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 | , , | 8 Comments

More interviews and a red flag

redflagI’ve had two so far this week, and another on Thursday, looking to fill a space for January. By then, I hope, I’ll have one or — even better! — two offers, and I’ll be in the happy position of choosing. Love that.

(The last interview I wrote about didn’t pan out. I never heard back, so I don’t know why, but that’s okay! I’ve had another since then, and filled the space from August – December! Yay. Now I have a January opening.)

I know which of the two so far I’d prefer. Let’s see if you can guess:

Candidate A:
– nice couple, soft-spoken, well-spoken
– cute baby (but since I wouldn’t be caring for her for another five months, that’s mostly irrelevant yet)
– asked all the usual questions – schedules, outings, discipline, food…
– asked me if I had any questions (you’d be surprised how rarely that happens)
– asked for references (again, you’d be surprised how rare that is)
– wandered through the entire house, chatting and asking questions. Well, the portions that their child would have access to, at any rate.

Candidate B:
– nice couple, etc., etc
– cute baby (etc., etc)
– didn’t ask for my questions (which makes them normal)
– didn’t ask for references (again with the normal)
– asked all the usual questions, and also
– asked if parents could drop in unannounced (answer: yes)
– asked if parents could stay and hang out for a couple of hours (answer:yes)
– asked if I took phone calls from parents during the day (answer: it depends)
– asked how I communicated with parents (you’d be surprised how infrequently this question is asked)

And the preferred Canadidate is… A.


It’s those last four questions from Candidate B. While I have practiced answers to those questions, based on my personal parenting/childcare values, they do raise a certain red flag.

My parenting/childcare value in this situation is that parents have a right to free access to their child. I have an open door policy. Parents can drop in unannounced. Unless I have a wanderer in the group, the front door is always unlocked, and parents simply knock and enter, without waiting for me to answer. (During business hours, of course.)

However, and as I told this parent, while they have a right to do this, and should be confident that they will never be prevented from seeing their child… having a parent around changes the dynamic. It generally makes my job more difficult. The children react differently, and (here’s the bit I don’t say to the parent), 90% of the time, their child’s behaviour deteriorates.

And then there’s the whole leave-taking part of dropping in. If the parent drops in, but will not be taking the child when they leave, the child will be upset. Of course. So there will be tears. Not hugely disruptive for me, really, assuming the parent leaves promptly in the face of the tears, but another small hiccup in my day. And if (despite my guidance prior to their visit) the parent insists that the child be happy before they leave? Hugely, HUGELY disruptive. Because, of course, if the parent lingers when the child is upset, the child will continue to be upset. Only stands to reason.

So. Parents dropping in can be mildly to severely disruptive, depending on the parent. And, to a lesser degree, the child.

And parents hanging out? Oh, I really hate having to say it’s okay. My principles demand that I allow this. It’s right, it’s fair, it’s appropriate. But…

Sometimes it works just fine. The parent is delightful, we mesh perfectly, they fit right in to the activities, their child behaves well, proud to have mummy or daddy there. Sometimes.

Mostly? Mostly their child acts up, doesn’t want to share, lobbies to get mummy/daddy to change Mary’s rules. Mummy/daddy don’t deal with these things the same way I do, so the other children get confused. I can try to assert my authority, but most kids are happily confident that parents out-rank Mary, so the effort can end in me looking ineffectual to the parent, who doesn’t realize that this is atypical behaviour for their child at my home. Who doesn’t realize that their presence has greatly altered the usual dynamic.

Not good. Bleah.

And while I have, over the years, developed various responses to all this which keep these occasions pleasant and happy events, it’s still a nuisance. Adds considerably to my workload. And Candidate B sounds like someone who intends not just the occasional short visit, but regular half-days hanging out. Not quite sure how they’d manage this and hold down a job, but it certainly seemed to be the intention. Goodness.

So. Candidate B? They sound like High Maintenance parents. Parents who would hover over the daycare. Parents who would make daily half-hour phone calls. Parents who would be ever-present micro-managers. Now, in all fairness, High Maintenance parents usually only stay that way for the first few weeks, as they make the transition and become comfortable and happy with the new situation. (Much like their children, only the kids do it faster…)

But given the choice between Mellow A and potential High Maintenance B? A, no question.

They should let me know within two weeks. Keep your fingers crossed for me!

July 7, 2009 Posted by | daycare, parents | | 6 Comments


top marks300What a great family!

Last night I had an interview. The little boy is two and cute, his parents are personable and friendly. Lots of propsective clients could fit that mold. What set them apart, what set them really, really, really apart, is how very, very, very well they manage that boy. I was impressed.

Okay, a confession here: This does not often happen. Now, I often note and smile at loving interactions between parent and child. The look of pride and love on a parent’s face, their child’s beaming response… that’s always a pleasure to see, always makes me smile. But child management? Not so much. When I note parents’ disciplinary actions with their children, I am more often exasperated than impressed. Yes, I am a curmudgeon.

But this family? Wow.

When they arrived, Emma was just finishing her dinner. The little boy started agitating for food.

“I know you’re hungry, but you chose not to eat dinner. That was your choice. No food for you.”

Impressive. Her tone of voice is neither coaxing nor harsh, but simply matter-of-fact. He did A, and the result is B.

Impressive. This is how you prevent picky eaters. This is how you avoid becoming a short-order cook. This is how you ensure years of pleasant family meals. Well done.

(For those of you worrying that he will go to bed hungry, be assured that he was going to be offered food when they got home. His dinner. The one he’d refused.


And the child subsided. Not without protest, but it was mild and brief. Because the child knew — knew — this was a non-negotiable.

Impressive. Obviously, he’s been through this loop enough to know when Mommy Means Business. I’d love to see the parents’ tantrum tactics, because they must have developed some pretty effective ones to have a 25-month-old who responds so well to unwelcome news.

We had our interview. At intervals, the little boy would mention that whole food-hungry thing again, and each time it was dealt with in the same way, sometimes by the mother, sometimes by the father.


It never became a tantrum, it never escalated. We were able to conduct a 30-minute interview with minimal interruptions with a two-year-old in the room. Not just any two-year-old, but a hungry two-year-old.


At the 30-minute mark, however, the little guy had about reached his limit, and the parents knew that. Dad decided to take the tot out to his stroller for a change of scene while mom finished up with me.

Sensible. Not impressive, this one, but another checklist in the “these parents have their shit together” list.

But before he left, they had him tidy up. Now you know what? In that situation, I probably would not have asked that of the child. He was hungry, he’d been really good for 30 solid minutes, he was now getting tired as well. I would have made an executive decision to pick up the toys myself.

He picked up the toys. Quickly and calmly.


And waved bye-bye from daddy’s arms.


He did, however, refuse to blow kisses. Because he is two, after all.

Normal. 🙂

May 14, 2009 Posted by | daycare, parenting | , | 8 Comments