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.

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Parenting Blog

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“Sort of…”

“Sort of” using a behavioral change plan to help your child develop good habits is “sort of” like being on a diet.  And it works about as well.

Once you commit to helping your child learn a good habit you need to help the child by being clear what you want him to do, be consistent and be positive when he does what you want him to do.

Children do not tend to develop good habits from being punished for a bad habit.  Show your child what you want.  Find out what is getting in the way of the child using the new habit. Give positive feedback as the child attempts the new habit.  Focus on changing one habit at a time.  If you try to change several things at once, it is unlikely that any of the habits will be learned.

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As you choose a school or college:

Many parents are applying to schools for their children, or helping their young people apply to schools and colleges. I have been told that the following advice has been useful. Be realistic; if a school or college does not select your student, perhaps it is not the best school for your child anyway. You and your child should be looking for goodness of fit with a school. It should be the right fit academically, socially and philosophically. Ideally your and your child will visit a prospective school or college, such as attending athletic events, drama presentations or science fairs. Many colleges have “Picnic Day” or “Open Campus” days when anyone can visit the campus and see lab demonstrations as well as recreational events such as parades and sports. As you research schools be sure to be clear with your student that the selection process is a mutual process between parents and schools. The student might express preferences, but should not be given the impression that he or she can “choose” a school. Nor should he or she be given the impression that an admission is guaranteed because of family history, excellent grades, or a verbal commitment. Be sure to tell the truth as you are interviewed or complete forms about your child. Schoolls and colleges often reserve the right to dismiss a child if the information on the application is found to be false, such as not disclosing a known learning disability when asked. Be sure to turn forms in on time! Every year schools and colleges receive applications late and turn away qualified students; don’t let one of them be yours. Keep records and receipts. Follow directions during the application process! This is a major complaint from schools and colleges, that applicants and families do not follow directions. Show up slightly early so you and your child enter a school interview or tour relaxed and ready to go. Don’t limit your options prematurely or count on anything until you have it in writing. If your child needs help with something to get into a school or college of his or her choice, get them help early, not during the application process. Don’t let your child overhear negative comments regarding himself, other students or the schools. And remember “No school or college is perfect. Choosing a school or college is like choosing a mate. You have to choose one with the faults you can live with.” MML

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Homework for Parents

I have a few suggestions for parents whose children are assigned homework. First, DON’T DO THE HOMEWORK FOR THEM! It is so tempting to try to help your child by relieving his stress or pressure. Unfortunately, this is parenting for the short run. It deprives the child from learning the material assigned. It teaches them that they will be rescued from poor time management. What could you do instead, in order to be helpful? Read on.
Do provide quiet space for your child. Many children are distracted by the TV or radio in the background. Does your child like to do homework alone or in a room where you are working on something else? When your child is having difficulty with homework it is not an optimal time to scold them for delaying. Scold later, but help them solve the problem right then by asking what they might do to solve the problem: e-mail a fellow student, check the assignment again, look something up in a dictionary or encyclopedia, or even write the teacher note regarding why they think they are having trouble with the assignment.
Check with your child’s school to find out what their homework policy is. Is your child taking significantly more time that the school indicates in the policy? This might suggest that your child needs some extra help with a subject, but it can also happen when teachers of different subjects don’t coordinate the timing of assignments.
Even more fundamental, is your child getting enough sleep? Pediatric research suggests that many children and adolescents are seriously sleep deprived. Is your family and/or your teen over-scheduled? Finally, think through your family’s policies regarding use of technology. I prefer to have cell phones turned off at bedtime so adolescents are not awakened by texts from night-owl friends. I also recommend that computers be used in public areas of the house so that children and youth are protected from outsiders and from their own impulse to connect with friends rather than concentrate on homework.

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Children and Sports Participation

Many parents believe that team sports are necessary for their children. Sports are valuable for physical health and coordination. Research does not support the idea that team sports are inherently better than individual sports for children. Many children thrive by participating in individual sports.
Other things to consider as you make choices regarding your child’s participation in sports: make sure the coach emphasizes safety and sportsmanship over winning, allow your child to participate as a recreational athlete and not become competitive until he or she is emotionally ready. If a child chooses a sport, consider allowing him or her to have one or two private lessons before beginning group lessons or joins a team. This allows the child to gain confidence and decide whether to continue or not, before making a commitment to a group. Once a commitment is made, consider requiring the child to finish out the season or series, as long as the program is well-run. Finally, research by i9 Sports found that as many as one third of children wish their parents would not attend their athletic events because they are uncomfortable with their parents yelling and pressuring them.
Key idea: Require good sportsmanship of your child, and yourself.

