Whether you choose a formal child-care center, family day care, or in-home care, there are some basic things you should know and insist upon. To help you make this all-important decision, we’ve talked to mothers and other experts who have been in the child-care trenches. Here are eight ways to size up a child-care option:
1. Look down. When you’re visiting a potential site, pay attention to how the staff interacts with the children. Ideally, a caregiver should be on the floor playing with the kids or holding one on her lap. In their early years, babies need close, loving, interactive relationships with adults in order to thrive. That’s why it’s especially important that babies’ first caregivers be warm and responsive, and that even in group care, infants and older babies get a healthy dose of one-on-one time. (Though individual states set their own staffing ratios for child-care facilities, the American Academy of Pediatrics specifically recommends a ratio of one adult for every three babies up to 24 months of age.)
2. Ask for a commitment. Babies need consistent, predictable care. It helps them to form a secure attachment to their caregivers, according to Debra K. Shatoff, a family therapist in private practice in St. Louis. If you’re looking at an in-home caregiver, request that the person you’re considering make a one-year commitment to the job. If you’re considering a center, find out how long the current caregivers have been working there and how much turnover the center usually experiences.
3. Do a policy check. Find out whether you share parenting philosophies on topics such as discipline (Do the caregivers use time-outs, scoldings?); television (Is the TV on all day or used sparingly, if at all?); feeding (What snacks or drinks are provided for older babies?); sleeping (When are naps offered? How are fussy babies put to sleep?); and so forth. Inquire about the sick-child policy (What symptoms prevent a child from attending?). Also ask whether there’s a backup plan should the family day-care provider or in-home caregiver get sick and be unable to work. The more questions you ask early on, the less likely you are to be unpleasantly surprised later.
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