Communication Problems with Childcare Provider

Archived Q&A and Reviews



Communications with a defensive provider

Sept 2008


My family is happy with our daycare provider in most ways, but communication can be difficult. The problem is that when we inquire about even slightly problematic things, like for example how he got a little scratch, the provider becomes very defensive, and I end up reassuring her that I'm not blaming her (after all, crawling and tumbling around as my son does, he's often sporting little nicks and bumps). What I'd like, though, is just to be able to ask, and to get a simple response, whether it's ''He banged his head on the crib'' or even ''I don't know.'' I thought I'd ask the community about this, because I want to revisit our no-TV policy, something we agreed on when we started care. Lately my husband has noticed the TV on when he's dropped our son off, and I just want to have a conversation about it: make sure that when my son arrives, the TV is turned off, or he's in a different room. But I find myself dreading the reaction that might provoke. So basically, I guess my question is about successfully communicating with a defensive provider. Anon

Your post raises several red flags. if the provider gets defensive about little scratches, how will she react when really big things come up? how about if an adult on the premesis was molesting the children or abusing them in some other way that does not necessarily leave a mark? do you think she'd come right out and tell you or take effective steps to address the problem? my guess is she's sweep it all under the rug. having the TV on at a day care is a red flag to me. having it on first thing in the morning when presumably everyone is most fresh and energetic is worse but doing that after discussing and agreeing to your ''no TV'' preference is really bad. find another daycare - you can do better good luck

I would look for a new daycare. You need to be on the same team with your provider and it sounds like you are not.

On her side, I can understand a bit of defensiveness...I work in childcare and quite frankly, some of the parents are a bit off in their expectations. I have been jumped on over some things that really are not a big issue (for example, bumps and scratches that occur during the day when a child is just beginning to pull up to a standing position). In a childcare center, my ratio is me versus 8, with four of them under two. I cannot give a child the same attention that a provider working with one or two children can give to the children. Many parents expect the attention they would get from a one-on-one nanny while paying for a center...

Which brings me to the next point. The television should not be on except under certain circumstances. In the childcare center in which I work, children are napping in one of two rooms adjoining the main center activity room. The television is on in the main room with a video (Dora, Barney, etc) for those children who are past naps, but need some down time (hard to do in a group of children). The parents know this and agree to this... -anon

This question seems to come up often - I think because parents are seeking validation for their feelings rather than a true solution to their problem. We have had very similar issues with our daycare. In general, i think providers can sometimes be defensive because many of us well-meaning parents make requests and ask questions that seem to raise trust and judgment issues for them. Whether or not the response is valid, I do have some sympathy for their point of view. It's not easy dealing with other people's kids all day, and us parents are naturally protective of our children and do not have the benefit of a wider perspective. We think of child care providers as stand-ins, not necessarily as ''experts'' even though many have ''reared'' far more children than any individual parent. In our case, i think some of the miscommunication is cultural, and well - I tried the approach of opening lines of communication and trying to explain my position (asking, not judging) and it just made things worse. In the end, I feel that in every situation, there will always be things one doesn't like. As long as the rest is okay, you just have to step back and let them be. --trying to see the other side

I have the same problem with my wife; if I come home and our child has a little scrape of something, I just like to know what happened; I'm not mad at her -- I think scrapes and bumps are pretty normal for a child to have occasionally. We've gotten to the point where she sees that I'm not attacking her and eventually we're getting to the point where she will just tell me and not be worried and defensive. She has a long family-of-origin history with people NOT acting like me, and, of course, all of her interactions are informed by those earlier interactions -- this is to say that the daycare staff probably has experienced attacking questions in their personal lives AND from other parents. The solution: just keep trying, and always explain to the staff that you're not mad, you just like to know: of course, you gotta back that up with actions: don't get mad.

Time to look for a new day care. If you can't communicate with the care giver, then it's time to start looking for a new day care. Anon

I see serious red flags. Bumps and bruises happen. Professional care givers point them out and explain them immediately upon the parent's arrival - Even the ones they can't explain. You're not trying to blame - You simply need to know what has happened to your child while you're away. And since your child can't speak for themself, the care giver must be clear and honest about it. The fact that your provider gets defensive worries me - tells me they're trying to deflect attention away from the possibility that the child isn't being watched carefully by making you feel bad for asking or afraid to ask the next time. I'd start hunting for a new care giver immediately. But if you really like this person, show some real strength and calmly notify them that you want a rundown of any/all falls or upsets during the day immediately upon pickup - without any attitude. If they can't handle this you don't want to leave your child with them. As for the TV being guess is that it's probably on all day. You can remind them of your agreement or have them limit it to an hour or two of kids programming - but really, I'd find a better day care. joan

