With 75% of American mothers in the workforce, and 1 out of 4 children being looked after by someone other than a parent, quality childcare has never been more important. There are countless wonderful daycare centers and in-home caregivers, but parents have to be willing to put the time and energy into the selection process. Arm your family with all of the tools possible to ensure that your children are being cared for physically and emotionally. Strive to make childcare a stimulating and nurturing experience that enriches their lives and allows your whole family to have peace of mind and enjoy your family time even more.
- Understand the importance of quality childcare: Recent studies show that caregivers have a direct effect on the cognitive, emotional, and physical lives of children, in the present as well for their long-term well-being. Good caregivers don’t just keep children safe, warm, and well-fed; they also positively interact with and respond to children on an emotional level. A child’s brain grows 90% by the age of three, and caregivers can facilitate cognitive development and healthy attachments by focusing on their emotional needs as much as their physical ones.
- Outline your “musts” and ask the right questions: Many parents select a daycare center or a nanny without asking many questions, only to discover later that it is not a good match. Changing caregivers can cause emotional stress for a child, as well as strain for the whole family. A better approach is to first determine your needs, both physical (days, hours, salary) and emotional (your specific coverage needs and your child’s developmental needs). When considering daycare centers, nannies, and references, ask questions that focus on these “musts.” Many parents ask about how the daycare or nanny worked out for a previous family, but their wants and needs might have been different. Share specific scenarios from your life as a basis for your questions. For example, “We are two busy working parents with a rowdy toddler and a sensitive infant, and we like to be vocal in our concerns. How would that work for you?”
- Understand that one size does not fit all: In my work with parents and caregivers, I have come to recognize three types of nannies: Parent Unit Nannies (those in full control of home), Partner Nannies (those who share 50/50 with parents), and Executors Nannies (those who follow direct instructions for all tasks). Similarly, a big, bustling commercial daycare center will be a different world from a small home-based residential daycare program. It is essential that you identify which one is best for your family.
- Ensure that Your Child’s Developmental Needs Are Being Met: Just as there are countless types of caregivers, children are obviously different from one to the next, and what works for one child might not work for another. Parents should focus on the developmental stage (infant, toddler, preschooler, school-aged) and understand what their child needs from a caregiver during that stage. For example, the developmental needs of an infant (to be held, rocked, soothed and interacted with positively and calmly) are much different from a preschooler who may need someone who can run around all day, or a daycare center that knows how to keep children safe, while also nurturing their creativity and independence. Sometimes caregivers are wonderful for one developmental stage and then fail to meet the basic needs during the next stage.
- Advocate and Communicate Your Family’s Needs: Caregiving is one of the most important jobs on the planet, yet nannies and daycare providers typically get very little training from parents regarding the specifics of each child. It doesn’t matter if a person has cared for children for 30 years — she has never cared for your child before. This is why it’s so important to communicate clearly every step of the way – from interviews, reference calls, and trial periods through the entire relationship. Some parents worry about “bothering” the daycare center or “annoying” the nanny. However, when it comes to helping your child, you must be prepared to speak up. Some children need specific techniques for soothing a tantrum, while others need extra help handling a particular friend or situation–and the only way for caregivers to know is if parents tell them. I advise parents to clearly state: a) What you need from the caregiver; b) What you need for your children; c) What you need for yourself. This simple technique has helped many families avoid the all-too-common misunderstandings and problems that can sour a caregiver situation – and achieve an excellent standard of care.
Tammy Gold (LCSW, MSW, CEC) is a licensed therapist, certified parenting coach, the author of Secrets of the Nanny Whisperer (Tarcher/Penguin, 2015), and founder of Gold Parent Coaching. A frequent guest expert on Good Morning America, Fox News, and CBS News, among others, Gold is one of the first therapists to bring traditional psychotherapy tools to the process of finding and enhancing the quality of childcare.