Worried about Abusive Nanny

Archived Q&A and Reviews


What should I do when I see a nanny at the park yelling at a child?

Feb 2009

Yesterday, at the Orinda park, I saw a group of 4 to 5 years old boys, all with nannies. Apparently one boy hit the other or threw something to him, so his nanny was ''disciplining'' him (in her word) by yelling at him loud, having him sit on the bench, ignoring him, and did not talk to him even if he was trying to talk to her. I was sitting next to his bench at another picnic table. For the whole time, he was sobbing, saying that ''I did say sorry,,,.'' After 10 to 15 minutes, he tried to talk to his nanny again and started to stand up, then immediately his nanny, who was standing far and chatting with her nanny friends, yelled back at him, telling him that ''NO! I SAID DON'T MOVE! SIT DOWN ON THE CHAIR!!! YOU ARE BEING PUNISHED'' He started crying again, and remained in the chair.

Here is what I did, and was not sure if I did things worse to him or not, but I turned around, sat on the same bench with him, and just asked him what happened in a normal voice. He sobbed and talked to me what had happened, but I could not figure out what he said because he was crying so hard. So I told to him, ''Do you think you can talk about what had happened to your parents when you get home?'' Then the nanny came to him, after seeing me sitting in front of him and talking to him, again, yelling at him.

Then I just told her up front that I felt she is being too hard on him, and told her at least she does not need to yell at him. Her response was that it was because he should be punished because he hurt his friend. Eventually, the other nanny came and told me to shut up, telling me that she is the boss and responsible for that boy (which is true), and she knows what she is doing because she is taking care of him since he was 4 days old. She told me that it does not help the boy if he hears what I said to his nanny (which may be true.)

Being punished with time out for 15 MINUTES for a 5 years old boy, left alone, sobbing, because he got into an argument with his friends??? To me, that is misuse of power and it is an abuse. But,,, what to do?? What would you do if you encounter the situation like that, when you really believe that the child (that you do not know, at the park) is being abused by his or her nanny??

Mom who does not like yelling.


NOTE FROM MODERATOR: BPN has a policy that the newsletter cannot be used as a "spy network."  The person who posted asked for advice on what she should have done under these circumstances, and the responses addressing that question have been published below. Responses varied wildly: some congratulating and some condemning the poster on her actions. I included the critical ones as well as the approving ones. Please remember that when you ask a group of strangers to comment honestly on your actions, the responses you get will not always be approving or supportive.


First of all, good for you for speaking up! I agree that that is a horrible way to treat a child. One thing I wanted to point out is that it most certainly is not UNhelpful to the child to speak your mind to the nanny. This is what abusers want, they want the child isolated, without support, so that they always feel powerless and that they deserve what is happening to them. If another adult says ''the way you are behaving to that child is unacceptable,'' then the child has some validation and some ammunition against what is happening: some one ELSE is saying ''this isn't okay'' so the child has some support for believing that what is happening to them is wrong and not their fault. If it were me and I had the time, I probably would have followed that nanny back to the child's house and left a note for the parents. Of course, the parents may be abusive too, and feel that this kind of treatment of their child is just fine, but at least the effort would have been made. Even Children Deserve Respect.


I saw a nanny slap a baby during a diaper change. I memorized the baby and haunted the park looking for the parents but never saw anyone but that nanny with the child. So, after a year, I said something to her which she pretended to not understand. That was almost 10 years ago and I still feel incredibly guilty for not calling child protective services or I don't know who. So, I am proud of you for talking to them. A coward and ashamed.


