5 Tips When Using Family As Child Care

Communications Is The Key To Success

grandmother as childcare provider

Many families opt to keep child care within the extended family to help with costs and to provide the opportunity to strengthen relationships. But is it a good arrangement? The short answer is "it depends," and often communications is the key to ensuring the arrangement is effective and positive.
Review these 10 proactive measures to ensure family care is a good fit for your child.
 

1. Set expectations from day one.
Sure, it's grandma, and she can't wait to have one-on-one time with your child.

But what do you expect from the arrangement? This should be clear before the arrangement begins. Are your expectations that grandma provides a safe and nurturing environment or do you further want your child to be kept on a strict routine? Do you have certain foods that are "musts" and others that are "no-no's?" Who provides the food and diapers? For younger children, what about formula or baby food items? Are there safety items that should be installed? Who buys them and installs them? These topics must be determined prior to care services beginning.

2. Whose house is the child care services occurring in?
Some relatives offer to keep children at their home; others prefer to watch a child at the child's own residence. There are pros and cons to each scenario, and it really depends on what works best for the caregiver. Some caregivers want to keep a child--especially a young one--at their home so they can continue to meet their own needs and be comfortable in their own surroundings.

Others opt to watch a child in the child's own home because that is where clothes and toys are. (Plus, it keeps their home from having to be as "kid-friendly.") Wherever the care is to occur, make sure basic safety needs are met.

3. Discuss payment and hours of care.
Having a relative keep your child doesn't mean you should feel free to go take extra time before picking him up, or being "iffy" about which days to bring her or not.

After all, whether it is Aunt Louise, Cousin Pat or your own mom, remember to provide your member of the family with the same common courtesy that would be extended to any other caregiver. Hours of care should be set in advance. Don't forget too that anyone needs a break after a day of caring for a child. And, be sure to discuss payment. Some family members receive payment just like in-home care. Other members may provide the valued service for free, but the parent should still be responsible for purchasing all related care items and food. You should also have a backup plan in place in case your family member becomes ill or your child is sick and should not be around others.

4. Bring a list of "do's" and "don't's" in advance.
If you don't want your child to go to the park and wade in the water, be sure to state that to your caregiver. If you don't want him to watch more than one movie a day, that should be specified as well. If your child's dentist has indicated that juice should be avoided, then tell your relative that your child should only have water or milk.

Prefer 1 percent milk only? Let the caregiver know. Keep in mind that while you may have definite preferences and rules, your relatives may not have picked up on those. And, be prepared to be somewhat flexible. If the relative is caring for other children as well, it is unfair to expect that she will be able to keep up with all the different preferences, especially at mealtimes.

5. Establish acceptable disciplinary consequences.
How will grandma and grandpa administer discipline? Do you support time outs, removal of incentives or toys, or occasional spankings? The key is not to debate the discipline, but to establish the consistent method that can be reinforced whatever setting your child is in. Although it may seem unnecessary because of the close relationship, it is important that all family members understand, are comfortable with, and accept how to administer a consequence to a child.

See page 2 for the proactive measures 6-10.

6. Talk specifics about your child to your relative.
Does your child only sleep on her left side or does he always want his Scooby Doo blanket when he naps? Does your daughter like to put on her own shoes without help or do you let your son put his own peanut butter on the bread? Habits and traditions are very important to a child, and let your family caregiver know as many of these preferences as possible to help ensure success and communications. You want your child to feel comfortable about the caregiver setting, and want to diffuse any situation from becoming a problem simply because grandma doesn't understand what your child wants or needs. Share favorite activities and routines as well as sleep times, bathroom habits, and eating preferences.

7. Let relatives be just that when not in the official child care setting.
Don't take advantage of your loving family by expecting them to watch your child at family functions and other events. Let grandma go back to being grandma, and not the "caregiver" during holidays and other special events. Maybe you don't want "grandma the caregiver" to give your child treats, but if you spot her sneaking one at a party, you might overlook it. After all, unless there is health reason why it should not be given, family members also treasure their special relationship just as family and not as the caregiver in charge.

8. Don't let personal or family disagreements sour the caregiver relationship.
You as the parent may have to extend special effort to ensure that "family" doesn't come between what otherwise is a very effective child care arrangement. In other words, try and avoid or minimize family gossip and any situation that could cause stress between you, your child, and the relative providing care. This arrangement often requires special nurturing, and you don't want a family spat on Saturday to cause an unwelcome mat to be placed outside when you require care on Monday morning. It is a good idea to have a conversation also about your resolve to maintain a loving, comfortable, family relationship and how you are committed to making this arrangement work. On the other hand, if the arrangement doesn't seem to be working, you should not feel afraid to end it, but remember that family is still family even if members are not serving as your child's caregiver. While honesty is the best policy, you should temper it that you feel a different relationship might be better all around and allow you to maintain that close relationship with family without throwing child care into the mix.

9. Be sure to tell your family thank you!
Don't take family care for granted, and be sure to thank your relative who is providing child care often. Always remember that "being family" is no reason to have to care for your child, and you value the special relationship and care. Think about ways you can thank them--and it doesn't have to cost much money. Maybe you and your child can help weed the garden or plant seasonal flowers. How about renting a beloved movie or grooming the dog?

10. Reassess the arrangement and your child's development on occasion.
Sit down occasionally and discuss your child and her growth and development. Talk about any concerns and goals. Plan together any future needs or special activities. Rmember, relative care can provide an optimal child care setting filled with love and care.

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