The Parent/Childcare Provider Relationship

I dedicate this article to Joan and Roxanne who took care of my daughter and Mrs. B. who took care of my son.
An excellent childcare provider is a treasure: valuable and hard to find. We entrust our children to a nanny hoping for the best combination of Mary Poppins and Dr. Spock, the pediatrician, not the half-Vulcan science officer. Traditionally, a nanny is a trained childcare professional. Americans tend to call long-term babysitters Nannies, and this leads to confusion for both parents and caregivers, who might have little background in child development.
I hope to offer some suggestions to parents as well as childcare providers to make the relationship as good as possible.
Parents need to very clear about how they want their child to be cared for.
They also need to be very clear that they are employers. They must define their expectations of their employee, and communicate those expectations to the employee. When there are two parents, the parents must agree on the expectations. The parents need to define the role, the hours and the compensation of the childcare provider, preferably in writing.
Parents need to communicate to the caregiver what their family’s rules and values are. Should the baby be picked up when she cries? Should he be given a pacifier? Is the toddler allowed to have candy or soda or dried fruit? Do you want the child to watch television or play with the I-phone? How long is the child supposed to nap?
Is the caregiver allowed to make and receive personal phone calls or guests during working hours? Try to imagine possible situations and provide clear expectations. What are the family rules and how are they to be enforced? In two-parent families if the parents give the caregiver different guidance, the caregiver needs to clarify expectations immediately. What, exactly, is the caregiver supposed to do in an emergency.
Traditionally nannies are responsible for childcare and household responsibilities directly related to the children. for example, preparing and cleaning up after children’s meals, but not the family meals. Another example is cleaning up after children’s play, but not general housecleaning. I find that this traditional division of responsibilities is effective in keeping the caregiver focused on the needs of the children. Parents should also clearly communicate to the caregiver and to the children if the children are expected to participate in cleaning up after themselves.
Childcare providers must use good judgement in caring for children, but parents and caregivers need to understand that there might be cultural or other differences in up-bringing that can lead to differences in judgement between parents and caregivers. As in most employment situations the employee should be allowed to express opinions and preferences, but the final decision must rest with the employer, the parent.
The childcare provider should promptly communicate to the parents, any concerns about the health or behavior of the child. The behavior should be communicated as a description rather than a characterization: “Eleanor said, ‘no’, many times when I told her to wash her hands,” as opposed to “Eleanor was rude and defiant.” “Robbie wants to eat his salad with his hands rather than with a fork. How do you want that handled?”
Parents and caregivers must always treat each other with courtesy. Children must be taught to treat the caregiver with courtesy, as not as their personal servant. Parents and caregivers should communicate with children clearly, consistently, calmly and concisely, and of course, courteously.
Ideally parents and caregivers should maintain a professional relationship with each other. Sharing marital concerns and other personal matters with each other can jeopardize the continuation of the caregiving relationship.
All of these suggestions come down to two main principles: the parent and childcare provider need to establish and maintain an employer/employee relationship, and both parents and childcare provider must continuously be committed to quality communication. The more these principles are adhered to the more likely the relationship will be a successful and lasting one.


Melody Matthews Lowman, M.A. has a background in both psychology and education. Her biopsychosocial approach allows her to be a resource for behavioral and educational problem solving for children, teens and adults.
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