The joys of being a new parent are often accompanied with constant worry: is my baby eating enough, sleeping enough, developing, etc. The list of questions you constantly ask yourself goes on infinitely. Being the primary caretaker for a newborn is a difficult but extremely rewarding experience. In the beginning it can be tempting to want to spend every minute with your little one. However, taking a break can help you recharge and catch up on sleep.
But time away from your little one presents the new stress of worrying about them when they are with a caregiver. The best way to lessen your worries is to have a good relationship with your caregiver. Navigating this experience can be overwhelming and leaves many new parents at a loss of where to start.
Dr. Kelley Abrams is a Developmental Psychologist, Professor of Infant and Toddler development, and Parenting Consultant. She also is a private consultant and class facilitator at DayOne Baby, teaching several Mommy & Me groups and parenting workshops. Here is her advice for establishing a good relationship with your caregiver.
Infants and young children develop in the context of relationships. We all want our precious little ones to feel loved, nurtured, and protected. When the time comes for you to choose a nanny, babysitter, or childcare setting it is common to feel a mix of emotions at this seemingly overwhelming task. It is easy to feel uneasy and guilty about leaving your child in someone else’s care. You want your baby to feel safe and comfortable with the caregiver, but it is not uncommon to also fear that your baby will come to prefer the caregiver over you. Finding a loving and nurturing caregiver, though, can be a benefit to both you and your baby.
Babies thrive when they have healthy, loving, secure relationships with multiple caregivers. Your baby’s connection with her caregiver will not take away from her relationship with you—the parent.
Look for a caregiver who:
Is positive, loving, and responsive. Babies thrive when caregivers respond promptly to their cues, cuddle, rock, and sing to them, and follow their unique rhythms and style. Talk to your caregiver about meeting your baby’s individual needs for playtime, feeding, and sleeping. A schedule that follows your baby’s cues and needs is better for your baby than strictly following the clock.
Respects the baby’s individuality and your family’s parenting, philosophy, and culture. Your child’s caregiver is a partner with you. Communicate and share your personal parenting style and beliefs with your caregiver. Ask about his/her own child rearing experiences and philosophy. Differences of opinion can be great learning opportunities about a different way to approach parenting. Be open to hearing about new ideas, but clearly state what’s most important to you and your family. Healthy communication can be achieved by starting conversations with “I feel……”
Enjoys talking to and reading to babies and young children. Providing babies and young children with a language-rich environment gives them the foundation needed for thinking and talking skills later on. The more words babies hear during daily interactions with caregivers, the more words they will come to know. Reading books, singing songs, signing, narrating daily activities, and asking the baby questions all nurture the baby’s growing mind and understanding of feelings and other people.
Tips for Preparing your Baby for a New Caregiver
Even very young babies may become upset and wary of new unfamiliar people and places. Taking time to prepare for and adjust to the new caregiving arrangement can lessen the stress and anxiety for both you and your baby. Here are some ideas for easing the transition:
- Play “peek-a-boo” and other disappearing/reappearing games
- Read books with your baby about separations, babysitters, and daycare such as: Owl Babies by Martin Waddell, Have you Seen my Duckling, I Love You All Day Long by Francesca Rusackas
- Plan for a period of transition where both you and the caregiver are with the baby. This way your baby can get to know the new caregiver while still feeling safe and secure with you. Ask about a daycare’s policy around parents staying for the first few days or weeks.
- When it does come time to leave, always say “goodbye.” Try to stay positive and upbeat and avoid sneaking out. You want to send the message that all is well, your baby is safe and secure, and that she can trust you. You may even enjoy developing a special goodbye ritual, song, or hug that you do each and every time. This gives your baby confidence that he knows what to expect. If you are worried about how long your baby will protest after you leave, develop a plan to check-in with your caregiver after 30 minutes or so. Coming back in to check on your baby after you have said goodbye can be confusing and can increase your baby’s anxiety around you leaving.
- Develop a communication system with your caregiver such as a notebook where you both can make notes about your baby’s days, nights, recent developmental milestones, and feeding, sleeping, and playing rituals/routines and any recent changes.
An open, honest, respectful, and caring relationship with your baby’s caregiver helps you and your baby feel more comfortable. You can feel more confident that your baby is being cared for in ways that follow your parenting beliefs. Your baby will feel more confident the more loving and nurturing relationships she has. You may also find that your relationship with your baby’s caregiver helps you feel extra supported and nurtured as a parent. You have an additional partner on your side to give your baby the best possible care.
To see the classes that Dr. Kelley Abrams facilitates, view the Palo Alto schedule here.