The Don’t Un-Dress Code

One of my first childcare experiences was working in the toddler room with my mother at our church. There was one firm rule: men couldn’t change diapers. And while I appreciate a healthy distance between poop and myself, the connotations behind the rule were troubling.

It’s a disturbing, and seemingly prevalent, misconception that males who work with children—as teachers, coaches or mannies—have chosen their field with perverse intentions. This is an undeserved, discriminatory assumption regarding those of us who choose to work with kids because it’s a challenging, rewarding job with plenty of perks, laughs, and video games. I’d urge all parents to do their due diligence regarding a potential nanny, male or female, but it’s time to debunk the stereotype about guys who work with children. However, one positive effect of this stereotype was that it prompted me, as a manny, to emphasize the importance of teaching modesty.

With the families I’ve worked with, I do everything I can to avoid seeing the children without their clothes. When I started my manny position with five-year-old twin boys, one of my assigned responsibilities was to bathe them. But, within weeks of my employment, I eliminated bath-time. No, I didn’t let my charges run around dirty and smelly—at least no more than a full day of tennis camp could pile on—but I transitioned them to showering instead.

Showers conserve water compared to baths. Showers cleanse more effectively. And showers can be completed independently, without the assistance of an adult. The Practice Life Method teaches that self-sufficiency is vital to development, and having the boys shower avoids a potentially awkward situation. It’s a win-win.

During the post-shower, pre-bedtime window of our evening routine, the twins initially would tap into their nudist spirits. One would stand with his hands up, expecting me to throw him the football, and I would reply, “I’m not interested in playing with a naked guy.” He’d return a moment later wearing pajamas.

The goal of my policy of avoiding seeing the children in the nude isn’t to shame them, but rather to inspire appropriate situational awareness. Shutting the bathroom door is the best option, and a shirt is expected at the dinner table.

When children are comfortable with someone, physical contact is likely. One of the mothers I worked for routinely urged her boys to give me a hug goodbye as I left for the day. The twins liked to snuggle up close beside me while we watched Yankees games on TV. But I always feel it is important to demonstrate the boundaries of acceptable physical contact and point out when a line is crossed. Once, one of the boys started touching my chest in a way that made me feel uncomfortable. He stopped after I swiftly looked at him with a stern expression and said, “I don’t like that” to inform him that it wasn’t acceptable behavior.

Because of their innate curiosity and inexperience, when working with young children, awkward situations can arise. But even when the circumstances are new or confusing for them, the message I send is crystal clear: clothing isn’t optional, I won’t touch you, you don’t touch me, and let’s get back to our Pokémon game.

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