Daycare vs. Nanny for Toddlers

Parent Q&A

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  • I am having a hard time thinking about best childcare for my little dragon - 18 months old son - as I am returning to fulltime work soon.

    I am looking for your experience sharing or advice on who can help with such decisions.

    Short version: my son is hyperactive, fidgety, speech delayed, seems to have sensory processing issues (we are getting formal evaluations soon). Would daycare or fulltime nanny suit his needs better? Meaning: do these needs mean he will benefit from one-on-one nanny's attention or group scheduled setting will actually help to drain his energy and add structure?

    Two attempts to start daycare haven't gone well so far. Should we push through the adjustment with the daycare like with sleep training? Or because of his needs it will be only hurtful e.g. destabilize him even more (if something like that is possible)?

    What types of professionals can help coach on such decisions?

    Long version:

    As the common story goes in this group - my son has been overly fussy, poor sleeper, hyperactive since the very first week. He is now speech delayed and doesnt use gestures besides pointing yet, but understands speech well. He also shows signals of sensory processing issues - bites and loves roughhousing in fabrics, bites me and my clothes at every opportunity, seeks stimulation from running over bumps, gravel etc, plays only with push toys or heavy objects, runs non-stop.

    We started daycare about a month ago for 1-2 hours every morning. On day 10 he got sick with stomach bug, and after a week of being very sick, became very clingy. It took another week to get him being more independent again. We started daycare again. Day 1 he seemed ok and then with every day he cried more and more while being there, not just at drop-off. The teachers seem to mean well, but can't find way to calm him down. So they just hold him or put him in a stroller and walk in circles. Daycare admin suggested leaving him for more hours at a time (like 3 hours) to "help him adjust". It's a professional daycare with a large group of toddlers and 3 or 4 toddlers per teacher ratio. I am looking into several smaller format home-based daycares.

    We have 18 months check with pediatrician coming up and I am scheduling evaluations for SPD and speech delay. In the past pediatrician hasnt been helpful with guiding on such decisions as childcare.

    A note on my personal experience: looking after him is and has been exhausting. It's been hard finding a nanny who can handle him and understand his mood changes. Seeing him in complete meltdown at daycare is heartbreaking and triggers crazy amount of mom guilt. I am jealous of parents with kids who can be outside and just sit somewhere with them, and their kid isnt trying to escape like a wet soap.

    My daughter was very much like your son at this age. Eventually learned that her enlarged tonsils were causing extreme sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation and children is paradoxical. It makes children more hyperactive. Once we addressed this issue, my daughter’s behavior improved dramatically. She had motor, language, and learning delays which resolved in a couple months once her tonsils were removed. 

    My son has a mild case of SPD that has already improved as he's gotten older (he's 5 years old now) so I can only semi-relate, but I will say that occupational therapy has been very helpful. Hopefully this is something that is referred to you as you get evaluated for SPD/speech delay. If you have Kaiser, you may find that OT options are limited (we got some good general advice from Kaiser OT, but we hit a wall at a certain point because Kaiser's OT is less helpful for behavioral challenges). I can recommend a private OT if that's something you'd be interested in. It's possible that an OT may be able to provide better advice in regards to daycare/nanny. 

    While your son is too young for preschool, it's possible that some preschools may have in-house OT options; the preschool that my son is "graduating" from will have it next year, I think. Feel free to message me if you'd like. 

    And I'm so sorry that you're going through this. 

    I am so sorry you're having such a tough time. This is absolutely exhausting and you are right to look for more support. I think you need to look into more play-based daycares that are primarily outdoors or daycares where the staff are very well trained in childhood development. They will have more flexibility and bandwidth to support kids with different needs and mae sure he gets the right kind of stimulation. Putting him in a stroller or holding him all day is not going to cut it! Fewer kids in a smaller daycare may also be less stimulating for him. A really well-trained nanny would be an option but also probably very expensive. I agree with getting an evaluation for him and seeing if he qualifies for an aide that can join him at daycare. Good luck and hang in there! He is still quite young and it will get easier as e gets older. 

