When it comes to leaving your child in the care of a babysitter, nanny or other child care provider, you have nothing but the best intentions. However, many parents unknowingly make mistakes when hiring, managing and communicating with their child care provider.
By avoiding these five common blunders, you can improve your chances of finding -- and keeping -- the child care provider your family needs:
1. Setting unclear expectations.
The first time you meet with a new child care provider, you will likely discuss primary responsibilities, such as hours and pay requirements. Make sure you also discuss your day-to-day expectations, including discipline style, what he or she will do in case of an emergency (be sure to have a clear plan in place, including key contact numbers), and how and when you expect to be notified when there's a non-emergency situation at home.
Be frank about secondary job expectations that could easily make or break the relationship if you aren't on the same page. For instance, expectations for cooking for the kids, including what you encourage them to eat; what your caregiver will eat while on the job; cleaning requirements; and any weekly tasks you expect the caregiver to handle.
Make sure you are also upfront about the commitment you are expecting. Are you looking for someone who will ideally stay with your family for years or is this is a short-term gig? You can't predict the future, but you'll want to know if he or she is planning to leave for school in the fall.
2. Failing to treat the child care provider (and their time) with respect.
Treat your child care provider and their time with respect, and insist that your children do, too. You can show your respect by keeping the lines of communication clear and open, and asking that they do the same. This includes remembering that everyone has days when they are running late -- but limiting these and making sure you let your nanny or babysitter know in advance when you will be late. Their time is as important as yours.
Also, remember to demonstrate to your children that the nanny or babysitter is in charge when you are away. If your child asks you when you are walking out the door for work if he can go to the park after lunch, let him know that the nanny will be in charge then, and she will make that decision. Likewise, if you come home from work and your child care provider has restricted the child from doing something, support thatdecision. Show you appreciate and respect the babysitter's authority with your children.
3. Ignoring your gut and your child's behavior.
Just because a child care provider has fantastic credentials and glowing reviews doesn't necessarily mean he or she is the right fit for your family. Pay attention to your instincts and observe your children's reaction to the child care provider. It is normal for children to be shy around new people. However, if after a period of time your child still seems unhappy, unusually reserved or upset when the provider is around or mentioned, it could indicate that the person is not the right fit. Trust your intuition.
4. Falling out of touch.
In your rush to get to work, it's easy to run out the door and assume that all is going well with your child's care unless you hear otherwise. Make an effort to stay connected by dropping in, sometimes unannounced, to visit your child and observe him or her with the provider, whether that is at your home, a child care center or other location. Be sure to meet with your child care provider for regular check-ins, at least a couple of times per year, to discuss how the job is going and make any necessary adjustments. To keep the conversation honest and candid, make sure your child is not around to overhear or distract you.
5. Looking only at your short-term needs rather than thinking ahead to the future.
It's hard to imagine how different your child will be even a year from now, but time goes quickly and your child's needs change as he or she gets older. And with that, your child care needs will change. If you are hoping to keep the same provider for a period of time, evaluate child care providers for how they will meet your family's needs today and at a future stage.
For instance, if you plan to have more children, determine if your prospective nanny is willing to juggle more than one child and if they can handle a newborn. Will they be willing to drive your child to school? Are they able to help with homework or chaperone play dates? If you aren't sure what your child will need a year from now, ask parents with older children for advice.
Taking the time to evaluate and strengthen your relationship with your child care provider by avoiding these common pitfalls will not only improve the care your child is receiving, but it may also save you from the struggle of having to find a new provider in the future.