How can I feel less distant from my child’s caregiver?

      Even though the relationship between parents and caregivers is less intense during the early elementary years, it often remains strained. Ideally, both sides should extend themselves, and parents and caregivers should relate in a cordial, informative way. However, many parents and caregivers are uncomfortable with each other and try to avoid contact. This leaves all parties feeling dissatisfied.

      To some parents, a caregiver may be an intimidating figure. She has influence and power over a child, and parents may hesitate to alienate her with questions or complaints. They may feel that inquiries about their child will bother her, and they fear that she’ll take out anger and frustration on their child or threaten to drop the child from the program.

      Some parents stay distant from a caregiver because of guilt. They feel bad about leaving their child with another adult and avoid any contact that will make them feel worse. They drop her off and pick her up as quickly as possible (“I’m so busy!”) and never extend themselves to the adult in charge.

      There’s another reason parents remain detached from their child’s caregiver. They may not take her job seriously, viewing her as a baby-sitter and treating her as they might a neighborhood teenager. They come and go from the day care center, the caregiver’s home, or their own home with barely a nod. Since many caregivers are younger than the parents they work for, it may seem natural for parents to act this way. Yet, regular caregivers do much more than occasional sitters do. They plan activities and programs, help with homework, and offer comfort and advice.

      Sometimes it’s the caregiver who’s reluctant to form a friendly relationship. She may feel uncomfortable with parents because she’s younger and less experienced than they. She may feel awkward telling them about their child’s behavior, giving them advice, or discussing the differences between their standards and her own. She may be generally unsure of herself around adults. Many child care workers enjoy being with children but are not as positive and confident with adults. In addition, caregivers who see parents rush in and out may hesitate to talk to them for fear of holding them up.

      Here are some things you can do to improve your relationship with your child’s caregiver. Take the first step and offer a friendly hello and good-bye each day. Smile and wave if the caregiver is busy when you arrive. If she has a few minutes to chat, have a brief conversation. Talk about the weather, an upcoming weekend, children’s artwork on the wall. Try to leave a few minutes at the end of the day to stay and watch your child finish a project or to talk to the other children. If you seem unhurried, the caregiver will consider you more approachable.

      Most importantly, let your caregiver know you appreciate her services. She’ll find it easy to talk to you about your child if she believes you take her seriously. Listen carefully to her observations and suggestions, respect her standards, and work cooperatively with her. It takes time to build trust, but effort and consistent friendliness will enhance your relationship.

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