There comes a point in time when you have to leave your child in the hands of someone else. It might be for a few hours, or it might be for the whole day. It often happens when the parent who is the primary caregiver needs to return to work, or it might happen when other responsibilities and the care of older siblings mean that you can’t stay at home with your youngest child all day.

In many families, the care of your child might be entrusted to another family member – perhaps your parents or your parents-in-law, or even a sister who is willing to help out. In these situations, you are unlikely to have too many concerns about the parenting styles and intentions of your own family members.

But in the case when you may choose to leave your child in the care of a nanny, helper or child care centre, there are likely to be greater concerns. Understanding what kinds of questions to ask upfront can help you make the best choice for your child. 

Start by Figuring Out Your Child Care Needs

Your needs might vary from just having some extra help to assist your mother who will be the primary caregiver when you are away – in this case, you might opt for a helper or an additional dedicated nanny, to needing full day child care which might best be provided by a professionally managed child care centre.

When considering the need for full time or part time care, you need to consider the personality of your child, whether or not you will have family members around who are willing to supervise any care arrangements, the age of your child, whether or not you have other children who will need to be cared for at the same time, and finally, the cost, location and type of care service which you would like. 

Questions to Ask a Potential Caregiver

Regardless of whether you choose a child care centre, a part-time or even a live-in nanny, there are several questions which you should ask anyone to whom you plan to entrust your child with.

Safety and Emergency Training

You never know when an accident could happen and you need to ensure that your caregiver is prepared to deal with them. Ideally, you should ask if they are familiar with infant and child CPR, choking and drowning resuscitation procedures. Do they know what to do in the event of a power outage or a fire? Look at the environment your child will be cared in. If it’s your own home, make sure that it is child-safe with barriers across stairs and restricted access to places like the kitchen, ponds, pools and water features. If you are considering a child care centre, see if the facility is clean, neat and organised. Look at fire exits and ask them about safety and evacuation procedures.

Child Management Philosophies

You will certainly want to make sure that your child caregiver has the same child management philosophies as you do. Approaches and methods vary, even amongst members of the same family, so you may want to sit down with everyone and come to an agreement early on. Some of the questions to ask at this point are: 

  • What discipline techniques should be used?

  • How will your nurture your child’s self-esteem?

  • When and in what ways will your child be taught responsibility and self control?

  • How will you teach limits?

It is helpful to be able to discuss typical situations in which your child may require more attention. For example, what should be done if your child refuses to eat? Cries for you all the time when you are gone? Wants to watch tv/play video games for more than 30 minutes? Refuses to have a nap? Walking through these scenarios with your caregiver will help to prepare them for any challenges which might arise.

Child Development Experiences

If you are only planning to leave your child for a few hours a day, this might not be such a significant concern to you. But if you will be placing your child in some form of child care or live-in nanny care every day for most of the day, you will want to consider what sorts of developmental experiences your child will have.

In a child care centre, you might want to examine the curriculum they follow, ask about how they teach social and group behaviours to the children as well as understand any enrichment activities which they might have. 

In a home-care situation, you may want to review daily activities your nanny can plan with your child. Perhaps a walk in a nearby park, extra “for fun” enrichment lessons, regular reading time and some limits on time spent in front of the TV. If it is difficult to arrange for developmental activities when you are not at home, try to make up for it by planning experiences on the weekends when you and your spouse have more time, or spending some time before bed time each day reading, playing or even bringing your child downstairs to the neighbourhood playground.