’s a small party at your home, a celebratory dinner at your nanny’s favorite restaurant, and/or a goodbye memento. Your children may also want to make a card or homemade gift. Drawing a card or creating something can help younger children who may not yet be able to put their feelings into words.

It all goes to show that while you may be sad to see someone leave, you can still make it a positive experience.

Even if your nanny gives notice, you may be tempted to immediately terminate their employment. That’s not a decision in the best interest of your children as it may increase their separation anxiety and sends the message that people they are fond of can walk right out of their life.

Having a proper goodbye will help your children deal with their emotions and get a sense of closure. This will also make it easier for them to transition to a new caregiver.

Consider continuing the relationship

Depending on why your nanny will no longer be working for you, you could maintain some kind of relationship. If your nanny is moving, maybe your children can send them letters or cards. If they’re still going to be close by, maybe occasional visits, invites to birthday parties, or get-togethers at a favorite location can be arranged.

Discuss the possibilities with your nanny to make sure they’re agreeable to this kind of arrangement. Then let your children know that they may not see their nanny most days during the week like they used to but they can still be a part of each other’s lives.

When you need to fire your nanny immediately for cause, having a planned out goodbye and continuing the relationship are likely out of the question.

For young children, it may be enough to say that their nanny needed to move on or some other vague reason. Still, assure them that it wasn’t their fault.

For older kids, those five-years-old and up, you can tell them that their nanny made you feel uncomfortable in some of the ways they were acting. Older kids can likely process that there are consequences for unacceptable behavior.

Minimize other changes in your children’s lives

While children are resilient, dealing with their nanny’s departure may be enough change they can handle at one time. This may not be the time to create other disruptions in their lives. Try to keep things as familiar as possible. A beloved stuffed animal or blanket may be even more important to your child during this time.

Some families may let their nanny go right before their child starts school. That may not give your child enough time to process their caregiver’s departure before they take on the huge (and possibly stressful) switch to school life. Consider giving your child more time between a nanny leaving and the beginning of school. Or keep your nanny for a couple of months after school starts to ease the transition.

This is our final post in a four-part series on termination and resignation. Also read 7 Reasons Why Your Nanny Will Quit and What You Can Do About It, Firing Your Nanny the Right Way and Help! My Nanny Just Quit.

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