5 Key Lessons that I Learned about Managing People After a Year of Caregiving for Two Toddlers

In 2013, I became an insta-mom. I had never wanted kids, but found myself entrusted with the care of my young nieces, aged 2 and 4. They ended up in my care for about a year. As you might imagine, receiving two toddlers overnight with zero experience raising, was a bit terrifying. However, as Marshall Goldsmith describes in What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There, my  previous successes made me pretty confident I was up for the challenge. 

I was and I wasn’t.

I thought I was going to be the ‘cool aunt’. I envisioned something like summer camp; eating fun foods, watching movies, and doing arts and crafts together. Clearly I knew nothing about toddlers. The scene was total chaos and I was not the one in charge. One day, several breakdowns later, I realized I wasn’t there to be their friend. I wasn’t there to make their lives fun. I was there to ensure that they safely became confident little people who were ready to go back to their mom as helpers, not destroyers. 

All this to say, the experience taught me a thing or two about setting boundaries and people management. Looking back on it, here are some of the lessons I learned from transforming those kids from tiny terrors into well-behaved and happy kids and how they can apply to working with adults. 

  1. Structure is necessary. As a person who greatly values variety, even I recognize its importance underneath all this devil-may-care attitude. Without structure people don’t know what to expect. Expectations help people understand changes, know what they are supposed to be doing, and why they are supposed to be doing them. 
  2. Expectations have to be made. This follows with structure; it’s a chicken and egg thing. No expectations, no structure; no structure, no expectations. If any of you struggle with kids who start throwing a fit when it’s time to leave the party, give them a 5 minute warning and stick to it. No extra minutes and no getting distracted yourself. Can’t see how this applies to your workforce? Try changing the rules, expectations, policies, and goals without telling your employees and see how it goes over. Everyone needs, and deserves, to know what the plan is, even if it’s just to get through the day without a tantrum. 
  3. Roles must be clearly defined. While this correlates to setting expectations, it’s more about consistency. I must always be the aunt, the manager, and the boss. If you try to be  the boss in one situation then flip to being the friend in another misunderstandings will follow, unless these expectations are clearly communicated and both parties are mature enough to navigate those transitions. 
  4. People need opportunities to try and try again. The 2-year old struggled with putting on her socks. She wanted me to do it, I wanted to do it to get it over with, but I didn’t. I watched her struggle, showed her how to do it, and then let her try again and again. Eventually, when she did get it, she beamed with excitement and said, “I did it!”. It’s easy to fall into doing everything for someone else if they aren’t good at it, especially when you’re stressed and the clock is ticking. I was late to work a few times because of those darn socks. 
  5. Actions need repercussions. We’re a pacifist household. They weren’t threatened with spankings, they were threatened with losing out on things they wanted. Your employees are smarter than this, so threatening them with taking things away will backfire, but you can reward them with things they actually want. 

While your employees are not children, these lessons apply to us all as humans. If you’re facing people-related challenges at work, consider that there are likely underlying issues that could be corrected by addressing one or more of these items.  Nearly 10 years later, my nieces are becoming young adults and they are two very capable and independent people. I learned about 1,000 other lessons that year, but if you want to know more you’ll have to stay tuned for my future book. 

If you want to learn more about supporting people in the workplace, be sure to register for my upcoming virtual workshop Build A Culture of Action: Engagement > Empowerment > Emancipation on March 22nd from 9 – 11 AM.



Laura Thorne specializes in strategy and execution through workshops, coaching, and other services. Click here to learn more about Laura’s consulting partnership with MACNY.

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