When toddlers are really attached to caregivers

Kids develop strong bonds with their caregivers

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Rossana became a live-in nanny to Dana Reinke’s children when Dana’s third child, Peyton, was still on the way. Peyton’s bond with Rossana was particularly strong, says Reinke. “Friday nights were the hardest. My husband and I would be putting the kids to bed, and Peyton would say, ‘Nana do it.’”

Did that make Reinke feel a bit jealous? “I did experience some of those feelings,” she says. “They were brief, but it can still get to you. It can feel like the caregiver is in competition, and it can even bug you if that person is competent.” What helped, says Reinke, was reminding herself that she wanted her kids to be happy — and knowing that they were — while she was at work.

Placing a toddler in the care of someone else is never easy. You want to know that your child is safe and well cared for, and that she’s having a day full of good learning experiences and happy play. At the same time, if your child begins to seem quite bonded to the caregiver, you may worry that you’re being displaced in her affections.

Jennifer Miller, is an early childhood educator with the Burnside Children’s Centre in Dartmouth, NS. “I remember one mom who talked to me about the fact that when difficult moments came up with her child at home, the child cried and asked for me,” she says. “The mom was worried that her daughter was too attached to me.”

It’s actually a sign of healthy normal development when a child, who has a close bond with a parent, is able to go on to develop close bonds with other significant adults in her life. As Penelope Leach writes in Your Baby & Child from Birth to Age Five: “The more people children have to love and feel loved by, the more loveable and loving they are likely to be.”

Here are some other insights that might help if you are fretting about your child’s bond with her caregiver:

Be patient during transitions If your concern is arising mostly because your child seems reticent to leave the caregiver at pickup time, remember that transitions are always difficult for toddlers. “The behaviour is telling you that she has had a fantastic day, or she’s really enjoying the person or the toy she’s currently spending time with, and she simply doesn’t want to let go of that,” says Miller. Acknowledge how your child is feeling by saying, “I know you’re really sad to say goodbye to Sarah right now. But it’s time to say goodbye. Would you like to give Sarah a big hug and tell her that you’ll be back tomorrow?”

Peyton had difficulty with transitions too, says Reinke. “By the end of each week, she wouldn’t want me. By the end of the weekend, she didn’t want to go to Rossana.”

Encourage healthy relationships Children really benefit from knowing who they can turn to for comfort and reassurance. If parents support the fact that the child has other people in their life who are important, the child’s world is a much friendlier place, says Miller. Daycare centres really try to support families and parent-child relationships, she says. “We have pictures up on the wall of families, siblings, even pets and, throughout the day, we talk about the childrens’ families. At pickup time, we often share moments when the child talked about his parents during the day.”

Talk about your concerns Miller encourages parents to talk to the caregiver if they have concerns about a child’s dependence on them. “We are there to be friends and caregivers to your child, and to help them learn,” says Miller, who says she and her colleagues think of themselves as educators more than caregivers. “If we see that a child is becoming really attached to one caregiver, we discuss it among the staff and switch things up a bit so that the child has an opportunity to work with another care provider. We would also talk it over with the parent.”

Build in family time Reinke says Rossana was careful to honour the family’s time together. “Even if we invited her to have dinner or spend a holiday with us, she would refuse,” says Reinke. “She was very good about maintaining those limits.”

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