We live in a time when so many of our kids are in childcare, and while there is a modicum of research that tells us that childcare is not detrimental to our children, it is well known that the people who care for our children can have a profound influence on our children for the rest of their lives.
I qualify caregivers as childcare workers from infancy through toddlerhood: in-home nannies, family members, and even educators. There are many qualified, well-meaning people who help care for children every day at many ages of our children’s development.
As parents, many of us have our ideas of what we feel is in the best interest of our child and how we want them raised. It is our hope that those caring for our children are of like mind and will espouse those similar beliefs, attitudes, and qualities. But, when it comes down to it, we are at the mercy of those who care for our kids when we are not present.
So what happens when your childcare is undermining or not consistent with the structure that you work to define with your children?
Many of us have seen the nightmares of childcare workers abusing children, and this is a true tragedy that can have long-term impacts, but there are more subtle yet still long-term consequences that can occur when the people who care for and/or educate our children are passive-aggressively defying, manipulating, and/or disregarding rules that we have put in place.
From my years of experience I can tell you that there are many times that parents’ behavior by itself can contribute to many behavioral and emotional problems of children, so I am not trying to let anyone off the hook. There are many other situations when there is a combination of parent and childcare issues, and some problems where it is only a childcare issue.
What are the types of problems I am talking about?
- Lack of reinforcement or inconsistent reinforcement of behaviors and limits. Whether it is not wanting to get dressed, comb their hair, take a nap, or more disruptive behaviors like aggression or disrespect, if a caregiver does not set limits and you do, this can lead to tantrums and limit-testing, resulting in your child having more consequences and frustration with you.
- Your caregiver yells at your kids. I, personally, am not a yeller and do not believe that one needs to yell to manage behavior. However, if your caregiver yells at your kids, and they don’t feel that they can tell you, this can result in outbursts toward you and a feeling from your children that you are sending them into this threatening experience, decreasing trust and safety with you.
- Your caregiver competes with you for the love of your children. I love that the people who look after my child may love them dearly, but I also have seen situations where the caregiver made love a popularity contest. This can feel very confusing to your child and can be very damaging to your relationship.
- Sharing inappropriate information. Sometimes adults have very inappropriate boundaries with kids and they may talk about things that your kids should not hear or they talk about other people behind their back, even you. This type of indiscretion can result in your child not respecting you or other people, and can also contribute to a lack of boundaries on their part.
These are only a few of the issues that you may experience. If you feel that any or all of these issues are not significant, consider that your children may spend more time in a week with their caregivers than with you. So just how much influence do they have on your child?
Here are some tips to help you deal with the situation:
- Observe what’s going on. If your children can talk, ask them questions about what may be going on with their caregiver. If your kids are like my daughter, she’ll often give up the ghost while just talking about her day with us, and then I can ask more questions. The difficulty is when your child feels like he/she got this person in trouble, and/or the caregiver tells your child to keep a secret or blames you, as the parent, for having a problem with what the caregiver did.
- Talk to your caregiver about your concerns. Don’t avoid it. Like a bad infection, it will only get worse and spread if you don’t deal with it. If you feel you may lose your temper when talking, try to script out your concerns, observations, and questions and do your best to follow that. Be concrete with examples and solutions. Provide a timeframe for change, and stick to it. Your child’s trust in you can depend on this.
- Involve your child, but reassure her that what the caregiver does is not her fault. Sometimes kids can internalize guilt and shame. Even if she encouraged the caregiver to do what she did (which is where your child shares responsibility), your caregiver is responsible for her own actions, not your child. If your caregiver blames your child, give one quick correction; if it happens again, take your kid and run.
- Don’t wait to intervene. Remember the infection? The longer you wait, the worse it will get. The caregiver is reinforced to do what she is doing, and your child is reinforced that you either don’t care or are not consistent, and even your child’s behaviors may become more resistant to change.
- Find other options. See if there are ways you can support behavior change. Be a part of the solution and help your caregiver brainstorm what can be done to improve the situation. For example, if your caregiver is letting your child watch too much TV or inappropriate shows, help her to develop a list of other activities, and/or a list of kid-friendly shows or movies. Don’t count on her to know what your threshold is or to share your same values. I have an issue with older Disney movies because of the message I felt it sent to my daughter about women waiting for men to come rescue them. I have had to communicate this to her caregivers and why I felt that way.
- Know when to say when. Sometimes, you might find that you have an absolutely wonderful caregiver who is wonderful with your kids, takes care of things, and is basically your dream come true. Then one day you wake up to see that things just aren’t the same and there may be some significant issues. There are any number of reasons this might happen. If you have tried to talk with your caregiver, made sure your kids weren’t trying to sabotage, given suggestions and direction and still no dice, it may be time to part ways. If it is possible to fade exposure so it is not a major distress to your kids, try to do that. Don’t discount the attachment your children have with your caregiver. When finding a new caregiver, start your search as soon as you know that there may be a problem.
All of our kids deserve the best, and those who care for kids should be willing to give their best and continue to get better. If you settle for less and people become complacent, they will not excel. This does not mean to be a thorn in the side of those caring for your kids, but to make sure their needs are being taken care of and they are getting proper attention and care.