    Hi there, I would say going with a nanny or a smaller group option if you can would be a better option . I think if he continues to cry and has difficulty adjusting that it’s a sign it’s not a fit. I’m so sorry, this stuff can be so hard to figure out! I would also ask the folks you see for testing and see if they can provide more info and guidance, and resources. Best of luck! 

    I think a nanny would be better. The evaluation is likely to lead to intervention recommendations that a one-on-one caregiver can better provide. I think kids with these issues can learn the most from a bonded, attentive caregiver who encourages speech development and emotional regulation in a warm, child-centered way. This person can focus on providing the kind of support he needs without balancing the needs of a whole group of other kids. For example, speech-delayed toddlers often need to have their attention constantly refocused on your mouth when you form words. Like if he wants a drink you might hold the cup next to your mouth and say “cup” really clearly, with extra clear mouth movements, several times before you give it, leaving space for him to try to repeat. And he probably needs very attentive, consistent redirection for the biting and things like that. I can’t see a daycare worker having the bandwidth for providing that kind of support in the way he’s likely to need. A good nanny can establish a highly structured day (play time, clean up time, nap time, snack time, park time, etc). Toddlers generally need structure but you don’t need a daycare for that. In any case, his evaluation will help determine exactly what is most needed, but whatever the details, you are describing a child who needs a higher-than-average amount of stable, focused, individualized attention, and I do not think a group daycare is the best place to get it. And I’d be concerned that more failed daycare situations would reduce stability and raise his anxiety, making goals of better emotional regulation and improved communication harder to achieve. I think his eventual integration into a group setting will go better if he has more social skills and hasn’t been allowed to rack up a long history of failed school attempts that give him a negative association with it.

    I hear the jealousy of seeing others that seem to have it easy. And in my experience, the sooner that you accept your child's needs, the better off you will both be. I normalized my child for a long time and in the end, it wasn't until I accepted her support needs that things started getting better. I've started living by the idea that if her behaviors are difficult it is because she is being put in a situation that she does not have the skills to handle. You may want to check out The Explosive Child by Ross W. Greene.

    It seems like your instincts are telling you that the sensory environment is too much for him and the staff can't properly support him. The problem with sticking with daycare is that you'll soon be in a situation where you are going to have to choose between your work and the well-being of your kiddo if things don't improve. I personally would take all of this as a sign to work with a nanny or an environment that is designed for higher needs kids. There may not be an easy answer, because it may be the RIGHT daycare or the RIGHT nanny that will be what is good for him. Being as honest as possible about what he needs is important. I will also say that my daughter has had more transitions than necessary because schools have WANTED to support her and they have liked our family, but in actuality they have not been able to. Hindsight is 20/20 and I don't know if that is helpful to you at the beginning of your journey, but there it is.

    He does not need to have an SPD diagnosis to benefit and start working with an OT. In my experience, it is hard to get OT completely covered by insurance anyway. I would start there along with the path to diagnosis. 

    Also, please try not to be too hard on yourself. You are doing what you can in a tough situation. You are working to help him. It is a VERY hard age and it might be that he would be melting down in any case. He is young and you are already working to minimize them and to understand the triggers...these are good things.

    This may be on your radar, already...but the characteristics that you are describing are also signs of autism. He is young for a diagnosis, but I'd suggest that you educate yourself and track it as a possibility. I was in denial because of the stigma and stereotypes, but getting that diagnosis (at an older age) was good for us and I wish I had done it earlier.

    Best wishes to you.

    Hi!  Please ask your child's pediatrician for an assessment for autism, and, while you are at it, contact the Regional Center of the East Bay ( for an (free?) evaluation.  When you son turns 3 years old he can be assessed by your local school district for free!  

