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How to find a good daycare

For most of us today, having a baby is a tough choice. For working parents, daycare is a boon. But how can you check what’s right for your little one? Read on...

health and fitness Updated: Dec 04, 2010 17:49 IST
Tashneem Chaudhury

For most of us today, having a baby is a tough choice because we know that leaving her / him at home when we return to work would be even tougher.

That’s because, for most men and women today, the option of giving up a fulfilling career to stay home and bring up the child (or children) simply does not exist. So what’s the next best thing?

Well, it sounds do-able, but often is hard to put into practice. Find someone or some place that’s adequately geared to take care of your child’s every need.

In the olden days, this was quite easy. Most people lived in joint families, or at least had relatives living fairly nearby. So Babyyou were reasonably assured of always having a good baby-sitter – someone who’d take care of your child as though she or he were her own. Now, however, since we’ve become highly mobile and live in nuclear families, relatives aren’t so easily available. Something else must be done.

The right choice
That something else is a good daycare option. Says Nidhi Jha, 34, a freelance graphic designer, “A good daycare is not very tough to find provided you know what you are looking for. Very few people these days want nannies, because it is safer and more development-oriented to put your child in a daycare centre.”

At a good daycare centre, toddlers are given more than the care that they require. They learn more, become self reliant and learn to socialise since there are lots of other children around. And there are activities for older children too. A good daycare will ensure that these children have classes in art and craft and, if they go to school, its caregivers will also help them with their homework, and take them out to play.

For some people, daycare becomes a way of life. Dr Shweta Javali, 35, a dentist and mother of two little boys, aged six and four, sends her children to a daycare centre in Delhi, and she’s a satisfied mother. What were the things she looked for?

“The first thing I looked for was warmth in the staff. Nothing can substitute for that and kids can sense vibrations,” she says. “After that, my priorities were security and safety and the kind of activities they had planned for the children in their care.”

Javali found the centre in the yellow pages. Though it’s a little inconvenient for her since it isn’t exactly on her way to and from work, the facilities it offered, plus her gut feeling that the staff were the kind of people she could leave her children with, decided her.

“There are a lot of fancy places, but when you look for a daycare, fancy trimmings don’t mean anything,” says Javali. “A more real, rooted environment and good, efficient, warm and level-headed staff count more than anything else. My older son, now 6, has been coming here since he was very small, so there weren’t many issues. But I had taken a sabbatical to be with my younger one, so he wasn’t used to the idea of daycare. But the staff handled it beautifully and he didn’t face any problems.”

Other things that made Javali choose her daycare included the fact that its staff were trained to deal with medical problems. “My little one has bronchial asthma and it’s imperative that daycare staff know what to do,” she says.

“Suggestions and criticisms are also taken care of and I know I can call at any time and know what my children are doing. I would say that that also influenced my decision of keeping the kids here.”

Not just child’s play
That’s a lot of things to keep in mind when you’re choosing a daycare, but for your children, you really can’t be too careful. Especially if your child is really very young. In that case, you need to look out for the following things:
* The personality of the caregiver who will be handling your child every day.
* How well the caregivers are trained to deal with small babies and respond to needs such as knowing when they’re sleepy or need a feed, giving a hug, being patient during a crying session or dealing with tantrums, etc.

Says Elizabeth Thomas, administrator at Anubhav Learning Centre, Delhi, “We look after babies from the age of six months onwards and our staff is trained and highly responsive to their needs. If our staff have problems, we make sure they are taken care of, so they really put in their best at work. And we do not hire housemaids. All our nannies are trained to look after children.”

That said, daycare centres also have their own list of requirements from parents. Explains Thomas, “We are particular about the children we admit. So an open and frank conversation with parents helps let us know whether we can give good service and keep their children happy.”

The parent track
Though many daycare centres will not admit it, some do make the socio-economic profiling of parents a big factor. Says Aamna Singh, chief learning officer, Roots to Wings, Faridabad, which also has a daycare section, “Parents have a long list when looking for the perfect daycare but we also have our requirements. Similar backgrounds help children bond better and that’s why we make it a point to check that. For the children, what most parents usually want are basic things like warmth, trained staff, hygiene, security and a development-oriented environment. We ensure that.”

All that is very well, but having found what you consider a good daycare centre, how do you know if your child also considers it a good daycare centre?

The answer to that is very simple. If your child looks forward to going there every day even though it means that you – the person she or he loves most in the world – will not be around, you can rest assured that it’s a good daycare.

That’s how software trainer Vandita Krishna, 29, who works part-time, satisfied herself with her younger daughter’s
daycare centre. “I felt it was a warm and loving place, plus we were briefed about how the staff take care of the children, so that was all right for me,” says Krishna. “But my daughter’s been going there for a while now and she doesn’t have any complaints. Children resist going to a place where they are unhappy, but it’s clear that my child enjoys her daycare.”

Find that perfect daycare
*Check the yellow pages or the Net for daycares close to home or the office.
*Mark at least five centres to check out personally.
*Get talking with other parents at your child’s school or in your neighbourhood for feedback on the best place: ask what they like and don’t like.
*Fix appointments and take your child along to see the centres you’ve decided on.
*Make sure you check out the whole centre, meet the teachers, ask about activities and see all the rooms in which your child will be staying.
*Safety, security and warmth are what your child needs: Keep an eye out for that.
*Go with your gut feeling: the parental instinct is always right.
*Hygiene and the personality of the caretaker are important, so check that.
*Talk to other children and parents at the centre you have finalised and note what they say.
*Finally, leave it to your child: watch her / his behaviour for a few days’ and see how she / he feels about going there. If she / he’s happy, it’s the right place.