It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Ten Nine Tips for Choosing Daycare Parents

Here’s the first list of tips I promised. I didn’t quite make ten items, but this is a good start, I think! I’m sure there are more. In fact, I know I had a couple more ideas which slipped completely from my mind (never to return, it seems) before I could write them down. Hate it when that happens!

When parents interview, they are looking for a good caregiver, of course, and me, I’m looking for Good Parents. You may be surprised to find I am not so concerned with the child. Children, you see, are young and malleable, whereas adults are much more set in their ways. While I always enjoy meeting and playing with babies, my focus during the interview is on the parents. A baby and I can grow into a relationship; I need to find parents I can work with As Is.

Now, childcare is a personal and personalized business. A parent I think is wonderful may leave another caregiver cold. For what it’s worth, though, here’s my list of What Makes A Good Parent.

(To avoid confusion, remember that this list is aimed at caregivers, not parents. In this post, “You” means “caregiver”; “they” is the parent! If you’re a caregiver, feel free to add any tips in your comment.)

Good parents…

1. Cover the basics in the phone call before the interview. There is no point in wasting everyone’s time if my hours or rates make me a non-starter. Now, a sensible caregiver makes sure those standard things get covered in the phone call. If, however, a parent knows something non-standard is a non-negotiable — they’re very firm vegetarians, or they don’t want their child exposed to any television at all, or they want their religious holidays celebrated in the daycare, or any of gazillions of other possible things — it is up to the parent to raise it during the phone call. If the wrong answer means they would never consider leaving their child with me, a good parent gets that sorted out before we go through the time-waste and inconvenience of a pointless interview.

2. Show up on time. Arriving late to an interview is a giant red flag! (They’ll blame it on the baby, probably, forgetting they’re talking to a woman who works with five or six of them and still manages to get to places on time.) We assume that parents are trying hard to make a good impression during an interview. What happens after that contract is signed, and they’re not trying so hard?

(Tip: If you really like them otherwise, and would like to take them on despite this red flag, seriously consider raising your late fees just for them. If you normally charge two dollars a minute, tell this family it’s $5/minute. Yes, really. If they are routinely tardy, such steep fees will either make them choose someone else — which is fine! — or they’ll work very hard to arrive on time!)

3. Understand that not only are they interviewing you, but that you are interviewing them. They will come with their questions prepared; they will not be surprised if you have questions of your own. They also know that when the interview is over, they will be making a decision and so will you. (They will not, for example, expect the spot to be open after four weeks of full radio silence.)

4. Don’t blink at your fees and benefits. Good parents know that good care is worth the price. If they quibble about your fees, sick days or holiday time, don’t take them as clients. You do NOT want to be constantly fighting for your pay, your paid days off, your vacations. You just don’t. No matter how nice they seem otherwise, no matter how sweet their child, it’s NOT WORTH IT. It’s not worth it, but YOU ARE.

I once had an interviewee ask if the down-payment I ask (one month’s fees) was really required. I sort of blinked, looked him dead in the eye, and said in a perfectly pleasant voice, “I’ve never had anyone ask me that before. Yes, it is.” A pleasant voice, but quite, quite firm. He wrote the cheque on the spot, and turned out to be a perfectly nice, no-problem client. Don’t, don’t, DON’T feel guilty about asking for your pay!!!!

4. Appreciate the professionalism and clarity of a contract, and treat it with respect. Good parents appreciate the mutual respect and clarity of expectations a contract provides.

Bad parents see a contract as an obstacle to getting what they want. If the parents pressure you to make exceptions to policies and practices written in your contract, don’t take them. (Discussion of whys and wherefores is fine; pressure is not.) You’ve put these things in your contract for a reason. If you give these pushy types the impression that one thing in your contract is negotiable, then everything will be up for discussion… and if you’re doing that, why have a contract at all? (Corollary: for those things which are negotiable, don’t put them in the standard contract; write them in as required.)

6. Speak respectfully of you and others. If they bad-mouth the other caregivers they’ve been interviewing, proceed with extreme caution. You may be able to forge a decent working relationship with them, but don’t be naive: if they bad-mouth other caregivers, they will bad-mouth you.

7. Are like-minded, or at least open-minded. If you’re an arts-and-crafty, two-outings-a-week caregiver, you may not be a good match for an athletic, outings-every-day family whose ideal family time is a day of cross-country skiing followed by a winter camp-out. (In this situation, make sure the family gets a clear and accurate description of your typical day, so they can make an informed decision. They may decide that your program offers a nice balance to their lifestyle, or they may opt to keep looking for something livelier. Both are good outcomes!) If, however, they’re a low-key, artsy family whose idea of family time is a sing-along… you have a good match!

