DEAR HARRIETTE: I am a baby sitter/nanny for several families. The kids are all young and at the age when, from years of experience, I've noticed they develop manners and learn from others. However, it can be difficult to enforce any manners or teach them how to behave, because they are not my kids. I do not know if it is my place to say anything, especially when I am watching the kids and the parents are present.
On the job, I have had a parent get upset with me for telling a child to apologize for hitting his sister. These parents do not often discipline their children, which can make my job a lot more difficult. Other families tend to encourage manners and good behavior, but I still do not know the boundaries of what I can tell the children. Where can I step in, and where is the line drawn? -- Good-Mannered Nanny, Staten Island, N.Y.
DEAR NANNY: It is the job of baby sitters and nannies to ensure that children are safe and healthy while in their care, and that naturally means offering some amount of discipline.
Yes, it can get tricky when you are in the company of a parent and the child acts up. In the case where a parent got upset when you corrected a child, I bet the parent was embarrassed that you handled it instead of him or her.
I have a few recommendations. First, do what you normally do: Take care of the child. You could also say, within the parent's earshot, "Ask your mommy (or daddy) if what you did is appropriate." That way, you include the parent in the course of disciplining the child.
Another step you could take is to talk to the parent about discipline strategies. Suggest that when you are unsure how to handle a situation, you will check in with the parent to see where he or she stands on the issue.
If you find that you and the parents cannot have a meeting of the minds, you are probably not well suited to take care of those children.
DEAR HARRIETTE: Per a recent letter from a woman whose boyfriend never lets her pay when they go out: Each person paying his or her own way does not sound like a date to me. I would be curious who makes the arrangements for the dates.
If "Equal Opportunity Girlfriend" wishes to pay for something, maybe she could take him out sometimes, and he could take her sometimes. In setting up the date, she should contact him and state that it is her date and she will pay for it. -- Practical, Chicago
DEAR PRACTICAL: I like your idea. I also like the idea of devising dates that are free or inexpensive. If couples get creative and explore their hometown, take walks or go on other expeditions, they can have fun without squabbling over the bill.