    Judging from how you describe your little one, it seems like he may be on the autism spectrum.  If he is on the spectrum, you will want to get early intervention.  Most commonly, the early intervention offered is ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) Therapy.  It sounds like he may also need speech therapy...(as you said).

    In my experience, doctors can be reluctant to offer assessment for autism because ABA Therapy is expensive!  However, I believe that medical insurance has to offer it.  You should educate yourself and demand an assessment.  The Regional Center is a government funded organization that offers life long services for individuals with developmental needs.  The local office is in San Leandro.  It is important that you son be assessed both by his doctor and the Regional Center.  

    By the way, sensory processing disorder is not recognized either medically nor is it in the DSM.  It kind of doesn't really exist.  Many of the characteristics, however, are associated with ADHD or Autism.  

    I wish you and your little one all the best!

    (ps. I am a school/educational psychologist 10+ years experience working in the public schools including preschool assessment)

    Oh, this sounds so hard. Childcare has been really difficult for us too. The drop-offs can be heartbreaking. I recommending reaching out to Katrinca Ford. She's an impressively skilled play therapist (MFT). She has helped me so much with understanding my daughter's needs and how to meet them. Katrinca has lots of experience with young children of all sorts. She taught pre-school before becoming a therapist. I think she'll have some insights into what type of daycare setting would work best for your little one. And I'm sure she'd have good guidance on how to parent this 'little dragon'. She's been really helpful to me and our family. You can call or email her 925-831-1926 or katrinca [at]

    So sorry you are are going through these struggles.  The good news is; it will pass; you just need some real dedicated help and patience.  I have been there and know what its like to give up jobs, family, friends, companions, dreams- all in the name of our babies.  Things will not correct overnight and in all honesty you may face more challenges before things get better.  I have been there for six years and still fighting.  However,  I think its essential to place family first.  Look into any resources that would allow you to take care of your angel full time if that is  what you want.  I never  thought I could, but its the best decision I have made in my life.   i only have one child, but would have a 100 more if I could.  Don't be afraid and please don't feel alone.  There is always a way..... I am not quite sure how this all works with the communication but If you need to reach out to me, I would be happy to help when I can.  

    It takes several villages to raise our wonderful little people. ...

    Contact me if you need support

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Nanny v/s daycare for almost 3-y-o plus infant

June 2010

My son will be almost 3 years old in November this year. That is when I am expecting child #2 to arrive. My son is currently in a daycare and I am considering pulling him out for next winter because he was sick pretty much the whole time this winter and I am worried that if we face the same thing next winter then the infant will also be falling sick a lot. I want to avoid that. I am thinking of hiring a nanny till my son is ready to go to preschool (he will be 3 years 7 months in september 2011) My concern is that he will feel bored without the activities/kids that he is used to at his daycare.I prefer 1 on 1 care that a nanny can provide but I am not sure what his preference will be at 3. Any advice/similar experiences to share? Thank you

I think you are much better off keeping your son in daycare/preschool. At this age he's ready for it, and he's used to being with other kids. To put him back with a nanny, especially one who will be absorbed caring for an infant, feels like a step backwards. I would worry about him being on his own too much. Better to do a nanny share with another baby, or maybe have the nanny pick him up at noon or after nap? So he gets some time to bond with his younger sibling... I think he needs to retain something of his own during that transition time.

As for illness, I have heard from many parents that the first year in a group setting is always the worst, whether you do it when they're 3 months or 3 years old. Our winter was very bad, too, but I'm anticipating things getting much better next year.

Good luck with your decision! Alexandra

I haven't had direct experience yet, but I am thinking about the same general issue, as my son will be 2 when his new sibling arrives in November. He is currently in a family daycare, and I think we will leave him in it on his regular schedule throughout my maternity leave. My sense is that the new baby is disruption enough, and I don't want to add to his confusion or disorientation, especially when it comes to his secondary caregiver. I hate the thought of the new baby being exposed to germs, but it seems inevitable that wherever a toddler goes, he'll pick them up and bring them home, whether he's in daycare or not. Choosing Germs over Disruption

I had my second child when my eldest son was almost 3 years old. He had been in his preschool for over 1/2 year, and was enjoying it immensely. When the baby was born, we kept his schedule as it was prior to the baby - combination nanny, preschool, and mommy.

