There are so many decisions that accompany having a growing family and finding childcare. Whether you plan on staying home with your child, finding a nanny, or enrolling in a childcare facility, the choice is a momentous one. Nothing is more precious than your child and it may feel like it’s an impossible decision. Read on for my top 5 tips to help you navigate through your choices. I have helped hundreds of parents find care and I would love to help you feel more at ease and confident about making a good decision for your child and your family.
1. Dig deep to uncover what you want, you might find that your desires have changed. Whether you have always dreamed of having a child, spent nine months plotting and planning, or have gone through the arduous task of adoption, expectant parents spend a great deal of time daydreaming about what life will look like with a new child. Once you have a child, you might find that reality looks different than what you expected and your wants and needs have changed. Maybe you planned to go back to work but now you can’t imagine leaving your child with anyone else, or you planned on staying home but now you are daydreaming about returning to your career. Either way, you may be feeling guilty about navigating through these tough choices, and you may be putting everyone else’s needs before your own. New parents inevitably need to make compromises, but it’s important that you re-evaluate options and be honest with yourself and anyone else that you share caregiving responsibilities with. There’s nothing like the chaos of a changing family to make us learn to accept change and you will need to check-in with yourself many times along the way. Know that there’s no right or wrong decision, you will ultimately have to weigh your options and make the best choice for you and your family. Be honest with yourself and others. It might not be feasible for you and your family to do what you would ultimately prefer, but you will feel better for acknowledging your true desires and examining your choices.
2. Decide on what’s most important. Every option comes with pros and cons. A child care facility is a great option for families that need dependability. You won’t miss work because your nanny is sick or on vacation, but you also won’t get a lot of flexibility. If you are considering childcare, ask about policies regarding illness and late pick up, you may need to leave work on days that your child becomes sick or miss an evening meeting to make it in time for pick up. Licensed child care facilities are routinely audited for safety compliance, teacher training, curriculum, and child guidance techniques. Centers are required to track accidents and injuries, may require staff to be certified in first aid and CPR, and have undergone rigorous background checks. However, one drawback of childcare is the lack of adaptability. Centers can’t open early or stay late and can’t accommodate specific requests. You won’t be able to ask that your child stays in from the playground, doesn’t take a nap, or is fed on an individual basis once he’s no longer an infant. Nannies can be a great choice if your schedule is subject to change, you want your child to have individualized care, and a nanny may be able to care for your child if she is mildly ill. A nanny can be especially beneficial for infants and toddlers who have separation anxiety or need routine because a nanny is able to give your child one-on-one care and your child will see the same familiar face day after day, something you may not get at a center. A nanny share is a great way to divide the cost of care and gives your child more socialization. If you are hiring a nanny, you may consider hiring through an agency that has already completed reference checks and run background checks. Some families choose to leave their child with a family member. Typically, family members are someone you trust and are already familiar to you and your child. However, you may have concerns about tensions arising if you and your family member (or your partner’s) don’t agree on child raising practices. The next family reunion is going to be awkward if you and grandma had a fight over whether or not your toddler needed to finish his lunch.
3. Plan Ahead. Way ahead. At all of the centers and schools I’ve worked at, we have always had a significant waitlist. In fact, one expectant parent was so eager to get on our waitlist that she told me she was pregnant before she told her mom. Nothing made me sadder than having a couple come in, baby in arms, looking for care, and I would show them this terrific center and then tell them that I wouldn’t have a space for their infant until he was at least a toddler. As soon as you are ready to share that you are pregnant or expecting is when you should start thinking about what you will do for childcare.