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Helping Your Child Develop Positive Habits

Children learn habits more quickly if they do their tasks in the same order all the time. For example, in the morning: toileting, washing hands and face, putting on clothes, eating breakfast, brushing teeth, in that order but television, toys or computer time would only be allowed after the list of responsibilities is completed. It takes about a month of repetition for a habit to be changed. Another habit for you consider for your family would be for each object to have a “home.” For example, shoes have a home in a shoe rack in the closet. The parental message would be: “Shoes can be on your feet or in their home.”
A habit that many families have found very helpful is: “The speaker goes to the listener.” Many times families call to each other from one room to another and then argue or scold if the request is not followed or if a message is misunderstood. If the person who wishes to speak goes to the person to whom he wishes to speak, then they can get the attention of the listener, make eye contact and deliver a clear message.
Key idea: Help children develop habits so you don’t have to nag or remind them.

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Anticipate, to prevent problem behaviors

When a child misbehaves most parents reprimand the child.  Hopefully parents also explain to their child what behavior is expected.  But what happens if, after several incidents, reprimands and explanations, your child is still misbehaving in the same way?  I have a suggestion:  anticipate to prevent.  Therapists use the ABC”s: antecedent, behavior, consequence.  Parents usually use behavior-consequence, but parents have the most leverage in the antecedent stage. Begin by identifying a problem behavior that has happened at least three times.  Think about who, what, when, where and why.  Around whom does the behavior usually occur?  What, actually, is the problem behavior?  When is it most likely to happen?  Where is it most likely to happen? Now, why do you think the child is misbehaving?  If the child misbehaves around one person, but not another, perhaps the rules are inconsistent.  If the child misbehaves early in the morning, maybe she isn’t getting enough sleep, or needs to be awakened earlier so you don’t have to rush her to get ready.  If the child is misbehaving in the car, does he need non-messy toys to amuse him so he doesn’t make mischief.  Finally, “prep” or “preload” your child with a reminder of the behavior that you desire, and how pleased you will be when he does it.

Key idea:  Anticipation and prevention is more effective than reacting after misbehavior.

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“Help me understand… vs. Why”

So often they way something is said makes a difference in how a child or teen responds.  I recommend that a parent not ask “why” something happened when it doesn’t make any difference.  After all, what is the point of asking “why” the child spilled the milk.  The child spilled the milk because he or she was wiggling or reaching and not paying attention.  Pick up the glass and hand the child some paper towels.  Consider if the child is uncomfortable in his or her chair, or needs a smaller, lighter cup or glass, or if the child is being asked to sit still for too long for his age.

On the other hand, sometimes it can be very helpful to ask a child or teen to help you understand their thinking in making a mistake or a bad decision.  If you sincerely want to understand your child, asking them to help you understand how they came to make the mistake can open up communication that will allow you to guide their decision-making the next time they face a similar situation.

Key point:  “Why” can make children (and adults) defensive.  A sincere request to “help you understand” can open communication.

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Beyond the Star Chart-Making Real Behavior Changes

Parents often tell me they have tried star charts and reward methods, but “they don’t work.”  As they describe in more detail what they have tried we come to realize that the method was missing some key elements.

Next time you want to help your child learn a desired behavior try this more detailed approach:  First, stand back and really observe your child.  Around whom does this behavior occur, and around whom does it not occur.  What exactly is the behavior and what behavior would you like instead.  When does the behavior occur?  Morning, late afternoon, after a night with insufficient sleep?  Where does the behavior occur?  In the car, in the supermarket, in the toy store?  Why might the behavior be occurring?  How often does it occur per hour, day or week?

Do you need to make any changes to help the child be successful, such as removing tempting fragile articles, running the last errand another day, or getting the child to bed on time?  Once you have thought these preventive changes through then alter the antecedents to the misbehavior to see if the problem is reduced.  If you do not see enough improvement identify a reward system that reenforces positive behavior.  I prefer to reward a child with individual time and attention rather than material rewards, but earing points toward a material reward is sometimes useful.  I never take away points or rewards because children can feel discouraged and defeated and give up trying.  I recommend that negative consequences be related to the misbehavior.  For example, taking away markers that a child has used on walls or furniture is logical and related.  Taking away television for calling a sibling a name is not.

When you set up a reward system try it for a short time to see if it works before instituting it as a policy.  The reward system was originally designed as a substitute for corporal punishment.  When used systematically it can be very, very effective.  It was not designed to last forever, but rather to instill new, positive habits.

A good example of using this method is for keeping young children in their own beds at night.  As the parent finishes the bedtime story, he or she reminds the child that when they stay in their own bed until the big hand is on the 7 then they can come into the parent bedroom for an extra snuggle and a short story.  If they come in during the night they will be silently walked back to their room and they will get a quick snuggle but no story.  The consequence is positive, logical and related.

Key Point:  Behavioral methods work well when they are well thought-out.

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