You’ve found a wonderful daycare. The care providers are friendly and knowledgeable, their goals and values match your own, and your child is happily settled in. It’s perfect.
Well, almost perfect. At pickup one day, you see something that gives you pause. Are those Froot Loops in the trail mix? Or maybe their toilet-training techniques aren’t quite in sync with yours. Sometimes it takes a little intervention on your part to make a good daycare situation great. Here are tips on tackling five common concerns.
The good news is that nutrition is a priority in today’s licenced daycares, thanks to government mandates and a societal shift toward healthier eating. Centres are required to provide healthy options and cover the four food groups, with many menus approved by dietitians. If you’re concerned that what looks healthy on paper doesn’t meet your real-life standards, speak to the supervisor and ask to see the recipes. Most centres offer choices, and you can ask that your child skip something, such as juice or a processed food.
Licenced home care providers are required to follow similar regulations as daycare centres, with monitoring by their home care agency. If you have a concern about a snack, say, speak to your provider; the agency can also help you work with the provider to come up with a solution, says Annett Holeschek, manager of daycare operations at the Ontario home care agency Wee Watch.
Unlicenced home care providers are not subject to supervision. While most do a great job, there is typically only one person planning the menu. So if you’re unhappy with the menu, it’s your job to ask for changes.
Some parents are skilled at tactfully approaching touchy topics, while others worry about offending the care provider and end up just letting things go. Holeschek says it’s all about finding the right time and the right words.
“Some people can handle a bit of criticism easily and others might get defensive,” she says. “Book an appointment or ask if it’s OK to pick up your child a little early one day so you can have a few minutes to talk about what your child wants to eat. That way, you have time, and she knows to expect the conversation.”
Holeschek continues: “Start out by explaining what your child likes to eat at home or give suggestions for things you’d like to see on the menu.” If your care provider doesn’t post the menu, tell her it would be great to know what your child is eating during the day so you can better plan meals. “You’re leaving it open, making it conversational,” says Holeschek. “Sometimes, a provider just needs to see where a parent is coming from.”
Ange Schellenberg, who runs a home daycare in Morris, Man., says parents have options — they just have to ask. “I would consider changing something on the menu if a parent didn’t like what I was serving,” she says. “If their suggestion was something that wouldn’t work with the other kids, I’d tell them they’re free to bring a snack for their child that day.”
Your child is newly diaper-free at home (hurray!). She’s comfortable on the potty and almost always makes it there on time. However, her care provider isn’t quite as enthusiastic about her readiness for big-girl pants and you’re frustrated to find her in a diaper when you pick her up. Again.
Or maybe the opposite is true. Your child’s care provider excitedly reports that your son loves sitting on the potty and just peed in it for the first time! You know you should be happy, but you have a new baby due in a month — or you’ve just started packing for a move — and can’t devote the energy necessary for training right now.
What’s a parent to do?
“It’s really important parents remember it’s their child and they make the decisions,” says Jennifer McDonald, program supervisor of the Ingersoll (Ont.) Children’s Centre. She explains that daycares will discuss their toilet-training procedures at registration. Some encourage parents to initiate training at home, where the child is most comfortable. At McDonald’s centre, toddlers sit on the potty at each diaper change. “But even then, it’s the parents’ decision when they want their child out of that diaper.”
Your child’s daycare should be your best ally in the great toilet-training adventure, but be aware that some kids are motivated by the group dynamic at daycare, while others happily sit on the potty at home, but refuse in a group setting. Share what you’re seeing in your child and listen to what the care provider has witnessed so you can devise a strategy together.
While some older children may need extra encouragement, there should be no pressure on the child from either side. When and how to train your child is ultimately your choice, so if you’re feeling pressured by staff, go to the supervisor immediately. And although a daycare should follow your wishes, be sure that they are realistic and in the best interests of your child.
“There is no way you can push a child into toilet training. No way,” says McDonald. “It’s a very natural process and it should be a fun thing to learn.”
No more nap?