Reading your post raised some questions for me. Certainly, I do not have all of the information, but from the concerns that you discussed, I wonder if your child is in the absolute optimal care setting. I have my doctorate in child development and my specific area of expertise is caregiver sensitivity. I conduct assessments of childcare settings for parents in order to help match their child to the best childcare setting based on their child's unique needs. Again, I do not have all of the information regarding your childcare, but this is my opinion based on what you had said. I would be happy to hear more about your child's current situation and let you know more about the process of having a professional assessment completed on the care center, please let me know if you are interested. Melissa

I think it's time to look around for a new daycare. If you dread that idea, you could try just saying what you need to say, and just let yourself see the reaction. but it sounds to me like it's not going to work. Your kid is in front of the TV, and your provider is probably going to misrepresent that to you.(and possibly other things.) If you're not comfortable, your daycare is not going to work.


Love the daycare but don't speak the language

Nov 2005


My 1-year-old daughter is in a Spanish-speaking day care that continues on through preschool. Neither my husband nor I speak Spanish very well, and have always wished that it was a skill we possessed. We would love for our daughter to have the opportunity to learn Spanish, which is why we only considered Spanish-speaking day care providers.

We are lukewarm about her care situation. The caregivers are loving and attentive and fantastic with her, but don't communicate very well with us because of their limited English. This is often uncomfortable for us, as we don't have much visibility into her days. It's hard for me to understand them, for example, when I ask whether she had a poopy diaper that day, when she napped, and what she ate. So while our daughter is having a great experience -- we can tell by how excited she gets when we arrive each morning at day care -- we her parents are having a lukewarm experience because we get so little information about her day.

As we've agonized over whether to move her to a place that works better for us as parents (and hopefully would be equally positive for our daughter), we've wondered -- is the Spanish worth the poor communication we have with her caregivers? Do children really retain the Spanish they learn as toddlers anyway? My husband and I do not speak it, so she will not be able to practice Spanish at home. And our public elementary school does not offer Spanish. The next time she'll be exposed to Spanish is likely to be middle school. I would hate to settle for a day care/preschool that is not great for us just for the Spanish, when our daughter may forget all the Spanish by the time she is exposed to it again. Julie

We had our son in a Spanish-speaking nanny share until he was 2 1/2 and, looking back, I think it was too long. The other families in the share spoke Spanish, as did the nanny, and communication with her wasn't a problem (I also speak fluent Spanish, though we don't speak it at home). At first, we were thrilled when his vocabulary started developing with many Spanish words, which we incorporated into our family vocabulary (''cremita'' for diaper cream, etc.). But when my son's verbal abilities really took off, the problem was that the nanny could not understand him when he spoke to her, and he was too young to get that she didn't. One day, I saw him speaking to her and she turned to me and said, ''he said he wants X'' --I realized that she hadn't understood a word he said! Their interaction (which had been wonderful when he was an infant) really suffered, and so did he. I believe that the child's emotional development (and your communication with the caregivers) is far more important than second language aquisition, but it is a hard idea to give up that your child can learn Spanish the easy way. Happier Now

NO is the easy answer. Why - because the first priority should be clear communication between the parents and the caregiver. Imagine the worst case scenario - your child suffers an injury - how would you find out the crucial details without an interpreter? Or suppose your child needs medication? And yes, you NEED to know all the little day to day details as well - that's how you know your child is happy and healthy. As for the exposure to Spanish - that's a no-brainer - there are LOADS of other qualified child care providers who are fluent in Spanish - and English.

But as for the impact and effect it will have on your child - if you are not speaking it at home, then the impact is negligible. There have been more thorough discussions in this forum regarding how to raise bilingual children, and simply having the day care provider speak another language will not do it. Change your priorities and change your childcare. My 2 Cents

I had the opposite experience. It was really important for me to have my son in a Spanish speaking environment. So I looked and looked until I found one that I thought was perfect. I am not sure he is enjoying his time there, after 3 months he still crying when I drop him off. He is not very stimulated and I am not so thrilled myself. So I started looking for an alternative and I found a place that I really like and which seems like a much better fit for him (he doesn't want to leave after visits.) The only draw back: No Spanish there. I figured it is more important to have him in a place where he is well taken care of, nurtured stimulated and happy. I speak Spanish, so even though I know it is going to be a struggle for me, but I will teach him. Maybe there is another way for you to communicate with teachers, a check-off list or something like that. Good luck decisions, decisions.

