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Paging the Nanny Doc

Lindsay Heller. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Heller.Photo courtesy of Lindsay Heller

Nanny troubles? Join the crowd. Books, blogs, newspaper stories and Hollywood movies are devoted to the problem-fraught aspects of child rearing. So, who are you going to call?

Why, the Nanny Doctor, of course.

That would be Lindsay Heller (BA, '99), a former nanny and now a licensed clinical psychologist who has carved out a niche for herself as the go-to guru for moms and dads trying to find and keep good nannies. After running a busy clinical practice for children, adolescents and adults in Beverly Hills for several years, Heller hung out her "Nanny Doctor" shingle in 2007 and now juggles the two sides of her business.

With so many double-income parents these days, the Nanny Doctor, who charges $175 an hour, is busy. Heller advises families on everything from mundane logistics, such as whether it's appropriate to purchase medical insurance for a nanny (a good idea) to whether a nanny should be expected to do light housework (yes, especially if nanny's charge is an infant who sleeps a lot). Heller also deals with thornier issues, such as what do to when nanny starts calling herself "mommy" (nip that one in the bud).

Heller, a Los Angeles native, started nannying almost by accident while a student at SF State. She was working in a bike shop when her boss had a baby and asked the young co-ed to babysit. Heller enjoyed nannying so much she kept it up for 10 years, even after graduating from SF State and going on to doctoral studies at the California School of Professional Psychology.

It was during one of these nanny gigs that Heller had an epiphany. In a psychology course at SF State in her senior year, she had studied attachment theory. Advanced by the British psychiatrist John Bowlby, the theory holds that the bond between a child and caregiver affects the youngster's entire course through life, for good or ill.

"All of a sudden," she says, "everything came together. Attachment theory related to nannies and families -- it completely makes sense. Children form secure bonds with their attachment figures. Usually the primary ones are mom and dad, but kids can develop emotional bonds with secondary attachment figures, such as nannies.

"Sometimes, conflict comes up and there might be a firing, and that might not be the healthiest thing for the child or the family," Heller continues. "With every new nanny, the likelihood of failure goes up because the child then expects that person to leave and might act out in ways that doom the relationship to failure."

Heller believes that many problems can be avoided if parents and nannies understand each other's expectations in advance of hiring. Perhaps more than anything, she says, parents need to realize that nanny is not just hired help, and that a revolving nanny door can have serious consequences on a child's well-being far into adulthood.

"Nannies can be a wonderful part of the family," she says. "They're the ones who provide physical and emotional safety when parents aren't there, and that's huge."


Lindsay Heller's Five Tips for Caring for Your Nanny

  • Treat nanny as part of a co-parenting team
  • Encourage nanny to attend a nanny support group
  • Celebrate nanny's birthday and anniversary of hire
  • Schedule a twice-yearly chat about job satisfaction and experiences
  • Reward nanny when he or she does something that stands out


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