When our incredible Mary Poppins of a nanny announced she was leaving to seek greener pastures, I panicked. Once I could breathe again, I took a hard look at our childcare situation. Perhaps, I thought, it was time to put our 18-month-old son, Fletcher, in a more diverse social situation. I enrolled him at a nearby nursery school and was delighted with my decision -- until we got the welcome package. Inside was a form for signing up to be a room-parent volunteer, a time-consuming responsibility. I resented this intrusion into my already overscheduled workday. But I saw how Fletcher was blossoming, so I went back to singing the center's praises. Even after you've done your homework and feel you've chosen the best daycare, there's always going to be something that bothers you. And when safety isn't the issue, you need to decide whether those annoyances are simply irritating or outright appalling enough to withdraw your child and find a new daycare. Here, parents sound off on what they've encountered and how they've coped.
I get hassled if I'm late to pick up my child.
Although Jennifer Fas, of Downey, California, normally picked up her daughter Megan, 2, by 4 p.m., her cell phone would start buzzing if she wasn't there by 4:05. She and the caregiver reached an agreement: "We left it at 'I promise to be there at 4 p.m., and if I'm going to be past 4:05, I'll call.'" For now, her cell phone has stopped ringing.
What the experts say
Chronic lateness disrupts the facility's daily functions and interferes with caregivers' going home on time. If a parent exceeds a five-minute grace period, it's not unusual for childcare centers to charge a dollar for every minute the parent is late. Still, if your caregiver has a tendency to use a condescending tone, tell her directly that you don't like the way she speaks to you and that you'd like to find another way to interact, says Mary Zurn, PhD, vice president of education for Primrose Schools, a Georgia-based childcare franchise. You might need to find a new daycare if that doesn't work, because the caregiver's attitude could inhibit you from expressing your concerns -- a bad arrangement for you and your child, Zurn explains.
Where'd the teacher go?
Jessica Ziegler became dissatisfied with her son Holden's daycare after one of the teachers quit, leaving the 2-year-old's room short-staffed. "His teacher was on her own with probably 12 kids every day for several months," Ziegler says. But she was in a bind: her family was in the process of selling their house in Las Vegas and buying another in Colorado. "It was not the best time to be making additional big changes," she says. "If we were staying in Las Vegas, he wouldn't have been returning to the daycare center, but it was only twice a week...so I didn't want to rock the boat."
What the experts say
Even quality facilities will experience the occasional ebb and flow of staff, but a revolving door of caregivers is a big red flag. "If turnover occurs more than once in a child's time there, something is wrong," says Barbara Rigney-Hill, associate professor of family and consumer sciences at California State University, in Northridge.
Of course, even occasional staff turnover can be upsetting. For older children, one way to buffer the loss of a teacher is to make sure your child feels connected to more than one caregiver at the childcare center. "That way, even if a favorite teacher leaves, he'll still feel there are people around who care about him," Zurn says.
They're feeding them what?!
Barbara Pantaleo, of Clifton, New Jersey, first suspected something was amiss with what her 4-year-old daughter was eating at daycare when Angela started getting very constipated. "That made me think she wasn't eating the right foods there, because when she eats at home, she's fine," Pantaleo says. When she raised these concerns, the center's director, told her that the children were served a vegetable soup; but Angela said there wasn't any soup, just corn, dill pickles, and canned peaches. Pantaleo decided not to question the director about the discrepancy and instead chose to rally other parents to petition for healthier fare.
What the experts say
Propose to change the lunch and snack menu. "If it's a good school and the director respects parents, you should get a positive response, especially if you haven't put that person on the defensive," Rigney-Hill says. But the bottom line is that you need to decide where nutrition ranks on your list of daycare priorities. "If you just can't stomach the food options, you may have to consider finding another daycare," she adds.
Sending Kids Home
I have to get him when he's really not sick.
Ann Douglas, author of Choosing Childcare for Dummies (Wiley), remembers scrambling to find a sub to cover a college course she was teaching so she could pick up her 3-year-old son, Josh, when he threw up after eating a yellow crayon. "He wasn't sick," she groans. In fact, when she arrived on the scene, "he was actually dancing around in circles, happy as could be." Now Douglas supplies caregivers with a helpful checklist to read before asking her to leave work ("How to Know When Josh Is Really Ill").
What the experts say
Caregivers should know the basics of first aid, but sometimes they need to make judgment calls, so a symptom checklist can be helpful, Rigney-Hill says. And if there are still questions, a phone call will help them determine if they're really dealing with a sick child or if something else is going on. "You want that personalized attention when necessary," Rigney-Hill says. Still, some centers have a no-vomit policy, meaning if your child throws up, she goes home. But if your kid tends to vomit when she has a tantrum or she sees someone else throw up, tell the caregiver, who could try to avert such situations.
Here's what experts say to look for in a daycare provider before you enroll your child in a program.
- Is the facility licensed and accredited? Daycare regulations vary from state to state, but a licensed program has at least met the minimum health and safety standards and maintains age-appropriate caregiver-child ratios. The National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies lists licensed programs at childcareaware.org. If you want to locate accredited programs that voluntarily exceed minimum state requirements, check out the Web sites for the Education of Young Children (naeyc.org) and the National Early Childhood Program Accreditation (necpa.net).
- Are kids on a schedule? The day should be structured but flexible, says Rigney-Hill. "Kids need to have long periods of time for discovery."
- What's the educational focus? Is the emphasis on early academics or developing social-emotional skills during free play? "Children need opportunities to learn to be friends, to take turns, to listen in a group, and to express their feelings," Rigney-Hill says.
- Do caregivers read to the kids? "That's not to teach reading, but to expose children to new words and concepts that don't come up in their regular environment," says Jill Stamm, PhD, author of Bright from the Start (Gotham Books).
- Is there a TV in the room? The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no television for children younger than 2 and only two hours daily for children older than 2. "There's good research on the increase of ADHD characteristics in young children who watch a lot of television," Stamm says. "It wires their brains differently for quick hits of short bits of information. If you want a child to be successful cognitively, foster her ability to have a longer attention span, not a shorter one."
- What's the discipline policy? "Beware of centers that use time-outs for every problem -- they're relatively unsophisticated," says Adam Cox, PhD, author of No Mind Left Behind (Penguin). "While time-out is an extremely good intervention, it's not appropriate for every problem."
- How do the caregivers communicate with parents? You want to know how caregivers will update you about your child's general progress or if they see any learning, behavior, or social problems developing.
- How does the caregiver deal with social dynamics between children? Ask how the staff would draw out a shy kid or manage an aggressive child. How would they intervene if your child had trouble making friends, seemed to get picked on, or experienced excessive separation anxiety?
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