It sounds like you just want more info on the day, and I don't blame you!! at my previous daycare (smalltrans) they had a sheet of paper that was filled in every day, saying what they ate & when, when they started & stopped napping, and whether diapers were wet or soiled, or if they used a toilet when they got older. This was great! and pretty critical for little ones so you know what to expect when you pick them up. I'm guessing that if you could get a sheet like that, or be able to have the nanny be able to write a few words (or choose multiple choice on the sheet) then you'd be comfortable. Maybe you can work with someone who speaks better spanish to come up with and explain a sheet for the day, and maybe you can have some pictures next to the things or maybe you'll understand the little spanish (e.g., just for sleeping, napping, playing, pee & poo, happy or sad face for the day, park, etc., you'd feel better. And maybe you can learn a few basic spanish words and the nanny can learn a few basic english words (including to be able to call you up and say ''come home now!'' in an emergency). just think about what things you really want to know for the day, and find a shorthand for it. janet

You bring up 2 important topics: 1. Good communication with your child's caregiver. 2. Language skills that will last a lifetime.

Re #1: If you do not feel super confident with the current staff, start looking elsewhere so you know what your options are. It is reasonable to expect a daily update (what ate, poops, etc), and there are many Spanish speaking caregivers in the Bay Area who can at the very least communicate on that level.

Re #2: You are doing an Amazing thing for your child to expose a second language from birth to age 5. This is a skill they will have for life - no only as far as language, but also as a window to the entire world of different cultures. The ''birth to Age 5'' is Very Important. I am not a scientist, so in layman's terms, there are circuits in the brain we are all born with, and we have an opportunity to ''use them or lose them'' and studies have shown that if they are not used during that 5 year window, then they are gone. Ask anyone who took French or Spanish for the first time in High School how difficult it was. It's not difficult for a 3 year old. I know from experience... I was in an experimental program 30 years ago where French was taught in Nursery School, and I can fool a French person for about 5 minutes before I make a silly mistake. My son is 3.5 and is in pre-school 5 mornings a week: 2 days in Spanish Pre-School and 3 days in French Pre-School. Very different programs, and he loves them both, and has amazingly perfect comprehension. And he speaks English too :-) Don't give up on this! It really is worth it.

But lastly, it is important to find the ''right fit'' for the caregiver, and maybe after a little research, it will become clear if the ''loving enviornment'' for your child outweighs the communication barrier for you or if there is an even better option available for you and your child, while still maintaining the language component. Good luck! Mom of Tri-Lingual Toddler

We had a Spanish speaking (reasonable English) nanny for my child from age 1-3. Although her spoken English was OK, she could barely handle reading simple board books. At 3, my child was intensely interested in books (still is) and I found the nanny to be more of a liability than a plus. Her skills were really for the infant to 3 years range, which we were very happy with for that age period. My child went on to preschool and now we have a bilingual babysitter that helps my kindergartener with Spanish homework from her after-school class. This has been fantastic - and although she may have known more Spanish before attending the class, it was the right decision to let the nanny go (she had a great job to go to anyway). Anon


Toddler loves the daycare but they don't speak English

Dec 2004


My 13 month old daughter has been in a daycare center for about 4 months now. We've generally been pleased with the competence of the providers. Our daughter seems to enjoy it. She never cries at drop off and is cheerful when we pick her up. The problem is that the main teacher and her assistant are Chinese and don't speak English well, so I can never get a detailed report of how my daughter is doing. In other words, I can look on the day's chart and see when the naps, bm's, and meals were, but I can't ask what my daughter is like in a group, does she share well, or anything detailed because their Engligh comprehension is not sufficient. Additionally, the center director is a pleasant enough woman, but puts out a monthly ''newsletter'' with countless egregious spelling and gramatical errors. Honestly I read it in horror and wondered if she has had any formal education - it was that bad. So here I am wondering if these are the people I want teaching my child. I'm also afraid that my daughter is not being read to because of the poor English speaking skills. I know at 13 months my daughter is awfully young to be thinking about whether she's a getting high quality education, but she sees more of these women than she sees of me or her Dad and it would be nice if I had confidence that they were teaching her something. I should also note that the head teacher has been with the center for 10+ years which is good and bad. Good because she has lots of experience and bad because even after 10 years her English is still so poor.