Your child is out of bed for the sixth time tonight, his usual eight o’clock bedtime come and long gone. On weekends, you’ve been eliminating his afternoon nap, riding out the grouchy period, and getting him to bed on time. But he’s still napping at daycare and his weekday bedtime is starting to rival yours. Can you ask daycare to nix the nap?
“Absolutely,” says McDonald. “It’s very hard to keep a child awake if he wants to sleep, but if a parent asked me not to let a child nap because he’s going to bed too late, I would do my best. He would still have quiet time in his bed with his blanket and some special toys, but a staff member would gently interact with him now and then to keep him awake.”
You could also suggest adjusting your child’s nap, rather than eliminating it altogether, which can make all the difference, according to Schellenberg. “I cared for a three-year-old who was napping for two hours and up really late in the evenings,” she says. “We played around with the timing and found that a 50-minute nap works perfectly for all of us. Many kids still do need to sleep in the day, so it’s best to cut back the nap very gradually until you find what works.”
Let the care provider know if there are special circumstances (maybe your child had a late night), so exceptions can be made.
“Mommy, Sarah bit me!”
Your child’s care provider intercepts you at pickup. Your panic button goes off, but she is calm when she explains that your child was bitten. Biting happens at daycare, it’s just a fact. But that doesn’t make it any less shocking when you see teeth marks on your little one.
Biting is a tough issue for care providers; it’s a phase many kids go through as they struggle to communicate, and it’s almost impossible to stop ahead of time. But there are steps care providers can take.
“I’d work very hard to find out why the biting happened,” says McDonald, who explains that any biting incident is noted and discussed with the parents of both children that day (however, a daycare won’t tell you which child bit yours). “Is it because the child doesn’t have the words or the understanding, or is there another problem? The staff shadows a child who is a biter and tries to redirect him to another activity before it happens. By watching closely, they might discover that the issue is as small as two kids wanting the same toy, so they’d provide two of that toy.”
If you happen to see evidence of a bite, or other aggressive behaviour, report it to the daycare and make sure that steps are being taken to try to prevent repeat offences. Also, if your child has bitten a playmate or sibling, let the care providers know. Biting is a phase that most kids just have to outgrow.
Is your child learning to print? Growing a bean plant? Helping younger kids get their coats zipped up? Unfortunately, our children aren’t often the best source of information on how they have spent their day. Daily written reports on infants are standard, but once kids move beyond diapers, many daycares offer only verbal reporting. When pickup and drop-off are rushed, or if your child’s primary caregiver is already gone when you arrive, you may never find time for conversations about your child’s accomplishments, friendships or his favourite things to do.
There are, however, lots of communication methods that you can suggest, including periodic written reports to track your child’s progress, monthly calendars outlining themes and activities, or short daily or weekly forms with information on small details or big accomplishments. Some daycares keep logs of each child’s day, so that any teacher present at pickup can answer your questions. “It helps the more things are visual, without you having to ask,” says Holeschek, suggesting that daycares use bulletin boards to post photos, artwork, menus and notices.
Schedule phone chats or face-to-face meetings to discuss goals and concerns, so that these important conversations aren’t always happening on the fly. Use email to communicate messages (but not to discuss problems, as tone can be easily misinterpreted). Making time for these conversations is essential. You know your child best, and your care provider will benefit from your guidance as much as you value hers.
Speak up — you won’t be sorry
Many parents feel intimidated to approach care providers with problems for fear they — or their child — may be seen in a negative light. The key is to think of it as a conversation, not a confrontation.
“Get comfortable dealing with things on a consistent basis, instead of thinking that something will just improve over time,” says Annett Holeschek, manager of daycare operations at the Ontario home care agency Wee Watch. “Start with little things. Ask how they deal with a certain situation, so you can be consistent at home. Make suggestions about what works for you that they may want to try. Then, the next week, ask if there’s been any progress, or if they have other ideas. The more you talk, the easier it is to bring up something down the line. If you can communicate every day, a little problem remains little and is dealt with, instead of a whole bunch of things building up and becoming a big problem.”