And finally, two more about the caregiver, not the parent:

8. Know Your Tolerances. (This one comes with experience, usually with bad experience!) What can you not live without; what do you refuse to live with? This will be different for each person. For example, I am very noise-averse.

Yes, small children make noise, and I don’t expect the poor monkeys to tip-toe all day long and speak in whispers. I provide rhythm instruments, we play noisy games, they can run in the house (within limits). I expect a certain amount of bedlam. I do not expect unlimited bedlam, and CONSTANT SHOUTING drives me In.SANE.

I have learned (the hard way) that LOUD parents are more likely to produce LOUD offspring. (It’s not that quiet parents don’t sometimes get a LOUD child, of course, but when they do, they are equally invested in teaching them an inside voice as I am, if not more so!) Bottom line? A LOUD parent is far less likely to get the spot in my daycare than a quiet one. Fair? Perhaps not 100%, but this is my home and my working environment. I have to choose what works for me.

9. Trust your gut. If there’s just something about that family, that mom, that dad, that niggles, if you feel tense or uncertain… don’t tell yourself you’re just being silly. Keep looking. Similarly, if you just get a really good feeling about this family, even though they appear to be exactly the same as the other family you interviewed last week… go with the one you feel best about.

June 27, 2011 - Posted by | daycare, parents | , ,


  1. I like these tips! I’m a public school teachers so we’re legally obligated to take whomever walks through the door and thus I have nothing further to add.

    Though I’ll bet there are days when you wish you could screen them, just a little…πŸ™‚

    Comment by Laura | June 27, 2011 | Reply

  2. Oh, how I wish I could have seen this a year ago when I was starting out in this business… but as it is, you have given me some great tips as I put together a more complete written contract & policy.

    The hardest lesson I’ve had to learn is that any parent, no matter how nice they are and how much I love their kids, will take advantage of my good nature and reluctance to stand up for myself. This includes family (one of the kids I care for is my niece). These tips and the repeated reminders that I deserve appropriate pay, vacation, sick time, etc. will really help. So thank you. πŸ™‚

    Comment by hodgepodge | June 27, 2011 | Reply

    • I could not agree more as this is so true! I firmly believe that it is our job as early educators to literally educate parents on the level of professionalism caregivers utlize. This is my 3rd year in Family child care, and my 5th as a ECE teacher. It seems like there is an underlying lack of knowledge & respect for established policies. All too often I am confronted with parents trying to push the limits of my school’s policies. And you are right, it runs the gammet: it does not matter if the parent is “good client”, or loyal, or a “bad client”. When it comes to respecting what policies we offer, families seem to be equally guilty at pushing limits and bending rules. So frustrating! This is still a work in progress life lesson for me. Currently, my only response is to continue to “educate” them, and lastly if an agreement can’t be reached then end the client/provider relationship.

      Comment by Jesse | June 29, 2011 | Reply

  3. This is great!

    Comment by IfByYes | June 27, 2011 | Reply

  4. Good tips, for both sides. It’s amazing how much “like minded” seems to come in handy. We ran across one of J’s classmates this weekend and the topic of our center came up. Talking to them seems like we have our children in completely different places. All of the teachers that we ADORED, they had issues with and I think it all basically came down to personality and differing expectations. We picked that center because it matched what we were looking for and seemed like a good fit for us. They chose it because it was convenient (and I’m sure a host of other reasons). In the end though, I feel like we had a much better experience.

    Comment by Dani | June 27, 2011 | Reply

  5. My husband is loud 😦 Do you make allowances when one parent is trying to teach spouse AND child indoor voices? πŸ˜‰


    Comment by Angie | June 28, 2011 | Reply

  6. I live in the U.S. and one of the things I look for when I interview parents is to make absolutely certain they have a back-up caregiver available. I do in-home family child care and if I have to close the school for a day due to an illness in my family, the last thing I want to deal with is a parent trying to negotiate or strong-arm me into staying open for their child because they can not find an alternative caregiver. Now I ask that question in every interview!

    Comment by Jesse | June 29, 2011 | Reply

  7. This is so good!
    #4 is a definite. My biggest issue is people who balk over the days off that I ask for. I take four personal days a year in addition to standard holidays, and I’ve had a few interviews where parents wanted to know specifically why I was closed and what I would be doing on that day. Maybe they never go to the dentist? But no, those are the ones who get three weeks paid vacation every year, and still bring their children every day because they want… TIME TO THEMSELVES!! Amazing! I don’t do well with families who expect that I don’t need or should have any of that.

    Comment by daycaregirl | July 11, 2011 | Reply

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