Well, it sounds like it's not the right daycare for you -- if you're not comfortable, you're not comfortable -- but let me respond to some of the issues you raise. First, obviously, English literacy is not a requirement for nurturing, as I'm sure you know. If the English skills of the providers are as you describe, I doubt your daughter is being ''read to,'' but you've probably noticed when you read to your daughter yourself that it's not about a story at this point -- it's more about object identification, classification, learning how books work, etc. Do your DCPs do these kind of activities with books? Our nanny has limited English literacy, but actively engages in books with our toddler daughter, pointing out objects and letters, asking our daughter to point out objects, getting her to play along with actions in books, etc. I see how much my daughter enjoys books, and she often surprises me with her familiarlity with even those books that I haven't gotten to share with her lately, so I know there's a lot of looking at books going on with our DCP. I'm very happy with this, and the fact that my daughter views books as a source of fascination and entertainment seems to me like a solid foundation for literacy when the time comes, and it's not something that requires much literacy on the DCP's part.

Second, I can tell you that your daughter doesn't share; she's 13 months old, and 13-month olds don't share. I would focus on the DCP's communication with me in terms of what I needed to know, not in terms of how well they said it to me. It sounds like in some ways they're very good on that (with the daily chart and monthly newsletter, for example), but in other ways not so good (you'd like more information on what they observe about your daughter's personality, for example). Can you address the latter?

Bottom line, again, is that if you're not comfortable, you're not comfortable. But if your daughter is happy there, and you can address the issue of getting the additional information you want, what about keeping her there until she can start a preschool program at age two? That might be a compromise that addresses your more academic concerns, but keeps her in an environment she's happy in in the meantime. Good luck with your decision! Another toddler mom

Why not create laminated activity and emotion cards that correspond with certain things that were done during the day so the teachers can leave them in your daughters cubby at the end of the day. Example: image of 2 kids stacking blocks together = sharing. Meaning: today she did well in sharing. Maybe coupled with a happy face to symbolize a good experience. or- Example: Crying face = sad or emotional day. And it could be coupled with a card symbolizing a fight. Or something broken. Or missing mommy. When you read the cards later you can discuss them with her providers which will help them to speak better english in general. They can better illustrate with the pictures what you need to hear about her day. Like communicative flashcards. Just a thought...and much cheaper than switching schools. Alena

My daughter was in a daycare run by a (korean) woman who spoke very little English from 8 months to 1.5 years. I moved her to another daycare for the reasons you mentioned - language development, etc., and I don't regret my decision. Even though the woman loved my daughter dearly and took very good care of her, all of the research shows that language development begins very early, and that one of the most important building blocks for literacy is to be read to consistently. My advice is to find another daycare, it is always hard to leave a daycare where you feel that your child is well cared for, but there are many, many, very good daycare providers around, you just have to put in the time to find the right one. Language is important!

I don't know how qualified I am to write a response to this post, but it touched on many of the same concerns I have for my 13 month old. I'm a SAHM, but may have to look into daycare when I get a job (purely for financial reasons). From what I've read about language development in babies, this is a fairly critical time in language acquisition. I think you're in a good situation if you want her to learn Chinese and that is what they're speaking with her, since it's wonderful for kids to be exposed to another language. But if they're trying to speak to her in English, then she's probably not getting very good role models. I know nurturing is very important, too, but it just seems like you could find another positive environment which can also stresses teaching excellent verbal skills. I've read that the children with the most extensive vocabulary and most proficient use of grammar are those whose caretakers speak to them the most, engaging in verbal play and labeling most of what the baby is exposed to. Variety of words used, clarity of pronunciation and, perhaps most importantly, the sheer quantity of words spoken to a baby are very important determinants of a child's future language ability. So my advice, for what it's worth, is to either take advantage of the opportunity to teach her Chinese from native speakers, or to find some other care. (If you pay me enough to get to stay home with my baby, I will watch her and teach her along with my own child! Ha, ha! Oh, well, good luck anyway.) Susan

I'm curious to see what other responses you get to your posting. On one hand, I think it's reasonable to want to know what's going on with your daughter in some detail, and if it were me, I'd be frustrated about not being able to get that information. On the other hand, I think you are expecting too much of your daycare providers and judging them unfairly. At this age, the best lessons that any provider can teach your daughter are about socialization - playing fair, sharing, treating others with respect - not advanced skills that she will certainly pick up later. You mention that your daughter seems happy - other than their ability to communicate with you, do you feel that they are able to communicate with HER? Are they providing her with appropriate stimulation, setting a good example, able to clarify positive from negative behavior? Those are the skills she should really be developing at this age. anon