Daycare centers are in a unique position to assist parents, and the opportunities aren’t limited to the time the child is in the center. Daycares offer education and support that helps parents at home too.
In America, with its tradition of individualism, parents assume the lion’s share of raising their children. Our culture is very different from the “it takes a village” mentality of the old African proverb. Yet daycare centers are in a unique position to offer parenting assistance and advice that comes from a wealth of experience. And parents are grateful for the help they receive.
“Ninety percent of the time, if a question comes up, it’s from a first-time parent. Or a parent who might say, ‘This was so easy with my first child. Why is this one so difficult?’” says Karen Inman, program manager at Callahan Learning Center. Daycare center staff have seen it all - developmental milestones, behavioral changes, developmental delays – and they can work with parents to make these events go more smoothly and with less anxiety. In addition to their experience, daycare centers see the child in situations the parent may not and can measure the child’s progress against that of his or her peers.
Inman sees the role of the daycare center as offering both education and support. Education can come in many forms: scheduling conferences, distributing helpful literature, holding parent education nights with guest speakers, forming a parent-teacher organization, or simply letting a parent know what to look for when a child is approaching a milestone.
Encouragement and support are often on-the-fly, since real life does not always fall neatly into an Outlook calendar. Daycare centers can coach parents through difficult times in their child’s life, like the arrival of a new sibling or the onset of a biting habit. Just letting a parent know about an issue that comes up during the day can ease a parent’s anxiety. Parents will often say, “Oh, it’s good to know you’re seeing that too. I thought it was just me.” Then staff and parents can work together on strategies.
The number one piece of advice Inman offers for other center directors is, “Know your families.” No matter how much experience a staff member or director might have, it’s the approach that matters.
When bringing up issues, whether it’s potty training, behavioral issues like defiance, or the failure to meet a milestone, knowing how to talk to each family is key. “Some parents come in, and they joke and will stand there talking to you about their weekend for 20 minutes if you let them. Others just say hello and go on about their day,” says Inman. “With the families that you have developed a strong rapport with, you can usually be very direct. With others who are more reserved, you need to be more careful.”
Another key is knowing when and through what medium to bring up an issue. A cranky or fussy day might be noted in a parent engagement app with approval by the program manager. More serious concerns deserve a phone call, but even then, only after a pattern has emerged and been documented. “We never say, ‘We have a concern.’ We only say, ‘We’ve noticed this behavior pattern here. Have you been seeing this at home?’ ” says Inman. She also advises anyone making a call to take the time to think through and plan what they’re going to say, even taking notes beforehand. That way staff members don’t find themselves expressing something in a way they didn’t intend.
Much of the support that daycare centers can give is for dealing with everyday events and growth milestones. “A parent might talk to us in the first week and say, ‘Wow, this is going great! He’s adjusting so well!’ and we can warn them that, from experience, he might change his tune after four to five days. We can tell them what to expect and encourage them to stick to the child’s routine.” says Inman.
Daycare centers can explain to parents that yes, biting is normal, but then offer suggestions based on what works at the center. Since parents are able to use consequences that aren’t used in a daycare center, centers have had to come up with different strategies that parents may not be aware of. Offering some behavior modification consequences to share with the parent can not only add to their repertoire, but also serve as a touch point to engage deeper with the family.
Another key, says Inman, is celebrating the milestones, whether it’s letting parents know about a successful potty trip viathe parent involvement app or showing them where their child wrote her name for the first time at parent pickup. There’s one exception: “We never tell them they took their first steps here,” Inman laughs. “Parents don’t want to hear that.”
With coaching and support through good times and bad, along with a great deal of wisdom, daycare centers help create a modern version of a village.
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