Whether they are in care for just a few hours a week or most of their waking hours, all children benefit from a good working relationship between their parents and their child care providers. For this article, I interviewed child care providers and directors with experience in private child care centers, Head Start, and family child care centers.
Meet our Expert Childcare Providers
- Angie Soda – Center Director at Davis Child Care Center in Oshkosh
Angie has worked in child care for 31 years. She has experience as a child care teacher and a center director. Angie collaborates with Oshkosh School District to support a district 4K program in her NAYC-accredited center. Davis is breastfeeding friendly, and the staff are trained in Conscious Discipline.
- Katy Schultz – Owner and Operator of Tender Hearts Family Child Care Center
Katy was the recipient of the 2021 Provider of the Year award from the Wisconsin Family Child Care Association. She has owned her business for over 20 years.
- Tara Huse – Kindergarten/First Grade Teacher
With experience working in a traditional child care center, Head Start, a math interventionist with Oshkosh Area School District, and as a parent of a child with autism and ADHD, Tara has a wealth of experience in child development and learning.
- Amy Nogar – Owner of Amy & Kids Co. Family Child Care
Amy has operated her family child care since 1999 and has more than 25 years of experience in early childhood education. She is the recipient of the 2011 WFCCA Star of the Region Award and is an adjunct instructor in the Early Childhood departments at Fox Valley Technical College and Waukesha County Technical College.
I asked all these experienced providers to talk with me about how parents can give their children the best possible experience in out-of-home care.
Preparing Your Child For Success in Care
Many parents worry that their child is not ready for child care or preschool. Some of us had experiences in our own childhoods when we or a family member were turned away from an educational experience or child care setting because of developmental concerns. Fortunately, that kind of segregation and gate-keeping is much less common now.
As Angie Soda, Director at Davis Childcare Center, told me, “We have to meet the child and parent where they are. It’s important that we look at the individual child and meet that child where they are at. What’s good for one is good for all. Even to help the most challenging children, we have to help the whole group.”
Childcare centers and teachers now recognize that having children who struggle and children who are ahead developmentally in the same group is helpful to all. Tara Huse, K/1 teacher, pointed out that struggling children learn from their more developed peers, and the more developed peers “learn to be flexible and understanding.”
If parents are concerned about their child’s ability to handle children who are developmentally different, they can prepare their child by modeling patience, kindness, and acceptance. Parents who interact intentionally and positively with those different from themselves are great models for their children.
Encourage your child to imitate and play with new children on the playground. Show interest in what others are doing. Although your child may occasionally pick up a less-desirable behavior from a new friend, the benefits of interacting far outweigh the risks.
Another way in which parents can prepare their children for a group learning setting, such as child care, is by supporting their independence. In many homes, parents show their love for their children by dressing, bathing, and serving children their favorite foods.
There is no harm in this type of parenting, but parents should be aware that child care teachers are not able to provide that kind of individual support, so children will be expected to be more independent and flexible. Infants, of course, will have all their needs met by a caregiver, but you can help your toddler be successful in care by encouraging them to attempt simple tasks, such as:
- Helping adults as adults dress them by putting up their arms or pulling up their pants
- Using words, sounds, or gestures to communicate their wants and needs
- Lying down and napping without being held
- Cleaning up toys when they are finished playing or cleaning their spot at the table after meals
- Developing impulse control, such as waiting until everyone is served to begin eating or waiting for a turn with a toy
- Following simple directions
Your provider can provide you with resources on these topics. Providers can help parents learn strategies to teach these skills at home. Katy Schultz of Tender Hearts Family Child Care Center urges parents to give their children a chance to be independent: “Yes, it will take longer for them to try, but once they accomplish something…they will feel very proud of themselves.” Children who are learning to be independent are less anxious and more able to handle small challenges throughout their day.
Choosing a Child Care Provider
It can be challenging to find child care that fits your needs and budget. Child Care Resource and Referral has a wealth of resources to help you find a good fit. If you are lucky enough to be able to choose among providers, it is important to make sure you are choosing a provider you respect and trust. All the providers I interviewed mentioned respect and trust as vital to their work.
To find a provider you can respect, consider what qualities make a great teacher at any age. Amy Nogar of Amy & Kids Co. Family Child Care told me that, “A common misconception is that anyone can be a child care teacher/provider, as long as they love children. Child care is often seen as a “lesser” profession – something people get into in between “real” jobs or if they can’t find anything else to do. It actually takes a lot of patience, knowledge, and skill to care for little people.” Place your child with a well-trained, competent provider that you respect.
In addition to professionalism, it is important for a provider to be a good fit for the culture of your family. Talk to any potential child care provider about what is important to you. Hot topics that can cause you to gain or lose respect for a provider might include:
- Amount or type of experience with children
- Religious or moral instruction
- Shared social beliefs about gender, family structure, and adult authority
- Approach to discipline
- Level of risk tolerance (are you ok with your child getting dirty or scraping a knee now and then)
- Approach to technology (allowing television or other screen time)
- Amount of physical touch and affection
- Organizational skills
- Physical activity level
For example, if a family sees a lot of value in personal experience raising children, they might struggle to respect a non-parent, even if she has a college degree in child development. If a parent does not respect a child care provider or the work she or he is doing, it will be difficult for the parent to work with the provider when the child struggles.
