Life Lessons I Learned From Children (My Experience as a Nanny)

My experience as a nanny started the summer after I graduated high school. Because I decided not to begin college right away, I had plenty of free time to work. I started babysitting a couple nights a week for some family friends, and before I knew it, I agreed to sign on as a full-time nanny for their three children.

I was so excited. I envisioned reliving my own childhood summers through the kids: eating picnic lunches on the grass and feeding ducks by the pond, building sand castles and splashing around in the lake, and running barefoot through the grass to catch fireflies after the sun went down.

However, as in many situations, reality didn’t quite live up to my expectations. I was used to spending only a couple hours at a time with the children, which I quickly learned was vastly different from caring for them all day. They were constantly arguing with each other over silly things, they had the attention spans of goldfish, and they had no table manners whatsoever. I couldn’t even take them on a brief trip to the grocery store without being continuously bombarded with requests for toys and candy.

Consequently, I got easily frustrated with the children and had to constantly remind myself not to snap at them. Additionally, I began to dread going over to their house each morning. After my first week of nannying, I went out for coffee with a friend who worked in daycare so I could pick her brain about the situation. She listened sympathetically as I vented, and we discussed various childcare tips and tricks. By the time we were ready to leave, I was feeling much better about my future.  

As we gathered our things and threw our empty cups in the trash, she stopped me to share one last piece of advice. One of her favorite quotes, she said, was from author Paulo Coelho and helped her get through even the toughest days: “A child can teach an adult three things: to be happy for no reason, to always be busy with something, and to know how to demand with all his might that which he desires.”

This made me pause. I’d thought a lot about what I wanted to teach the children but hadn’t considered the possibility that they could teach me anything. Admittedly, I was skeptical but decided to keep an open mind and focus more on the positive aspects of my job rather than the negative, and this salvaged my summer. In fact, I ended up learning more from the children than I ever could have hoped, including the following lessons:

Get excited

For kids, everything is exciting. Seemingly ordinary events, such as hearing the ice cream truck drive by, seeing a cloud shaped like an elephant, or receiving a birthday card in the mail, are transformed into amazing occurrences that merit enthusiastic responses.  

Seeing this always makes me smile. As adults, it’s easy to get jaded because we’ve experienced so many things in life, and they’re not new to us anymore. For example, I miss the days when I looked forward to simple tasks, such as helping my mom put blueberries into our breakfast pancakes; little experiences like that would make my entire day. Ultimately, nannying helped remind me that we should make a big deal out of the little things more often, as getting excited about the mundane can give us a more hopeful outlook on life.

Be curious

Children are constantly asking questions. As a nanny, I would frequently be asked things like “Why are there so many trees?” or “How come dolphins don’t have legs?” Sometimes, I wouldn’t know exactly how to answer, so I would look it up and learn something new along with the children.

As adults, we don’t ask nearly as many questions. Often, it’s because we’re afraid of looking dumb, or even because we don’t really care and would rather just accept things as they are. However, we live in an age of knowledge. With all the books, videos, and online resources available to us, everything we could possibly wish to know about an infinite number of subjects is right at our fingertips.

Curiosity will keep our minds open to learning new things and will make us well-rounded people. Over the years, the children have taught me that we should never stop looking at the world around us with wonder and inquisitiveness but rather let our interest lead to new people, places, and knowledge.

Live in the moment

Kids are great at being adaptable and going with the flow. I could say anything from, “Want to see who can clean their room the fastest?” to “Let’s go outside and run through the sprinkler!” and they would respond with an enthusiastic yes.

As adults, this is a little harder for us. We cling to our schedules and frequently shun spontaneity. We’re also constantly thinking of the future and planning ahead accordingly. However, children are great at living in the moment. They don’t worry about what will happen tomorrow, in a week, or even in the next ten minutes; they’re only concerned with the present.

When we’re wrapped up with thinking ahead and worrying about the future, we tend to miss out on the special little moments that come by every day. However, children help us remember that it’s always okay to just let go, seize the moment, and live for today.

Use your imagination

The kids once found an empty cardboard box in the basement and dragged it out to play with. Within minutes, they invented an entire kingdom, with the box as the castle, the blue carpet in the playroom as a moat, and all their dolls and stuffed animals as royal subjects. Although the setup was comprised of ordinary, mundane objects, it felt real to the children because they invested so much imagination and creativity in it. This made me think about how we incorporate imaginative pursuits into our own lives.

As adults, our lives are filled with practical, realistic things like paying bills, buying groceries, and cleaning the bathroom, so sometimes we need to take a break from reality and pull free from those obligations. Unfortunately, as we get older, we begin to see creative pursuits as less valuable than others. However, leaving time for more artistic and imaginative pursuits is extremely important. In fact, taking a moment to step away from reality sometimes is crucial for living a well-balanced life—creative activities stimulate our brains and can even reduce stress, which is essential to a healthy lifestyle.