4. Know when you will need care. We all know that parent leave in the U.S. is abysmal. But if you are lucky enough to choose when you would like to begin child care, consider your options. From my experience, six to eight months is an ideal time to start childcare. At six months, many infants can sit up with some support, this allows your child to begin to look at the world from an upright position and your infant can more easily see her surroundings. At around nine months many infants start experiencing separation anxiety, that’s why it’s great to get your child settled into a new routine before they hit this stage of development. Infants six to eight months are very adaptable, as soon as they know someone will feed them, change their diaper, and keep them safe, they aren’t very picky about who that person is. Toddlers, on the other hand, tend to be distrustful of anyone they don’t know. A toddler thinks he has life figured out, he’s started to learn all of his routines, he knows who will meet his needs, and he’s gotten pretty finicky about when and with who those needs are met. Parents often think that the one-year mark is a good time to start childcare because the first-year mark is a natural transition. But at one year, your baby has come to rely on her trusted caregivers and daily routines to make sense of her world. She doesn’t yet understand that you will return for her and she may not feel comfortable eating, sleeping, or playing in a strange environment. Avoid starting your child off at a center between ten and fourteen months if you can. If your child starts somewhere prior to her first birthday, she will most likely be placed in an infant room and then have to transition to a toddler room just as soon as she starts getting used to her surroundings. This can cause your child and your family a great deal of stress and anxiety. If your child begins care after his first birthday, chances are he may be put in a toddler room. In this case, he may not be allowed to have a bottle, take two naps, sleep in a crib, or be fed by a caregiver, it’s good to give your child some time to further develop so he becomes proficient at these things before he starts care. Even a preschooler may have a tough time transitioning to a new routine. But preschool children are more independent and will have an easier time understanding that you will return for them, they will also enjoy the stimulation of new experiences and making friends. If possible, start at a center full time. From an adult perspective, we like the idea of “easing into” a new situation, who wouldn’t like to start work part time? However, children thrive on routines. Because they don’t understand that you will return for them and that they are in a safe place, their transition is smoother when it quickly becomes a new reliable daily routine. Children use routines to make sense of their world, routines give children a sense of order and stability in a chaotic world. Keep wake-up time, breakfast, drop off, and pick up as consistent as possible. If you are passing your child off to another caregiver, you may want to come up with a routine together, such as dropping your child off at breakfast or reading a story together and giving him a big hug to say goodbye. At any age, don’t expect her to like it right away. I had many families ask me if they could leave their child for a couple of days to see if she would enjoy going to school and I always kindly explained that their child probably wouldn’t enjoy childcare at first. Although some children adapt to change quickly and are happy playing anywhere with anyone, most children go through some amount of struggle when transitioning to being away from a family member. Like most of us, child aren’t wired to like change. New people, situations, and environments can make us feel anxious. We wonder if the new people we meet will welcome and accept us like our family does. However, we discover a whole new world of possibilities when we are pushed outside of our comfort zone. Once your child has gotten familiar with his caregivers and understands they will love and care for him until you return, he will start thriving at school and soon be excited for his new routine. As parents, the best thing you can do is encourage your child during this time. Stay positive, remind your child that you will return, develop a routine, keep things as consistent as possible, and soon both you and your child will feel comfortable with the transition.
5. Think about Socialization and Play. Whether you are staying home with your child, moving to group care, or hiring a nanny, you will want to consider what opportunities your child has for socialization. Working in a center, I was always amazed by how even young infants could make friends and show empathy. One benefit of a childcare center is the many opportunities your child will have to interact with their peers. But whatever your decision, you can find ways to ensure that your child has a chance to socialize. Go to a park, make a playdate, join a parenting group. It’s important that your child learns to socialize and make friends. Remember, children aren’t born knowing how to share a toy, use words to resolve a conflict, or show empathy to others. Children need age-appropriate guidance to learn how to behave in society. Finally, nothing is more important to your child’s development than play. Whatever your choices, children need opportunities to move their bodies, manipulate objects, develop independence, learn about their world, play games, and interact with others. You may find a nanny who can teach a child Mandarin or a center with a reading program, but neither of those is as important as play. Ask what opportunities your child will have to move her body, what activities will be planned, how much time your child will get for free exploration, and the ways that caregivers scaffold learning to extend children’s play,
Making decisions about your child’s care during the day is momentous, there are so many factors to juggle. It can be just as difficult (or more so) to deal with the feelings that leaving your child (or staying home) can bring as it can be to sort through the logistical details. You may find yourself wishing that you could devote all your waking hours to your child while also returning to the career you spent so many years building. You may love spending time with your child but also long for adult conversations and pursuits. Your child is more precious than you could ever have imagined, and you want her to have the best, but the right choice isn’t always obvious, which is why it’s best to start thinking and planning now.
If you are having problems with navigating childcare options and need help clarifying decisions, find out more about my services here. To talk to me in person, click here to book in your free 60-minute consultation and find out how I can help you explore your options, get insider’s tips, and narrow down your choices.