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Your Other Partner

Browse at any bookstore or leaf through any parenting magazine, and you'll find tons of advice on finding the right caregiver for your baby. What's harder to come across are insights into keeping a good caregiver and maintaining the kind of relationship you both want.

"The ideal relationship between parents and a caregiver is a partnership that shows mutual respect, one in which you're working as a team for the child's health and happiness," explains Nina Sazer O'Donnell, director of family and community programs at the Families and Work Institute (FWI), based in New York City.

How do you pull that off?

First, don't worry (well, not much). It can be done. With two willing parties (you and a dedicated caregiver or caregiver team) who are in sync on goals, you can ensure quality care for Baby  -- and some peace of mind for yourself, too. Read on for our 15 best tips on how to achieve just that:

Nurturing That Relationship


with your childcare provider, or the person at the center assigned to your infant, about how everything is going.

If she is reticent or shy, ask such questions as, What activities did you do together today? What time did he take his nap? What new activity did he engage in? If your baby has been sick, ask her to describe the symptoms and whether he acted sluggish or fussy. Also, have her tell you whether your baby took all his medicine, ate the usual amount and at what time, and if he played his favorite games.

Learn from your caregiver. An experienced provider can reassure you about a situation that she may have handled before.


for your provider to interact with Baby. For instance, tell her your baby likes being talked to and enjoys playing ball, rolling it back and forth on the floor, and that you'd like her to limit Baby's TV exposure. Explain to your caregiver you'd like her to talk with your baby when she's fixing lunch, storing toys, or folding clothes. Or ask that she let Baby bang pot lids on the floor while she cooks and that she describe the toys or clothes she is handling by color and texture.


immediately. For example, if three days out of five, you pick up the baby with a damp diaper, you might say, "I notice the baby is wet. Perhaps I'm not giving you enough diapers. Let me leave you more. And what other supplies do you need?" If she has plenty of nappies, explain that you would like her to check the baby's diaper every hour or so.


about solutions. One set of parents felt frustrated that their nanny kept their 1-year-old daughter inside all day. After discussing their concerns with her, the parents realized that she was worried about letting the child roam in the yard without a fence. Once they installed one, the nanny began taking the baby outdoors daily.

Another mother asked her care provider not to feed sweets to her 18-month-old. Face to face, the woman always agreed with the mom. Nonetheless, she continued to give the baby treats, thinking it was a loving act. When the mother stretched the truth a bit, explaining that the dentist said sugar was decaying her infant's teeth, the caregiver complied with the request.


on time and reimburse her promptly for any childcare expenses.


for your caregiver or daycare teacher by complimenting her on tasks well done. With a family-care provider or nanny, occasionally reward her with early days at full pay or accommodate a special situation she has. "Childcare is generally very hard work for very low pay," says O'Donnell, "and everyone does better when they feel valued."


her birthday and other special occasions, with a gift and card or something you know she enjoys  -- it could be a spa treatment or some extra cash.


for her childcare courses. Sometimes, other parents using the same person will share in the costs. To find out about local classes, call the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agency (NACCRRA) at 800/942-2677.


baby's favorite books and toys as well as books on childcare. Also, suggest times that she could read to your infant, such as daily before naps.


the caregiver's breaks. "If your baby sleeps about three hours during the day, you may tell your sitter that half of this time is her downtime," says Claire Lerner, a child-development specialist at Zero to Three, a child-advocacy organization in Washington, DC.


observing how your provider treats your baby, particularly on those first few days.

When Laura Drysdale enrolled Taylor, her then-5-month-old daughter, in a center, she told the staff she would be there several half days the first month to help acclimate her baby. "I stayed with Taylor and got to know the teachers in the room," recalls Drysdale, a social studies teacher from Yorktown Heights, New York. "I made suggestions about things I knew Taylor enjoyed doing. It helped develop a good rapport with the staff right from the start."


on special events such as birthday parties or field trips. Also, encourage your provider to take Baby to community events, such as playgroups or reading hours at the local library or neighborhood bookstore.


If, for example, you failed to explain all you needed from your caregiver or center up-front, acknowledge your oversight to them and then say what you have in mind. As long as your requests are reasonable, a seasoned childcare professional will understand that new parents are learning as they go, and she'll take the additional duties in stride. Chances are, she'll agree with you and offer some suggestions, too.

If, on the other hand, a caregiver believes you are adding extra duties or making extraordinary requests, discuss those concerns and try to come up with compromises that are best for all concerned.


know that you can change your caregiver. Working on a relationship is important, but so is knowing when there's no more to be done. "You really want someone who is crazy about babies caring for your infant," advises FWI's Nina O'Donnell. "We've done studies on that, and whether or not the person wants to be a caregiver is the most important thing."

If need be, move on and find a new caregiver, someone who is more like you  -- someone who is quite sure that your child is the smartest and the sweetest baby who's ever been born.