Be open

Like many adults, I have trouble expressing my emotions sometimes. For example, I absolutely refuse to cry in front of other people because I don’t want to look overly emotional or weak. In contrast, most children have no such reservations. Rather, they share their feelings freely and honestly. When they’re sad, they cry. When they’re happy, they laugh and smile. When they love or hate you, they tell you.

I admire the way they can express themselves without censure (although they could definitely use the tact that comes with getting older and not blurting out certain thoughts, such as “This casserole is yucky!” or “Your shirt is ugly.”)

Children’s openness also extends to their relationships. Countless times at the playground, I’d watch the kids run right up to other children, immediately start playing with them, then come back to me and say, “I met another person named Hannah!” or “That boy in the green shirt has five brothers, and he likes ice cream too!”

We can learn a lot from this approach. Building new relationships can be difficult for adults, but when we’re willing to put aside our emotional reservations and work up the courage to start a conversation, we can end up meeting some really great people.

Look for the positives

Despite our best efforts, our plans often go completely off the rails. One day, I promised the kids that we would go to the zoo, but it started raining before we even left the house. I was worried the kids would be upset, but when I told them we wouldn’t be able to go, they didn’t mind. Instead, they got excited that they could go outside and splash around in the puddles.

Another time, I took the children to the beach. I was not thrilled with how I looked in a bathing suit and was a bit nervous about the kids’ reactions (sometimes, their honesty can have drawbacks). When I took off my coverup, I braced myself for their reactions, but one of them—ignoring my pale skin and untoned body—immediately said, “You look pretty because your bathing suit is blue and that’s my favorite color!”

Finding something positive in every situation isn’t easy, but it’s a good habit to start. Even in the worst situations, there’s always a silver lining, a small speck of hope or kindness, or even something that we can laugh about. While it’s definitely easier to focus on the negatives, and it’s hard to always search for the positive things, doing so can give us a new perspective on the situation and make our lives—and the lives of those around us—better.

Get back up when you fall

One day at the park, one of the boys fell off the swing and skinned his knee. He shed a few tears, but once I put a band-aid on his scrape and dried his eyes, he went running right back to the swing to try again.

Kids fall down—both literally and metaphorically—over and over, but they don’t let that stop them. Instead of dwelling on their past failures, they forget about them and move on. They never say, “I’m not going to do this because I might fail.” Instead, they have the attitude that anything is possible, and as adults, we sometimes lose sight of that.

Because many aspects of our lives, such as our jobs or relationships, depend on our success in different areas, it’s easy for us to be scared of failing, especially when it’s happened to us in the past. But I’ve learned that while failure in life is guaranteed, quitting doesn’t have to be. Often, we limit ourselves by allowing defeat to cripple us. However, when we can accept our failures and move past them rather than dwelling on them, we will be all the better for it, and our chances of success will increase exponentially.

Don’t worry about what others think

This is such a simple lesson, but it’s one that we need to hear. It’s hard not to care what other people think, especially in a society with rigid standards of beauty and success. However, when we’re able to stop worrying about outside opinions, we will be free to live our lives for ourselves alone.

While this sentiment is easy to say, it’s difficult to practice, and it took an encounter with one of the girls I nannied for to really make it sink in. One day, I had to run an errand with her. She insisted on wearing a pink, frilly princess dress with mismatched house slippers and a bright yellow sweatshirt, despite my best efforts to get her to wear something different. She liked her outfit, and that was all that mattered.

This was a good reminder to me not to be too conscious about what the people around me think. If we live our lives letting other people or standards dictate what we do, wear, or think, we will not feel happy or fulfilled. At the end of the day, putting these worries aside will help us become better people and will also help us to be less judgmental of others.

My years of working with children have shown me that they have the rare, beautiful ability to look at the world with innocence and wonder and see it in an entirely different way. We often feel that we need to mold children in a certain way as they grow, but there are plenty of things that they can teach us, too, if we’re willing to listen and learn. As Angela Schwindt, an Oregon mother and coach, once said, “While we try to teach our children all about life, our children teach us what life is all about.”

I still work as a nanny, and there are still times when I get frustrated with the children. It’s not all smooth sailing because while childcare is rewarding, it’s also challenging. But I’ve learned to recognize the valuable lessons adults can learn from children. While children need us to teach them how to brush their teeth or read a book, we need them as well, and it’s the smaller moments when they tell us they love us or unwittingly say something profound that remind us how blessed we are to have the privilege of spending time with them. To that end, I would encourage everyone to spend at least a little time with a child at some point in their lives, if you have the opportunity—you may be surprised at what you learn!

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I’m a writing major at Grand Valley State University. Creative writing is my passion–although I also enjoy professional writing and copywriting–and I will defend the Oxford comma to the death. When I’m not writing, I’m re-reading Harry Potter for the hundredth time, searching for new ice cream parlors to try, playing the flute and piano, or watching the Food Network (and sometimes doing a little baking of my own).