I have been working with children for the past 20 years (teaching, day care, etc...) and let me tell you sitting in time out on a park bench for 10-15 minutes for a 5 year old who misbehaves is in no way inappropriate. ESPECIALLY if that child does bodily harm to another. You say the nanny was yelling at the boy, but whether a person is ''yelling'' or not is really subjective. What some call '' a firm talking to'' others call yelling. Raising your voice is not necessarily yelling and sometimes needs to be done in order to really get some children's attention. You also say the child was sobbing? GOOD! That child should feel badly about what he did. And if he is also sad he's in time out - so what? In our criminal justice system if every criminal got off after just saying sorry... well you can imagine. Saying sorry is important but should not let a child off the hook with a punishment/consequence when they've done something bad. Children figure out pretty quickly ways that they can easily get off the hook and they will manipulate the situation if they have to. As someone who works with children, it infuriates me when an adult does what you did. Especially when that adult has no idea the history of the child or the whole situation. Unless the child is being physically abused, or being cursed at or being called abusive names, mind your own business! anon


It's so hard to know what to do in these terrible moments! I think you have to go with your gut, which is what you did, and try not to worry whether it's 100% perfect. Your response sounds caring and brave. Good for you. anon


Wow - how amazing that you could bring your perfect parenting skills to a situation that you actually did not have full knowledge of, and instruct someone who was a ''nanny'' in how to better care for a child because in your judgement what she did was wrong. Did I miss something or did you condescend to tell someone else how to discipline their charge just because you disagreed with their style? There are alot of different ways to care for children, and there are alot of different ways to discipline children. Without knowing anything about the background or knowing anything about what he did or did not do to another child what right do you have to step in and tell this person she was doing something wrong? If I am standing in line at the store while someone allows their child to run madly around me, bumping into me and making it difficult for me to move around I don't tell them they are doing a bad job with their children and then proceed to step in and provide the discipline that I think their child may need. I think you should have kept your mouth shut and tended to your own business. MYOB


There is way too much to get into details in these posts. I would hope to see the kid with his parents and tell them your concerns. Just bc the nanny's been with the kids since he was a baby doesn't mean she's good, kind, not abusive. kids live w/ parents who are abusive too. Rule of thumb for T/O 1 min to 1 year. Laura


MYOB. you have no idea what was actually going on before he got benched. while it can be difficult watching a child cry and be that upset, it really isn't any of your business. and i believe that 15 minutes on a bench is an appropriate time out for a 5 year old. mom to 3


I can sympathize with the fact that you do not like yelling; that you do not believe yelling or long time outs have any place in disciplining a 5 year old. However, I think it's a huge jump from believing that, to accusing someone who does use such practices as being ''abusive.'' And yes, I would agree with the other woman who came to her defense that it was entirely inappropriate to have such a confrontation in front of the child. It's easy to jump to judgments when we only see a small window into an event. But you really have no idea how this child behaved earlier that day or week. You also don't know if other forms of discipline were attempted prior to the event you witnessed. Not that I agree with her disciplining techniques, but such issues are relevant. And really, haven't we all lost our cool at one point or another? One question I would ask myself before intervening in such a situation would be, ''how would I behave if I thought the woman was his mother and not his nanny?'' The response should be the same for both.

Wouldn't call it ''abusive''


If this were my nanny, I'd want to know about it. I would have loved it if you could have gotten the nanny's name or the kids' name or the parent's name. Please get involved for the sake of all of our kids. It sounds like the child was traumatized and knowing that someone cares is more important than the nanny. He got the sense that there was someone there to protect him. good for you. saddened


On its face, I don't like the sound of the situation...but, because I am not the full-time care-giver, I really don't know the situation. So, I probably wouldn't have gotten involved. If it had been the parent doing the same thing to the child, would you have gotten involved? Perhaps, it may be better to approach the nanny and handle it more casually, like 'wow, is he giving you a rough day...' That would give you a better read to the situation and let you handle things more directly with the adult rather than trying to go around the adult... -anon


I personally agree with you and might also have talked to the child. I don't know. The thing is, you don't know that the child's parents would disagree with the nanny's methods. I would be surprised to learn she's been with them for so many years and they don't know or disagree with her style. If it's not something that is worthy of calling the police, I would say there's not much you can do (other than talking with the child or his nanny).