My baby boy is now almost 1 year old. Looking back, I know I would not pull him from school. If your child is comfortable, happy, and familiar with that school, I would keep him in. The change of having a baby sibling is one change enough - why create a second by having a nanny? Also, I believe kids need the social environment to grow, and in part it's a ''distraction'' from the immense change at home.

My son was sometimes sick during the winter, but my baby only got one cold/virus from him. So my eldest was sick more often than my baby. Seems like a compelling (but deceptively easy fall-back) reason to pull him from school, but he can just as easily get sick from kids at a park, indoor cafe, etc.

Along with suddenly having a sibling, the other thing my eldest son freaked out about was that my husband was home for the first few weeks. This was hard on him, as he was used to his daddy going to work every morning. So, as much routine as you can keep for him, the better. Anon

Don't assume that your kid is sick just because of daycare, or that your kid won't get sick with a nanny. My kid was in a good sized daycare (30 or 35 kids) and got sick only 1 time in two years. Everybody in the neighborhood who kept their kids at home had kids who were sick all the time. Sure, there are things that go around at daycares. But your nanny probably has kids, and is probably going to come to work when she's a little sick or doesn't know she's sick. and then there's the playground, and the grocery store, etc. And my experiences with nannies were much less pleasant than those at the daycare, although I confess I envied those moms who could leave their houses before the kids were up or dressed or fed. But the multiple caregivers at a daycare are more likely to stay honest than the single nanny, unless you're lucky enough to find the perfect fit. Also, your first child will have a better transition to preschool comign from a daycare than from a nanny. On the other hand, if what you want is a nanny, get a nanny. It will be fine. Just don't assume it will necessarily keep the sickness away.

Nanny v. daycare/preschool for young toddler

Nov 2009

There have been some recent questions about having one's child in daycare/preschool or staying with a nanny, but I'm still not clear on the best decision for our soon-to-be 18 month old son. The responses seem to say that staying with a nanny is the better option for young toddlers, yet I don't understand *why* since so many of the reviews for daycares and preschools seem like such wonderful, nurturing experiences for young children. Our nanny share situation will change in April and we've been thinking of a small home-based daycare/preschool like Bari Nelson's Small Size Toddler School or Keiki's Corner, or the toddler program at at place like Skytown Co-op in Kensington. Why would a nanny share be preferable to small, lovely programs like these? Follow-up question: how do daycares handle naptime for toddlers?? - first-time mom (obviously!)

I currently have nanny share for my daughter and the more I read the more I lean toward continuing my nanny-share till my daughter is older. I think one part of the decision for parents is cost. It just costs less to send your kid to daycare. The other part is what you think your kid needs and what parenting theory you believe in. Some parents I talk to wants to send their kids to school early so they can socialize, learn how to share, learn in general. Yet I've also read and talk to people who say that children didn't use to have to socialize so young and it's better that they don't go. And that the problems we hear about kids not being able to do xx and yy, or kids behaving this or that way is because we send them out of the house early. I also have a friend who said, why not have the 1 to 1 attention that a nanny provides. And the fact that kids going to school get sick so often. But I know one mom who's sending her kid to preschool at 3 and says that she thinks it's good for him because he's an active child and he enjoys the activities there.