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Life Lessons I Learned From Children (My Experience as a Nanny)

My experience as a nanny started the summer after I graduated high school. Because I decided not to begin college right away, I had plenty of free time to work. I started babysitting a couple nights a week for some family friends, and before I knew it, I agreed to sign on as a full-time nanny for their three children.

I was so excited. I envisioned reliving my own childhood summers through the kids: eating picnic lunches on the grass and feeding ducks by the pond, building sand castles and splashing around in the lake, and running barefoot through the grass to catch fireflies after the sun went down.

However, as in many situations, reality didn’t quite live up to my expectations. I was used to spending only a couple hours at a time with the children, which I quickly learned was vastly different from caring for them all day. They were constantly arguing with each other over silly things, they had the attention spans of goldfish, and they had no table manners whatsoever. I couldn’t even take them on a brief trip to the grocery store without being continuously bombarded with requests for toys and candy.

Consequently, I got easily frustrated with the children and had to constantly remind myself not to snap at them. Additionally, I began to dread going over to their house each morning. After my first week of nannying, I went out for coffee with a friend who worked in daycare so I could pick her brain about the situation. She listened sympathetically as I vented, and we discussed various childcare tips and tricks. By the time we were ready to leave, I was feeling much better about my future.  

As we gathered our things and threw our empty cups in the trash, she stopped me to share one last piece of advice. One of her favorite quotes, she said, was from author Paulo Coelho and helped her get through even the toughest days: “A child can teach an adult three things: to be happy for no reason, to always be busy with something, and to know how to demand with all his might that which he desires.”

This made me pause. I’d thought a lot about what I wanted to teach the children but hadn’t considered the possibility that they could teach me anything. Admittedly, I was skeptical but decided to keep an open mind and focus more on the positive aspects of my job rather than the negative, and this salvaged my summer. In fact, I ended up learning more from the children than I ever could have hoped, including the following lessons:

Get excited

For kids, everything is exciting. Seemingly ordinary events, such as hearing the ice cream truck drive by, seeing a cloud shaped like an elephant, or receiving a birthday card in the mail, are transformed into amazing occurrences that merit enthusiastic responses.  

Seeing this always makes me smile. As adults, it’s easy to get jaded because we’ve experienced so many things in life, and they’re not new to us anymore. For example, I miss the days when I looked forward to simple tasks, such as helping my mom put blueberries into our breakfast pancakes; little experiences like that would make my entire day. Ultimately, nannying helped remind me that we should make a big deal out of the little things more often, as getting excited about the mundane can give us a more hopeful outlook on life.

Be curious

Children are constantly asking questions. As a nanny, I would frequently be asked things like “Why are there so many trees?” or “How come dolphins don’t have legs?” Sometimes, I wouldn’t know exactly how to answer, so I would look it up and learn something new along with the children.

As adults, we don’t ask nearly as many questions. Often, it’s because we’re afraid of looking dumb, or even because we don’t really care and would rather just accept things as they are. However, we live in an age of knowledge. With all the books, videos, and online resources available to us, everything we could possibly wish to know about an infinite number of subjects is right at our fingertips.

Curiosity will keep our minds open to learning new things and will make us well-rounded people. Over the years, the children have taught me that we should never stop looking at the world around us with wonder and inquisitiveness but rather let our interest lead to new people, places, and knowledge.

Live in the moment

Kids are great at being adaptable and going with the flow. I could say anything from, “Want to see who can clean their room the fastest?” to “Let’s go outside and run through the sprinkler!” and they would respond with an enthusiastic yes.

As adults, this is a little harder for us. We cling to our schedules and frequently shun spontaneity. We’re also constantly thinking of the future and planning ahead accordingly. However, children are great at living in the moment. They don’t worry about what will happen tomorrow, in a week, or even in the next ten minutes; they’re only concerned with the present.

When we’re wrapped up with thinking ahead and worrying about the future, we tend to miss out on the special little moments that come by every day. However, children help us remember that it’s always okay to just let go, seize the moment, and live for today.

Use your imagination

The kids once found an empty cardboard box in the basement and dragged it out to play with. Within minutes, they invented an entire kingdom, with the box as the castle, the blue carpet in the playroom as a moat, and all their dolls and stuffed animals as royal subjects. Although the setup was comprised of ordinary, mundane objects, it felt real to the children because they invested so much imagination and creativity in it. This made me think about how we incorporate imaginative pursuits into our own lives.