I live in Orinda and take my 5 year old to the Orinda Park all the time. I have, on more than one occasion, seen this group of nannies with small children behaving in a way towards their charges that I as the parent would not appreciate. In fact, it has crossed my mind that I should follow the nanny home, wait for the parent to arrive and spill the beans. Of course I never have. I have not seen outright physical abuse--only emotional abuse. What to do? This is very unnerving and really makes me wonder. I'm interested to hear additional advice. not a very happy witness


I know that professionals such as teachers are legally required to call the county Child Protection Agency if they suspect there is a possibility that a child is being abused. I might have said that her manner of dealing with the child was raising red flags, and that I was legally required to investigate to see if the CPA needed to be contacted. Maybe after that she would be more thoughtful in public situations at least. Of course, a 5 minute timeout should be the max for a 5 year old. Too bad there is no way of alerting the parents. I'm having visions of you taking a video with your cell phone and putting it on youtube. anonymous


I think you should have minded your own business. It sounds like the nanny's behavior was inappropriate but you should not have been directly communicating with the child without the adult's permission. The parent trusted their child with that person. It's not like you were telling the parent about the situation . . . you may have just been making the situation worse. mind your own


You don't know anything about the situation -- what exactly happened, what happened the day before, what punishments have been tried, how the parents feel about the discipline strategy, whether this is the end of a long string of serious misbehavior that is dealt with by a thoughtful progression of punishment that has led to this because nothing else stops a dangerous behavior. In other words, you just don't have the background information to know if what you saw was too harsh. The one thing for sure is that you didn't see her physically abuse the child, so stay out of it. MYOB


Since you asked...you went too far. It would have broken my heart and i would have been very upset and i agree 15mn is too long. however, you have absolutely no idea what happened before that and if maybe there are some particular issues. Maybe you are a perfect mom whose child has never misbehaved for an extended period of time and never drove you nuts. if she has been watching him since he is 4 days old she knows him well and maybe that's what he needed at that moment. A real time out. A real time to step out and think about his action. Frankly i am tired of the opposite. How many times was she supposed to let that child hit with not consequences other than a ''talk''. If this is a pattern he has or a phase he is in it needs to be addressed. Some children need more discipline...and while i disagree with the screaming you have, again no idea what happened before or not and what issues are at hands that might have made her loose it. If you felt something was wrong you should have quickly asked for his phone number and called his PARENTS. Because with what you did, you created nothing but more troubles for him and the only people who really need to know still don't. anon


I rarely comment on any posts but you sound very self righteous! From the outside, not knowing the history of the child or his relationship with his nanny (or the nanny's relationship with the boy's parents), you are not in a position to criticize her, especially openly in front of the child. Her yelling and giving him a 15 minute time out might seem harsh to you but a stretch to call it abusive. You don't approve of yelling in your house, but this is not a standard you can inforce on others. Mind your own business. anon


you didn't see what happened to cause the timeout - you said he might have hit his friend and then you backtracked and said it was an argument. he's not being spanked or beaten so keep your opinions to yourself. the kid is old enough to talk to his parents about how his nanny treats him. you didn't see it, it's not your business so butt out. disciplining a kid is hard enough without busybodies nosing their way into a situation where they don't belong. try to tell me how to discipline my child and i'd tell you to shut up and more. doesn't give unsolicited advice and won't take it either


While I am a firm believer that every family handles things in their own way, I am so glad you intervened. As a working mom, I know what is like to have to depend on and put your faith in someone providing a loving supportive environment for your child. It breaks my heart and truly scares me that this woman was so abusive of her position. I think you handled it well by confronting her in a non-aggressive manner and then by letting it go once the two women ganged-up on you. Although you wanted to help the child you have to think about your safety and consider what the children were hearing. Hopefully the little boy took your advice and spoke about the situation to his parents once alone with them. Orinda is a pretty small town and hopefully you will see little man one weekend and you can pass the info on to his parents. FYI-there is a provision in CA law that allow for the reporting of ''discipline messures'' that are not age or developmentally appropriate. If it happens again, call the cops to get an incident report (they probably will not file charges) and that way they can notify the family that there is a problem with the ''boss.'' Andie


