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I am a retired 57-year-old woman who babysits my neighbor's 3-year-old daughter. I have kept her since she was 2 months old. Both of her parents work 4 days a week, 10 hours a day, with occasional overtime on regular days and sometimes for a 5th day. I have her from 5am until about 5:30 pm on a regular day.

Recently the child has gone from a babybed to a regular bed. She gets up several times a night, waking her parents. She has started to have bad tantrums at bedtime and at other times as well... like when she's told no or asked to do something. Like, falling in the floor flailing screaming, hitting, throwing tantrums.

This child does not have a very firm bedtime routine. Her bedtime varies between 8 and 9. She spends the night away from home a lot on weekends with various grandparents where there is no routine and probably where she rarely hears the word no. There have been occasions when the child has been away from home for 4 nights in a row (Thursday to Sunday night); more often it's 2 nights in a row (Friday to Saturday). There are at a minimum 4 different households where she alternates spending the night. Sometimes this happens on consecutive weekends.

This child and I spend more waking hours together than she does with any other person, parents included. I love her and her parents very much and only want what is best for them.

I believe that she needs to spend more time at home to establish a firm routine. I think these tantrums are a result of exhaustion as she only gets about 7-8 hours of sleep on a weeknight (less lately because of waking several times in the night, waking the parents and often having a fit before falling back to sleep).

She has a good routine here with me, including daily naps. I strongly believe in structure and routine.

Is it ok for me to give the parents advice, opinions, suggestions relating to these tantrums?

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    Hi, welcome to the site! Have the parents asked for advice, or shown willingness to receive it in the past? Are you close to the parents (i.e., would you ever do anything with them unrelated to childcare)? – Joe Feb 8 at 17:47
  • My son spends more of his waking hours at daycare than he does with me as well :( Still, his daycare has a rule that children may not stay more than 10 hours per day, with the stated reason being that they wish the children to have a more balanced and healthy home life. – Meg Feb 8 at 19:48
  • Is it commonplace for you to discuss the child's day with their parents? – elbrant Feb 9 at 3:18
  • I am very close friends with the parents. The child and I tell them about our day. If she has a behavior problem, I will explain what happened along with what action I take. I have let them know how I feel about handling the current situation. They have taken some of my suggestions, but this behavior is so new, I don't know if they have tried any of my other suggestions. I just felt really weird giving them my honest opinion about how this baby is spending so many weekends away from home. I did it anyway, assurancing them that I am genuinely concerned and care about all three of them. – CeCe Feb 9 at 17:13
  • It is not possible for me to limit her time on a work day. Her parents work 10 hours per day, with an hour travel time to and from their job. – CeCe Feb 9 at 17:16
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In general, it is OK for the caregiver to give the parents advice, opinions, suggestions relating to child care, including tantrums, routine, sleep, etc.

Sometimes, the best advice for parents includes pointing them to information sources that they consider trustworthy (sending them links, etc), and sharing the relevant actual experience of you and other people. This can often persuade the parent better than providing your own opinion by itself.

For references about firm routine and tantrums, you can point the parents to this book: The Everyday Parenting Toolkit: The Kazdin Method for Easy, Step-by-Step, Lasting Change for You and Your Child: Alan E. Kazdin, Carlo Rotella.

This podcast gives a nice intro sampling of the book (just examples, pretty disorganized, and unfortunately not the best audio quality): Dr. Alan E. Kazdin: get kids to behave without stress - 09/01 - by amyalkon | Psychology Podcasts.

For references about sleep requirements in children, and the effects of lack of sleep on behavioral problems, see this post in the wonderful Parenting Science blog: Sleep requirements in children. For example, for 3-5 year olds, 11-13 hours in bed (some of which is sleep) are generally needed.

For the most effective, research-based methods to persuade people in general (including giving advice to parents), see, for example, this book: N. J. Goldstein, S. J. Martin, and R. Cialdini: Yes!: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive. In your case, the applicable methods can include:

  • mentioning that in your experience, the majority of the parents who have successfully coped with child tantrums used firm routine, ensuring that the child gets enough sleep, etc.
  • not overwhelming the parents with too many options for dealing with tantrums (or with any advice in general).
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Being a care giver with an outside perspective to a parent-child relationship can be difficult. Especially as you become more invested in the whole family. As such, I'd like to provide an inside perspective on what the family may be feeling and how you can approach these types of situations effectively.

As a parent of two boys, 2 yrs and 7 mons, I have got to say, regardless of what my wife and I do or how much we try for routine these ages are tough. Some days seem like we are trying to run a marathon running on our hands while we try to out run a lion. I would bet that the family you know feels the same way.

There's a lot we don't empirically know but we are also the ones who hold the burden of making decisions and the consequences of those decisions. There are so many sources of information about sleep, discipline, diet and education strategies that we can be easily overwhelmed. I would bet the family you care for feels the same way.

My wife and I personally seek out people who are encouraging and supportive first and knowledgeable second. We need to hear that we can do this, that the sleepless nights do have pay-offs and standing strong against tantrums is as valiant as a knight standing against a dragon. Sure, some of our choices may end up not being what others may do and we may even conclude that a choice was a mistake but that's for us to decide. Advice is only welcome we request it, encouragement is ALWAYS welcome.

I'd recommend encouraging this young family in their struggle. Empathize with the difficulty of raising young children. Be the one who says "You can do this" because you may be the only one who says it. If they go to grandparents so frequently, it may be due to many factors, but one may be a lack of confidence. That is only gained through support, encouragement and experience.

Bottom Line: Unrequested advice gives the impression that you doubt their parenting ability and can create a division between you and them. Encourage them in their efforts, empathize with their struggles, hold your advice until it is requested.

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