As adults, our lives are filled with practical, realistic things like paying bills, buying groceries, and cleaning the bathroom, so sometimes we need to take a break from reality and pull free from those obligations. Unfortunately, as we get older, we begin to see creative pursuits as less valuable than others. However, leaving time for more artistic and imaginative pursuits is extremely important. In fact, taking a moment to step away from reality sometimes is crucial for living a well-balanced life—creative activities stimulate our brains and can even reduce stress, which is essential to a healthy lifestyle.

Be open

Like many adults, I have trouble expressing my emotions sometimes. For example, I absolutely refuse to cry in front of other people because I don’t want to look overly emotional or weak. In contrast, most children have no such reservations. Rather, they share their feelings freely and honestly. When they’re sad, they cry. When they’re happy, they laugh and smile. When they love or hate you, they tell you.

I admire the way they can express themselves without censure (although they could definitely use the tact that comes with getting older and not blurting out certain thoughts, such as “This casserole is yucky!” or “Your shirt is ugly.”)

Children’s openness also extends to their relationships. Countless times at the playground, I’d watch the kids run right up to other children, immediately start playing with them, then come back to me and say, “I met another person named Hannah!” or “That boy in the green shirt has five brothers, and he likes ice cream too!”

We can learn a lot from this approach. Building new relationships can be difficult for adults, but when we’re willing to put aside our emotional reservations and work up the courage to start a conversation, we can end up meeting some really great people.

Look for the positives

Despite our best efforts, our plans often go completely off the rails. One day, I promised the kids that we would go to the zoo, but it started raining before we even left the house. I was worried the kids would be upset, but when I told them we wouldn’t be able to go, they didn’t mind. Instead, they got excited that they could go outside and splash around in the puddles.

Another time, I took the children to the beach. I was not thrilled with how I looked in a bathing suit and was a bit nervous about the kids’ reactions (sometimes, their honesty can have drawbacks). When I took off my coverup, I braced myself for their reactions, but one of them—ignoring my pale skin and untoned body—immediately said, “You look pretty because your bathing suit is blue and that’s my favorite color!”

Finding something positive in every situation isn’t easy, but it’s a good habit to start. Even in the worst situations, there’s always a silver lining, a small speck of hope or kindness, or even something that we can laugh about. While it’s definitely easier to focus on the negatives, and it’s hard to always search for the positive things, doing so can give us a new perspective on the situation and make our lives—and the lives of those around us—better.

Get back up when you fall

One day at the park, one of the boys fell off the swing and skinned his knee. He shed a few tears, but once I put a band-aid on his scrape and dried his eyes, he went running right back to the swing to try again.

Kids fall down—both literally and metaphorically—over and over, but they don’t let that stop them. Instead of dwelling on their past failures, they forget about them and move on. They never say, “I’m not going to do this because I might fail.” Instead, they have the attitude that anything is possible, and as adults, we sometimes lose sight of that.

Because many aspects of our lives, such as our jobs or relationships, depend on our success in different areas, it’s easy for us to be scared of failing, especially when it’s happened to us in the past. But I’ve learned that while failure in life is guaranteed, quitting doesn’t have to be. Often, we limit ourselves by allowing defeat to cripple us. However, when we can accept our failures and move past them rather than dwelling on them, we will be all the better for it, and our chances of success will increase exponentially.

Don’t worry about what others think

This is such a simple lesson, but it’s one that we need to hear. It’s hard not to care what other people think, especially in a society with rigid standards of beauty and success. However, when we’re able to stop worrying about outside opinions, we will be free to live our lives for ourselves alone.

While this sentiment is easy to say, it’s difficult to practice, and it took an encounter with one of the girls I nannied for to really make it sink in. One day, I had to run an errand with her. She insisted on wearing a pink, frilly princess dress with mismatched house slippers and a bright yellow sweatshirt, despite my best efforts to get her to wear something different. She liked her outfit, and that was all that mattered.

This was a good reminder to me not to be too conscious about what the people around me think. If we live our lives letting other people or standards dictate what we do, wear, or think, we will not feel happy or fulfilled. At the end of the day, putting these worries aside will help us become better people and will also help us to be less judgmental of others.

My years of working with children have shown me that they have the rare, beautiful ability to look at the world with innocence and wonder and see it in an entirely different way. We often feel that we need to mold children in a certain way as they grow, but there are plenty of things that they can teach us, too, if we’re willing to listen and learn. As Angela Schwindt, an Oregon mother and coach, once said, “While we try to teach our children all about life, our children teach us what life is all about.”

I still work as a nanny, and there are still times when I get frustrated with the children. It’s not all smooth sailing because while childcare is rewarding, it’s also challenging. But I’ve learned to recognize the valuable lessons adults can learn from children. While children need us to teach them how to brush their teeth or read a book, we need them as well, and it’s the smaller moments when they tell us they love us or unwittingly say something profound that remind us how blessed we are to have the privilege of spending time with them. To that end, I would encourage everyone to spend at least a little time with a child at some point in their lives, if you have the opportunity—you may be surprised at what you learn!

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