MYOB!You do not know the whole situation. I really don't think yelling those words and a timeout of however long is abusive. It is not parent or nanny of the year material but it is not a state law that time outs are one minute per year of child's age, that is just supernanny policy. If you saw something bad over and over again and you knew the parents, then yeah, say something. anon


I would have done the same thing, and I would probably try to go back to the park periodically to see if this is an ongoing issue, and post in a forum like this so that the parents could potentially see what a wretch the nanny is. I agree that it's too much punishment, and won't really help the kid or his relationships. I think you did the right thing by telling the little boy to tell his parents. The fact that another nanny told you to shut up is a good indicator of a problem. From my observations, some if these nannies really don't like the kids they are watching, but it's a job and they get to visit with their friends. This is why we switched to a day care center. The only other suggestion I'd make is to gently talk to the nanny and tell her how uncomfortable this would make any mom feel, and ask her if the parent supports that punishment. If nothing else, it puts her on alert that somebody is watching. And if you do it in front of the kid at least the kid doesn't have to feel like this is the way the world is.


I don't think the young boy was being ''abused''. It appears that the nanny simply prioritized chatting with her friends over working through the conflict with this boy. Not ideal, is it? I see versions of this many a time with primary caregivers (nannies) in public. But I don't think it is my place to intervene, unless there is physical or major emotional harm to a child. The saddest part of this scenario you describe is that I am sure that particular nanny is no nicer to that little boy behind closed doors. That is simply a risk a parent takes when they hire a nanny to be the daytime primary caregiver. One of the many reasons I am a SAHM


I think you did the right thing. If it was my son, I'd want someone like you to intervene. I'd also want to be told about it. If you see the boys with his parents, ever, I think you should tell them. They might get angry at you or tell you to mind your own business, but for the sake of the kid, I'd do it. -concerned parent


How would you have reacted if the caregiver involved was actually one (or both) of the parents? I think we're often hasty to condemn caregivers since it's socially taboo to interfere with the actual parents. I think witnessing parenting styles we abhor when the parents are themselves involved makes us feel powerless. As a result, we are often quicker to act on our need to intervene when it is the ''caregiver'' as perpetrator instead. I'm not sure what's ''right'' either; I've witnessed horrible caregiver behaviour myself and tried to act on it on this list (a post to the parents). BPN would not post it. But, it gave me an opportunity to reflect on the event and my underlying motivation(s). Concerned Parent


I don't know that I have advice about what to do here, but just wanted to say I've been disturbed before in this way. I once saw a nanny at Bateman park spank a boy who was being potty trained, for not coming over to the little potty she had set up. She took off his pants, spanked him, and made him sit in a time out with his pants off. All this while she talked on a cell phone. It broke my heart, seemed abusive indeed, and I did nothing but glared at her and let her know I disapproved of her. I also said some kind words to the child when she walked away. I didn't know how I'd get ahold of the parents, who they were, whether or not they'd welcome being told, whether or not they in fact condoned of the treatment. But I still feel bad about it. If it were my kid I''d want to know. anon


Come on, losing your temper and yelling at your kid is not child abuse. If it were, a lot of us would have CPS records. Whenever someone I don't know, who doesn't know me, corrects me in public about my parenting techniques it is humiliating and upsetting. I don't know why people think this is OK. And it is REALLY not OK to counsel a small child you don't know, telling him to report an incident to his parents. This would be likely be upsetting for a child, and if it were my child, I would be PO'd that you had interfered. But I have a feeling you would not have done this had it been the parent, not the nanny. To me, a parent correcting a nanny in public sounds like bullying someone who has lower social status.

If you feel you are witnessing abuse of a child, it is your duty to immediately report it to the police or to CPS. Why didn't you do that?  I think because you know yelling and a 15-minute timeout is not abuse.  You were in the wrong here.