So many variables and it's hard to sift through and figure out which side to believe in. Ultimately, I went w/ continuing nanny-share route. I'm not worried about socialization or my kid not learning to share or work in a group. I like the idea of my daughter getting more attention from her care taker. I don't like her catching colds or flu often as we don't like getting sick from her. A nanny-share is ideal as she does have a playmate. And we make sure to go to playdates as well. anon

So, our family worked with both a nanny and had our 2 year olds in Keiki's due to unpredictable work my two cents. We loved both! We started with a nanny, but prior to both children's 2nd year birthday, they seemed like they might benefit from the social interaction of a small group situation. We visited Keiki's and had heard wonderful things about it from a few friends - it felt so right. Indeed, it was a fabulous experience. So hard to leave and move-on to preschool. The 3 care providers are incredibly nurturing, loving - just amazing people. The small setting was ideal and really appreciated the fact that it was a two year old program, so children are quite similar in developmental stages. When the time for preschool did roll around, I believe the children's transitions were that much more comfortable due to their 2 yo experience.

Naptime is darling. The children sleep on the sofa or a mat/sleeping bag on the carpet and are constantly watched. At Keiki's believe naptime began around the time the majority of the children would leave (1:30p), so the room was quiet, but if a child would need to nap in the morning or earlier than 1:30p, there was a small, comfortable back room they could use. Think most of the children become so engaged that they don't nap in the morning, but I may be forgetting something.

Sounds like your child will be about 2 in April. One issue may be getting a place at a small family daycare in the Spring rather than the summer/fall, though do know it happens :-) Also useful to consider (though I'm stating the obvious): 1) Cost - daycare is typically a bit more affordable 2) Hours needed - if you have a set job, look closely at the hours of availability of the daycare. For example, some may close earlier on a Friday, etc. Typically a nanny offers more flexibility. That being said, if the hours work for you, certainly wouldn't pass up the opportunity to have your child in a small family daycare that you feel good about. We feel so fortunate to have had our children at Keiki's for two consecutive years and wouldn't change a thing in retrospect. Pleased Former Keiki's Mom

Just a few quick thoughts. Background - my daugther had an au pair until age 4 when she started pre-school full time. I believe the one on one attention my daughter received from an au pair (nanny) was invaluable. When your child enters a day care or pre school THEY set the rules. They tell you what your child's schedule will be, etc. With a nanny or au pair you determine what you want your child taught, what they eat, if and when you want them to take naps. I loved not having to get my child dressed in the morning and out that door at a certain time, or not worrying about who would stay home with her if she was ill. However, by age 4 I believed she needed to be in a more social and learning environment. There are times I miss the au pair. As far as naps, the preschool has all the kids take a nap at the same time - whether they want to or not. anon

We could not afford a nanny or a share and went with family daycare for both our kids. I could not have been happier. I used small home based care for both and felt that we got the best of both world: a safe, licensed environment for our kids but didn't have to have someone in our home and we never had to worry if hte nanny got sick or paying her SSI or whatever. I think the nanny thing can be overrrated, especially if you're just a regular schmo like us and not rich. Our daycare provider was like a devoted aunt. we love her and now that our kids are in preschool and school, we miss her her and visit often. anonamom

Perhaps the difference is in the hours the child attends. If you are looking at a nanny or daycare, it might be the full which case I can see that a nanny might be a bit more nurturing. However, if you are looking at small preschools like you mentioned, then it would likely be just a few hours per day. As a the mom of a Skytown alum, our experience with the toddler program was that my son was only there 4 hours. They do offer an afternoon program, in which the older kids play and do structured activities, and those who wanted a nap could nap. Most (all?) of the toddlers did not stay for the afternoon program. Anyway, my point is that a few hours/day of socialization in a sweet little preschool setting is really beneficial. Kids learn to share and they are given the opportunity to participate in a lot of activities. My Vote is For Preschool

I am also debating on what is better for my toddler. I have heard that a daycare provides an opportunity for more social interaction with more kids and it is more nurturing than having a nanny. Nanny can also be more expensive but can be more flexible most of the time. I think I will go with daycare in a few months. mexico

I am a huge proponent of home daycare for toddlers. As long as you find a good place and loving provider, I think the early socialization skills are a huge advantage of daycare and make the transition to preschool much easier. Both my kids went to a 4-child home daycare since they were 3 months old. By the time they went to preschool, they were so much better socialized than many of their preschool peers. They both show a lot of empathy towards other kids and I think the early socialization had a lot to do with it. But we also had the most loving amazing daycare provider you could ask for. She has space available right now, but she is in Sausalito. If anyone is interested, feel free to email me at psellers [at] Good Luck!

