When I recently asked a young mother what her biggest challenge was as a parent of young children, she replied: Finding the right caregiver! What do I look for? What questions should I ask?
With so many moms working these days – whether by choice or necessity – the problem of finding good child care is a big one. And as we all know, “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy!” But the one who really suffers from inadequate childcare is the child, especially during the most formative period of life, the years from birth to 6.
So what to look for?
In addtion to the all-important background checks and conversations with previous employers, I suggest focusing on these six areas when considering in-home care for your child:
- Involvement with child: How does this person respond to your child? Is she respectful? Does she use eye contact? Does she get down on the child’s level when speaking? Does she smile? Is she encouraging? Does she always know where your child is? What is her philosophy on rewards? Does she listen? Show genuine interest? Does she play appropriate games or engage in appropriate activities with your child?
- Restrictions and Rules: Is she willing to follow the rules and routines you’ve established with your child? If a child makes a mistake or breaks a rule, how does the caregiver handle that? Is she overly protective or does she allow child to explore and try things herself? Does she encourage hands-on, authentic activities and other active movement that lead to independence, such as setting the table, helping to prepare food, pouring his own juice, dressing herself? Does she allow child to make choices within limits?
- Appropriate Role Model: Children at this stage of development tend to absorb everything from their environment, including the demeanor of the adults. How does your caregiver dress? Does she practice good hygiene? What about her manner of speaking? Is it clear, grammatical, respectful?
- Connection to Nature: Does this person feel comfortable taking child on walks (with child “leading”) or going to the playground? What is her response to children getting dirty? Is she interested in and knowledgeable about Nature – names of birds, trees, etc. Does she enjoy simple gardening activities? How does she respond to critters such as spiders, snakes, or worms?
- Electronics: Is this person willing to limit TV – or better still, not even turn it on? How about cell phone usage?
- Language Environment: Is this person capable of contributing to the language environment in your home by engaging your child in appropriate conversation, reading aloud, telling stories, sharing nursery rhymes, or singing? Can she encourage positive self-talk?
The above suggestions – while a good starting point – are by no means all-inclusive. The important thing is to be very clear about your own expectations.
And follow your intuition! A potential caregiver can meet all your critera, yet – if that warning flag goes up, if something does feel quite right – you’re probably on to something! Listen!