A provider you can respect is a provider you can trust. Amy Nogar passed along advice she received from Lisa Murphy, an early childhood specialist and author: “Before enrolling, consider if you’d give the teacher/provider a key to your house and car. If not, are you really comfortable enrolling your child there?” Providers are willing to reach out and help establish trust, but parents must be willing to work with providers as well. Parents can help providers form that trusting bond if they
- Are truthful with provider, even when it is embarrassing, such as letting a provider know if a traumatic event happened to the child
- Give the provider the benefit of the doubt and raising concerns right away
- Are flexible and willing to try new techniques
- Address behavior or discipline concerns as a team with a shared and consistent strategy
- See providers as human beings who sometimes make mistakes and have rough days
Build a relationship with your provider and support each other to solve problems and give your child the best possible environment at home and in care.
Collaborating With Your Child Care Provider
As you form that respectful, trusting relationship with your child’s provider, look for opportunities to work together to solve problems – this can be fun! Good, experienced providers have all kinds of tips and tricks they can share for the smaller issues, such as teaching children how to wash their hands well or put on their own shoes.
A collaborative spirit comes in most handy for the larger challenges you may face as a parent. While toddlers can be delightful, they can also be exhausting, with tantrums, physical aggression, and willfulness. These days, even very young children are becoming very anxious, fearful, and clingy. And while a good provider can help you manage your child’s less wonderful behaviors, they need your help to maintain good sleep patterns, nutrition, and physical and mental health at home.
Nothing is more discouraging to a provider than trying to teach and care for a young child that is chronically underslept or isn’t receiving needed physical or mental health care. Be receptive to your provider if she asks you to make changes at home to meet those basic needs.
Addressing Concerns With Your Provider
Good providers enjoy talking to parents about their children and do so often. However, if you have significant concerns, either about your child or about your provider, it is best to set aside time to speak with the provider directly when they are not with children.
Have you ever tried to take a phone call with a toddler around? It can be difficult to impossible for a provider to have a substantive conversation when surrounded by the children they are tasked with supervising!
For a longer, more in-depth conversation, set aside time on the phone or in person.
When you bring up an issue, keep a few things in mind:
- Keep an open mind and be ready to listen
- Be specific about your concern (“I am concerned about how long my child cries when I drop him off” as opposed to “My child isn’t happy here”). If you have a long list of worries, prioritize or try to group them together. Usually, if your child is struggling with multiple activities or settings, those activities or settings all have something in common.
- Propose reasonable solutions that balance your child’s needs with the needs of the provider and the other children (for example, sending a packed lunch for your child rather than asking the provider to change the meal for the whole center).
- While significant concerns can certainly spark tears and anger, do your best to remain calm. Avoid accusations, name-calling, or character attacks and focus on specific changes you want made. Remember that providers are doing their best during a very stressful time – have you ever had to try to get a room full of 4 year-olds to wear masks consistently for eight to ten hours per day? Just like any other professional, they will respond well to being spoken to with respect and kindness.
- Be sure to tell your provider what is going well and show your appreciation!
When asked about areas that tend to concern parents, the providers I interviewed mentioned two specific areas. The first area is concern about their child’s development. Many parents worry that their children are behind in their skills. “Parents of two and younger worry about if their child is meeting the milestones,” says Angie Soda. “Parents of 3-5 worry if their child is developing properly, and if they will be ready for ‘real’ school.”
Our culture encourages parents to compare themselves and their children unfavorably to others, but doing so creates anxiety for both parents and children. Certainly, there is nothing wrong with checking in with your child care provider (and your pediatrician) if you are concerned about your child’s development. But keep in mind that your child is learning at his or her own pace and trust your provider to raise concerns with you.
The other area that tends to concern parents is the ways that other children affect or influence their child. Katy Schultz told me that “The most common misconceptions parents hold about child care is that there are too many children in a classroom or group and there are too many germs.”
There are also concerns about other children’s behavior. Parents worry that their child will imitate other children’s unwanted behaviors, such as hitting or swearing. Generally, however, children who demonstrate these unhealthy behaviors have far less impact on healthy children than healthy children have on them.
Children learn play skills, self-help skills, and interpersonal skills from interacting with other children. Children who are ahead in their skills learn patience and kindness toward children who are struggling.
In a quality child care setting, all children grow from interactions with others.
As for germs, while children certainly can spread illness, quality centers also spend time teaching children healthy behaviors, such as handwashing and how to manage sneezes. A certain amount of childhood illness is, unfortunately, unavoidable.
Other Ways To Support Your Provider
When asked what they would wish for if they could have anything, the providers I spoke to all wished for the same thing: more resources! Each of them mentioned how much they wished that they could pay staff what they were worth and provide an excellent experience for every child. It can be difficult to make enough money as a professional provider, and many have to work second jobs to make ends meet.
Providers want all their hard work to be recognized and compensated fairly. Anything you can do to show your support for these goals is appreciated.
“My goal is to assist parents by cherishing their children, nurturing healthy development, keeping the children safe while they are with me, and supporting their family,” writes Amy Nogar. “I want all children and families to feel accepted, welcomed, and supported in my program.”
Anything you can do to support your provider with those goals will benefit everyone.