I think that many people like nanny-share situations for their toddlers for a variety of reasons. These include the cost (It can be a bit cheaper), the fact that when children are around fewer other children, they tend to get sick less often, and the fact that if the nanny-share happens in your home, the nanny can (and often does) assist with other household tasks. My son, however, went to a small family daycare as a toddler, and really thrived there. There were 8 kids at a time with 2 daycare providers (a woman and her daughter). He made friends that he still knows in 3rd grade, he bonded with the caregivers and so had extra people to love, he developed lots of skills (playing with other kids primarily). When I would go to pick him up, he was generally enjoying himself so much he would not want to go home right away (this has become my test for a good education or care situation for my son; if he wants to go home the minute I get there every day, the situation is probably not good for him). Looking back, I made the right choice, particularly for my son, who is a very social, active kid. Karen

For younger children, say around three and under, the primary need is a secure attachment to a few (one, two, three) caregivers. Having multiple caregivers, which is usually the case in even the best of settings (think lunch break, dropping child off before regular teacher picking up or picking up after regular teacher has left, consolidating classrooms at the end of day when there are fewer kids, etc), is actually not healthy for young children. It does not allow them to form a solid bond with a few close caregivers which can often lead to a variety of issues later down the road related to trust and security. If the daycare doesn't have the situations that I mentioned above, then I'd say either is fine. anon

My daugther was in nannyshare from age 7 -17 months, then (after summer break - I'm a teacher) started a home-based daycare at 19 months. She is now almost 2. She loves it. She was ready for the increased socializing at a daycare setting. There are anywhere between 6-10 kids and two caregivers at a time. She is there all day, three days a week. As much as I hate to leave her and go to work, I have to admit that she is really happy there. The kids all nap on little mats on the floor (younger babies sleep in cribs) and they have a regular naptime of 1-3 pm or so. She does nap. The best thing I would suggest is to visit some daycares and ask what they do about naps and see how you feel about the whole environment. mom of happy toddler

Nanny vs. day care for 22 month old

June 2005

We are moving in the fall and my daughter will be 22 months old and will have to leave her wonderful (full time) nanny share situation. We are evaluating whether we want another nanny share, family daycare or regular daycare center. Regular daycare centers make me a little nervous because of the higher child to adult ratio, and I am worried about her getting enough attention. On the other hand, the additional structure is appealing and might be good for her, and the reduction in cost is also appealing. Experiences with family or regular daycare centers for children that age would be most appreciated. Thanks, Caroline

I'd recommend that you think of preschool as an alternative to a nanny or a daycare. Preschools often start taking children at 2, and some accept non-potty trained children. Some offer whole-day programs. We put our daughter in preschool (part time) when she was 27 months old and it was a great decision, she's learned a lot, her social skills are wonderful, and she's had a lot of fun. anon

In the right family daycare, a 2-year-old can thrive. My son had an absolutely wonderful experience in a daycare run by a woman and her daughter. The woman had done master's degree work in early childhood development. There were 8 kids at a time there, they did lots of fun activities (coloring, painting, cooking, playdough) and played outside whenever possible. They learned tons of stuff (all as part of their playing, not formal teaching) -- my son knew his colors, how to count, had a great vocabulary, and knew what was and wasn't ''friendly'' (their term) behavior toward other children, all while he was 2! He's 4 now and in preschool, but we still keep in touch with the caregiver and with several of the other kids, who became his best friends while he was there. I cannot imagine an experience that would have been better for him. Karen