Demystifying the Preschool Years
a book by Nancy Schulman and Ellen Birnbaum, published by Alfred A. Knopf


By Nancy Schulman and Ellen Birnbaum

A caregiver can be a nanny, babysitter, housekeeper, or au pair. Whether she lives with you or not, whether she works for you every day or only occasionally, your relationship with this employee who comes into your home to look after your children is more complex than you might at first assume. You need to share information about your child and your expectations with his/her caregiver as often as possible. Issues related to your child's behavior or feedback from school about her growth and development should also be discussed.

When hiring a caregiver, trust your instincts about whether you feel comfortable with this person. You must check references-and know whom those references came from.

Make certain the caregiver you choose has good skills in the language of your family. In some cases, a child's language development can be inhibited if a caregiver is unable to sufficiently communicate with her. If a potential caregiver doesn't have the facility with language to handle an emergency situation, you should not hire that person.

Establish a professional relationship with this person from the start. In order for a caregiver to do the job effectively, you must be very clear about what the job entails.

Remember that you'll need to be available to orient a new caregiver in the first week or so. Caregivers need to know the details of your child's schedule-what time is lunch, nap time, bath, and so on.

Have a clear plan, discussed and written, for emergency situations. All emergency and contact telephone numbers should be posted near the telephone.

Assess the role of the caregiver as your child grows. You may discover that the babysitter who was great with your newborn is less competent when it comes to caring for your three-year-old. Work with the caregiver to maintain an approach that is consistent with your own.

Help the caregiver to establish her authority. If you hear your child say to her caregiver, "You're not my mommy; I don't need to listen to you!" you must intervene to support the caregiver in order to reinforce her authority.

Be aware that the transition times in the mornings and evenings are difficult for families. In the mornings, remember to make a point of warmly greeting the caregiver together with your child. Remember that when you arrive home at the end of the day, you don't always have a context for what has taken place while you're away.

Don't be afraid to end the relationship with the caregiver if necessary

Pay attention if someone informs you of something he or she has observed of your child's caregiver.

Give your child a chance to say good-bye when a caregiver leaves. Whether leaving is your decision or the caregiver's, children need to have closure.

Help your child gain closure when his/her caregiver leaves suddenly.

website: Judith Motzkin
Author photos: Elena Seibert