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Finding Safe, Quality Daycare—What to Look for, What to Avoid

separator It’s often difficult to figure out what kind of arrangement to make for your child while you’re at work. But once you’ve looked at all your options and decided that daycare is the best one for you and your child, what should you be looking for in a daycare provider?

High levels of interaction are important
Make sure the site is safe and secure. Find out what the security policies are in terms of who is allowed to visit, whether the facility is locked at all times, etc. 

Visit first and watch the staff. Do they seem like kind, warm, nurturing people? Your judgment and intuition here are important. You know best whether your child will be happy with the personalities of the people you’re observing.

Make sure the staff knows how to interact with children who are your child’s age. Age-appropriate interaction is essential to your child’s development. Babies who can’t talk need lots of non-verbal communication (with facial expressions, hands, etc.). Two-year-olds need someone playing pretend games with them.

Check to see that the staff knows how to handle all the children’s personality types. There shouldn’t be one child alone in a corner, for example. Staff should be making sure that all children’s needs are met, not just the ones who are the most gregarious.

Ask about the staff-to-child ratio. It’s common to see four babies per caregiver, but that’s not ideal. The babies may not get the individual attention they need. Two babies per caregiver is better, if at all possible. 

Relieve stress at the end of the day
Do children experience stress? It seems that they do.

Two studies published in July found that there are behavioral issues that you want to address as well. One study showed that the more time children spend in child care, the more aggressive they tend to be. The other showed that children have higher levels of a stress hormone, cortisol, in their systems on days when they’re in day care than on days when they’re at home.

Child care experts suggest that being in daycare all day can be stressful for kids. When they come home, they need some time with their parents. Parents, on the other hand, often feel tired after their workday, and they’re focused on all the things they have to do before the end of the night.

It’s tempting to start on your chores right away, and often making dinner is the first thing you do when you get home. Instead of rushing to get dinner ready, see if you can spend some time when you’re focused solely on your child. It’s a good time to provide the love and comfort that only a parent can give. Bedtime is another good time to give your child some undivided attention. That ends the day on a secure note. If you can manage these two time periods for your child every night, chances are good that your child will be able to let go of the stressful feelings of the day.

Listen to your instincts
There’s no question that working full time and having children is a lot to take on. When it comes to making decisions about child care, your instincts as a parent probably serve you better than any other measuring tool. You need to feel good about the arrangements you make. If you feel doubt about a certain place, listen to those feelings and investigate further. If you don’t get to the point where you feel comfortable about the arrangement, then it’s time to look for another place.

The same goes for your listening skills at the end of the day. When everyone’s had a long day at daycare and at work, tune in to your parental skills. They’re still there, even though you’re tired. If your child needs you, maybe getting dinner ready a little bit later isn’t such a bad way to go.

Child Development, July 2003; S. Greenspan, The Four-Thirds Solution: Solving the Child-Care Crisis in America Today, Perseus, 2001; National Institute for Child and Human Development; National Network for Childcare; New York Times, Turning a Mass of Data on Child Care into Advice for Parents, 22 July 2003
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