In New York City, family often have to be placed on waiting lists for years before their children are even born in order to get into the best preschools and daycares. Even in cities where childcare isn’t nearly so competitive, however, choosing the right kind of childcare for your child can be a daunting task. Each form of childcare has its risks and benefits, and when faced with a dizzying array of options, even the most sane of parents can begin to lose their mind. Here, spelled out as simply as possible, are the different kinds of childcare options and a comparison of their strongest and weakest points:
Daycare is likely the most popular childcare option, partially because daycares are readily available and partially because daycares tend to be less expensive.
Benefits: Children who attend daycare tend to learn social skills earlier than other children and are less likely to be shy and reserved. They may also get some quality school readiness training and be more equipped to start kindergarten. An excellent daycare can provide a diverse and stimulating environment for a child. Daycares also tend to be less expensive than other childcare options of the same quality (for example, a high quality nanny would be more expensive than a high quality daycare).
Drawbacks: A daycare, no matter how good, cannot provide your child with extensive one on one attention. Further, it can be difficult co choose a quality daycare, given that there is a huge range in styles, philosophies, and cost of daycare.
Bottom Line: Don’t choose a daycare based on price or location. Instead, you should have a good idea of what you want in a daycare and visit several locations, interview the teachers, and sit in on a few classes.
A babysitter is someone who provides periodic care for your child, and should not be confused with a nanny, who has made childcare his or her career. Babysitters provide one on one attention and may work well for unpredictable schedules.
Benefits: The one on one attention a loving baby-sitter can provide is extraordinarily beneficial to children and may encourage development of early life skills. A babysitter may grow strongly attached to your child, which can help your child feel secure and loved when you’re not around.
Drawbacks: A babysitter is not going to be a good option for parents who work long hours or full-time jobs. Babysitters are supplemental care to other forms of childcare. Further, finding a quality baby-sitter can be a challenge, and you’ll need to interview several candidates.
Bottom Line: Anyone can call herself a baby-sitter, so don’t choose one based on price. Conduct in depth interviews and make sure the babysitter will be available at the times you are likely to need her.
Having your in-laws, sister, brother, or other trusted relative care for your child can be a huge blessing. Your child will spend her days with someone who loves her and you will save money. Family members may often be more understanding of your child’s personality and any particular issues she struggles with.
Benefits: You know that your childcare provider loves and wants the best for your child. You’re also likely to save money, though you should not rely on family members to provide childcare for free. At the very least, provide money for outings, gas, etc. You’ll rest easy knowing that your child is spending his days with someone invested in his well-being and your child will have excellent continuity of care and a sense of security as a result.
Drawbacks: The simple fact that someone is family does not necessarily make them qualified to care for your child. A family member who plops your child in front of the tv, never reads to them, or disciplines inappropriately or violently is just as bad as a babysitter who does these things. You may also find that you have more difficulty getting family members to follow directions than you would with an employee, particularly if the family member is your parent.
Bottom Line: If you leave your child with a family member, that family member needs to be qualified to care for your child and provide the same enriching and loving environment you would expect from a nanny or daycare.
An Au Pair is an exchange student who lives in your house for several months and in return for room and board cares for your child. You will still need to pay your au pair, but will be able to pay less than you would have to pay a nanny.
Benefits: Your child will be exposed to a foreign culture and may have the opportunity to learn a new language. A good au pair can form a lifelong bond with your child, and because the au pair lives with you, you’ll get to carefully monitor her interactions with your child.
Drawbacks: A bad au pair can be a parent’s worst nightmare. Not only might you be stuck with someone who cannot properly care for your child; you may have to deal with the au pair’s homesickness or other personal issues for up to a year, since you can’t just send the au pair back.
Bottom Line: An au pair can be a dream childcare provider or a complete nightmare. While there are no guarantees, the best way to tip the scales toward getting a good au pair is to interview thoroughly, check references, and check the policies of the au pair agency for an au pair who does not work out.
Nannies are still mythologized in movies and on tv and often considered the gold standard in childcare, and with good reason. A good nanny has extensive training and experience and will likely be equipped to deal with just about any situations.
Benefits: Your child will get the benefit of one on one time but will also receive socialization because good nannies make sure gets get exposed to the world. A nanny will help to prepare your child for school, and you’ll get consistent feedback about your child’s development and daily events. Though daycares often won’t let sick kids come to school, having a good nanny means you’ll still get to work even if your kid gets sick.
Drawbacks: Nannies are far and away the most expensive childcare option, and you can expect to pay anywhere from 20,000 to 100,000 dollars per year, depending on your location and the nanny’s experience. For most people this is simply not realistic, and it’s important to know that, when it comes to nannies, you get what you pay for. A good nanny will not accept a low wage job (or will leave as soon as a better offer comes along), so if you can’t afford a nanny, it is best not to try to lowball one. A cheap nanny may result in your child being parked in front of the TV all day by someone who is not qualified to care for him and does not care about him.
Bottom Line: If you can afford a nanny, countless studies and much anecdotal experience indicate that they’re the best option available. If you can’t afford a nanny, however, a bad nanny is the worst available childcare option because your child is left alone in your house with an unqualified person.
The Professional Nanny-Monica Bassett
Your Baby and Young Child- American Academy of Pediatrics
Child Psychology- Ross Vasta, Scott Miller, Shari Ellis