Childcare is an underrated service, but it is one that is so important to parents and guardians across the world. This blog talks about why childcare is important for both parents and children.
It the balance that every parent strives for – work, life and family. On one hand, two incomes are essential in the modern age and that means for pre-school children being care cared for someone other than their parents.
But on the other, it means finding reliable childcare that is professional and nurturing, and one in which your child thrives.
There are various childcare options: a private nanny, a live-in au pair, a childminder or a day nursery. Childcare is essential, but this doesn’t mean it comes without its problems and issues.
A recent study by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology look at children and their stress levels. And it seems that according to this latest piece, some children find the long day at nursery very stressful.
For children who were in childcare for longer than eight hours, cortisol levels peaked in the afternoon, meaning they were the most stressed.
But before you use this to compound the feelings of guilt of dropping your little one at the door of the nursery or childminder, the research team says that this doesn’t mean it is negative stress. As always, there are two sides to the story…
The argument of the effects of childcare on a child’s emotional and social development have raged for years. With many women choosing to return to work after birth, from the 1980s onwards Mothers were at the thin end of the wedge when it came to childcare issues. The issue was not whether childcare damaged a child but how much.
But longer-term studies have found that the effects of childcare are positive for the majority of children. Finally, the argument that children became more aggressive as a result of being in nursery was put to bed once and for all.
And with parenting being seen as something both parents do, rather than ‘just Mum’, the issue of child care became less of whether it was a good idea or not to how it can be utilised to support the parenting process.
What the latest batch of studies on the effects of child care on a child’s development all agree on is that it is the quality of childcare that matters.
Good childcare – how to measure it and the impact on your child
And so, as parents, we look to other people to give the care our children need to protect and nurture them when we are at work. Measuring what is and what is not good childcare is difficult, especially with such an emotionally charged issue.
It is hard for parents to detach from the emotional side of childcare, making the ‘right’ decision to keep their children safe whilst still maintaining and advancing their careers. It is for this reason that the government, organisations and child care providers themselves are looking to make measuring the quality of childcare easier.
- Drop off/Pick up
There is no child who doesn’t, at some point, cry when being left. It could be when they are a few months old and being taken to nursery or when you drop them at the school door, every child at some point will be reluctant to leave their parent.
For parents, the daily ‘peeling your child from your arms’ is gut-wrenching and heartbreaking – it is certainly not a great start to your day!
But say experts, rather than focus on the ‘drop off’, focus on the pick up instead. How is your child when you collect them? do they respond positively when you ask them about their day, the activities they have done and the people they are with?
What about their other behaviour? Are they sleeping well and eating normally? Is their behaviour consistent?
Real life example
Jane took Isaac to see her GP (*not their real names) concerned at the sudden change in his behaviour. Even though he was 3, he was dry during the night but had started to wet the bed. He was also calling out a lot, seeking reassurance that she was in the house when she wasn’t in the same room. He had started nursery the month before and the GP wondered if he was stressed.
BUT, Martha and David had placed their twin boys in a local nursery and found the whole experience to be positive, with their children nurtured and stimulated in equal measure.
As seen from the above example, childcare is individual – what suits one child, doesn’t suit another. So how long should you persevere for?
If, after a few weeks, a child is showing signs of stress and unhappiness, cutting back on childcare hours could be an option. As children don’t verbalise their feelings, they show stress in other ways – a tense body, calling out, bedwetting, becoming clingier, for example, are all signs of an unhappy toddler.
It seems that the importance of an individual approach in childcare is essential and yet, for a long time, we assumed that the same boot had to fit all children.
Real life example
Maggie has three children, all of whom went to nursery. Her middle child, Alex, didn’t fare as well as her eldest and younger child. After showing signs of unhappiness and stress, he was looked after for most of the time his parents were at work by a nanny.
Maggie thinks that he had a ‘smaller’ childcare experience but this doesn’t mean he missed out. It was ‘just quieter, more suitable for him than spending hours in a situation he found too boisterous’.
70% of communication is non-verbal. It is the subtle signs that tell us so much. From looking tense and unhappy to being clingy, a child has so many ways of telling us that they are unhappy – and it isn’t always tears that give us the strongest message.
And yet, so many of us ignore our intuition. If you notice behaviour changes that don’t fit with the development of your child and your gut feeling says something isn’t right, talk to your childminder or child care providers. What do they see happening?
What to look for – QUALITY
There have been numerous studies – and more to come! – that the quality of childcare is the singular most important aspect of childcare that is successful, whether it is from an individual childminder in their own home or at a day nursery provision.
- Inspection reports
ALL child care providers, including childminders, are inspected by the relevant authority. This varies depending on whether you are in Wales, England, Scotland or Northern Ireland.
Like school inspections, the report will highlight their findings of the childcare provision, what was outstanding, what was good and what needs to be improved.
You will find the latest report on the website of the corresponding inspection authority – e.g. OFSTED in England, Care Inspectorate Wales in Wales and so on – where you can read the report in full. The child care provider may also use this report as part of their marketing material and they may give you a copy of the report too. But make sure this is the full report as they may have cherry-picked the good bits!
Essentially, as a parent, you are looking for a professional service, something that comes with qualifications and experience. When your child reaches school age, you will expect them to be taught by qualified teachers so why expect less for pre-school childcare?
There is a range of childcare courses and qualifications open to anyone looking to become a childminder or work in the field of childcare.
There are NVQ courses in childcare, as well as courses provided by other providers but all aim to do the same thing – to equip the student with the skills and knowledge of keeping children safe but doing so in a vibrant, nurturing and stimulating environment suitable for every child.
Ideally, someone who works unsupervised with a child or children should have, as a minimum, a level 3 childcare qualification.
Just like a school environment, childminders and nurseries will have a curriculum, a long-term plan of activities that support and promote learning. These activities will focus on different skills, such as developing speech and language with story time and imaginative play.
For a child to feel secure with a carer, they need to form a strong bond. Look for someone who is warm and attentive, as well as affectionate and readily available to meet a child’s needs.
There are other signs to look for too, such as;
- a safe, hygienic environment
- plenty of good quality toys, equipment and resources
- plenty of opportunities for play and learning, inside and out
- structured days and an organised, well-managed setting
- nutritious food and enjoyable, sociable mealtimes
- positive interactions – plenty of praise, encouragement and laughter
- parents fully involved and consulted in their children’s care
Childcare is essential for in so many ways. Whilst we once talked of ‘mum working to support our lifestyle’, now we look at how professional child care can be used to support and nurture our child’s development.