By Chris McCue
You’ve spent months looking for day care for your child and you’ve finally found the right place, the right person. Now you can rest easy, right? Wrong. Actually, your work has just begun.
A solid relationship with your day-care provider is a lot like a successful marriage – it takes work. You need trust, respect, open communication and a good understanding of your provider’s needs for the relationship to thrive. The relationship should be shared 50/50 between parent and provider, but parents aren’t always aware of what providers expect of them.
Whether your child attends a family- or center-based day care, the provider’s concerns and frustrations are probably the same. Providers and day-care experts offer these suggestions to help you forge a strong alliance with the person who will care for your child.
FORGE A PARTNERSHIP
“Parents should view the relationship with their day-care provider as a partnership,” says Amy Newmark, a senior parent counselor at the
Amy Bamforth, an early childhood specialist at
“When providers and parents work together as a team, it can be very powerful,” Bamforth say. “Unfortunately, the guilt parents feel about leaving a child all day long can sometimes enhance the feeling that they are competing with the provider.”
Parents should view the provider as a resource, not a rival, she continues. Day-care providers can often be as helpful as the child’s pediatrician, especially with such issues as sleeping disorders, eating problems and toilet training.
“I try hard not to out-parent the parent, and I make a point of trying to reinforce the relationship that the child has with mom and dad,” she explains. “Parents should view me as a resource and feel comfortable asking me for advice. After taking care of so many children, I can recognize an ear infection from a yard away or distinguish between different types of diaper rashes.”
TREAT PROVIDERS AS PROFESSIONALS
One of the most common frustrations for day-care providers is the feeling they are not viewed as professionals by parents and society.
“When I go to a cocktail party and I tell people that I’m a family day-care provider, they don’t know what to say – they just look at me funny. I don’t think they consider being a day-care provider as a true career,” Bain says. “As for parents, I think they often view us as babysitters. They don’t realize we put a lot of effort into developing a curriculum to make sure each child is progressing in his or her development.”
Many providers regularly broaden their knowledge by reading publications and attending seminars on child-care issues. They’re also becoming involved in the local child-care associations that are popping up across the state.
Bain, for example, serves on the board of the Newton Family Child Care Association and the Newton Child Care Commission. She also conducts seminars for other providers, often through the
But more important than convincing other people they are professionals, providers are finally convincing themselves.
“We’re now feeling more comfortable spelling out day-care policies in a contract, including making paid vacations, sick days and holidays mandatory,” says McNamara Buck, a family day-care provider in
MAKE COMMUNICATION A PRIORITY
Another frustration for many child-care providers is the lack of opportunities to communicate with parents about their child or the day in general. But they empathize with parents.
“Parents are working full time and the stress they feel makes it hard for them to make the time to talk with teachers,” admits Mary Beth Tobin, a child-care consultant and the executive director of five day-care programs. “It’s not the parents’ fault. There are just so many hours in a day.”
Sometimes providers have to work with parents to find even a half hour to talk, says Bain. “I had one mom who worked 7 (a.m.) to (p.m.) and felt that she was missing out on her child’s development. By talking with her, we were able to schedule times during his nap, so she could talk about what he was doing at day care and feel connected to her child.”
Conversely, providers need parents to let them know about issues or changes at home.
“For example, children can feel tremendous anxiety and react very negatively when a parent’s schedule changes,” says Buck. “If parents let us know what’s going on, we can be more supportive of the child.”
Open communication is especially important when a serious problem needs to be addressed.
“It’s important that parents schedule a convenient time to talk about the issue with the provider away from all the children,” says Buck. “Of course, the parent should address the problem right away so we can begin to work on it together.”
When starting a difficult conversation with a provider, Buck advises parents to be as direct and up-front as possible.
“Sometimes parents think they have stated the issue effectively, when in fact, the provider hasn’t a clue what the parent is talking about,” she says.
Buck emphasizes that it is up to the provider to create an environment where parents feel comfortable bringing up difficult issues. The provider should also be proactive with issues that could potentially upset parents by communicating with them before problems arise, she says.
DON’T TAKE ADVANTAGE
Care providers say they often feel taken advantage of by parents, especially when it involves pick-up times, paying for care or abiding by the sick-child policy.
class=MsoNormal>“Consistent lateness is a problem because it’s hard on the child who’s waiting to be picked up,” says Bain. “There have been many times when day-care children have joined my own family at the dinner table.”
class=MsoNormal>Family day-care providers are especially eager to have children picked up on schedule so they can spend time with their own family.
class=MsoNormal>Bain says day care can sometimes be hard on her kids because they often can’t play with toys with small parts or have friends visit if the number of children in the house would exceed the state Office for Children’s day-care regulations.
class=MsoNormal>Sometimes, a simple phone call from parents to say they’re running late can go a long way. “It also makes a big difference if parents apologize to the provider when they arrive. It makes them feel less taken for granted,” says Tobin.
class=MsoNormal>A bigger problem is parents who remember to bring the child, but not the provider’s paycheck.
class=MsoNormal>“I’ve had to ask a few parents repeatedly for payment. I can understand forgetting every once in awhile, but it becomes frustrating when it turns into a habit,” says Buck.
class=MsoNormal>However, if the situation warrants it, providers often try to be flexible. “I had one parent who couldn’t pay me right away because he had just lost his job. Under these circumstances, it’s important for the provider to try and work with the parent,” says Buck.
class=MsoNormal>Another troubling issue is abuse of the sick policy, which providers say is meant to protect them and the other children.
class=MsoNormal>“Some parents know their child has a fever so they give Tylenol first thing in the morning. But by , the fever is back and I have to spend time tracking down the parent so the child can be picked up,” says Bain.
class=MsoNormal>“I know it’s important for parents to be at work, but having a sick child in day care poses a health risk for everyone else,” she says. “I once had a child with cystic fibrosis and unnecessarily exposing him to any kind of illness was dangerous.”
The average turnover rate for teachers in day-care centers is about 40 percent, according to several studies. While most teachers enter the field because they love working with young children, many become frustrated by low wages, limited benefits, long hours and lack of appreciation.
All providers want to be appreciated for the work they do. “Anyone who’s ever taken care of a baby knows how hard it is. Now multiply it by six. That’s what a provider’s day is like,” says parent Mary Tehan of
“I can appreciate what the teachers go through. They don’t get a break and there are always so many needs to be met,” she says. To show her appreciation for her daughter’s caregivers, Tehan drops off baked goods for Emily’s teachers each Friday.
“The teachers always like being told they’re doing a good job, but gestures like that, as well as notes and letters, are really cherished,” says Mary Bresadola, director of
The job of child-care provider has its frustrations like any career, but many providers say the children make it all worthwhile.
“The rewards are numerous. I get to enjoy the seasons from their eyes, and it’s wonderful watching the children change over the years,” says Bain. “I feel like I’m doing something important.”
Chris McCue is a free-lance writer and a mother in Medfield, MA.