Finding a good daycare is tough. There’s the cost, which can be equivalent to paying a second mortgage every month; the waiting lists, which for some centers can run up to several years; plus the worries about how your child will adjust to a new daycare environment. With all of these factors, it’s hard not to feel like you have to just take what you can find. But finding the right daycare is really all about finding the right fit for your particular child.
For the more obvious signs of a bad daycare, parents can go online and check a daycare’s licensing, as well as any complaints or deficiencies that have been recorded. There are also a number of red flags to look out for, such as if your child is getting sick all the time. If that is happening, then you’ve got a health and safety issue, rather than a question of fit.
Finding a daycare that is a good fit for your child
Beyond these more serious concerns, there is also the intangible question of whether a perfectly good daycare, which does a perfectly good job taking care of many children, is working for your child. Some daycares may be a better fit for your child, while some may not be a good fit at all.
“There are some children that thrive in a structured environment, and there are some children that thrive in a different environment,” says Carrie Cronkey, the chief marketing officer of Care.com.
Classroom dynamics, which can change as other kids enter or leave, can also have a big effect on a child’s daycare experience. There’s also the question of personality and temperament, with some kids thriving in a full classroom, while others may struggle in a larger group. For some kids, being around a group of classmates all day helps them open up; for other kids, this may cause them to shut down.
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“There are some children that really flourish and blossom in a smaller setting,” Cronkey says.
Signs that your child may be unhappy at daycare
Some of the signs that your child is unhappy at daycare include crying during arrival, changes in personality, reluctance to enter the building, and refusing food. If you are getting a lot of phone calls home about tantrums or other behavioral issues, that can be a sign, as well. When it comes to assessing whether a daycare is the right fit, assuming there are no health and safety concerns, Cronkey’s advice is to be patient.
“There is always a balance between trusting and listening to your child, and understanding that sometimes it does take time for a child to adapt to new surroundings,” she says.
Transitions are tough—even for adults—and doubly so when you are a small child. Getting used to a new daycare may take a while, but in many cases, it’s a matter of easing your kid in, and giving them the time to adjust to a new environment.
Open communication is critical
COVID-19 precautions make it harder to know if a daycare is a good fit or not, because in many cases, parents are no longer allowed to enter a classroom. Before, a parent could have a quick chat with the teacher during drop-off or observe their child’s interactions with the other kids, which went a long toward identifying any possible concerns or staving off potential issues.
Now, figuring out what is going on is a lot harder. That’s why it’s more important than ever to communicate regularly with your daycare providers, whether by phone or email. Often, if a child is struggling, daycare providers will notice and let the parents know. If there are issues, they will also have suggestions on what might help.
“Open communication with a child care provider is so critical,” Cronkey says. “Having that open communication and working together is really important, both in understanding if there is an issue and trying to work through it, and sometimes deciding it may be better to part ways.”
At the end of the day, the daycare that is best for many children may not be the best for your child—and that’s okay. Every child is different. If you are evaluating whether your daycare is a good fit for your child, allow your instinct to guide you.
“Trust your gut,” Cronkey says. “Parents know their child better than anyone.”