Even the most capable and committed of parents cannot possibly be with their child every minute of every day. Part of being a good parent is ensuring that your child is well-cared for, particularly in the early years from birth to four years old. It may be you, it may be someone else. The type of care is important, but it is secondary to the quality of care.
Quality childcare is care that meets your child’s needs. You are able to provide this only when you understand what your child needs at this stage in his life. Apart from his physical needs – nutritious meals, warmth, adequate sleep – you need to consider other aspects as well:
Research shows that the later half of the first year is when the foundation for emotional development is laid down. During this time, a child needs to develop a sense of stability and security. This comes from having a consistent, nurturing and responsive care provider.
Brain development is most rapid from birth to five years old. Your child needs intellectual stimulation. This does not mean formalised teaching but simply an environment that allows him to play, discover, explore in a safe manner and learn at his own pace.
Deciding who will care for your child can be tough. Do not rush into it. Instead, take time to discuss and agree first with your spouse:
- How much income does your family need and how will you achieve this?
- What are your roles? Will one work full-time while the other care for child? If both continue to work, who will care for child?
- How can you make this arrangement work?
The best decision is what works for your child and your family. Once you have agreed, find a way tha you, your spouse – and childminder, if you decide on one – can work together to ensure quality care that will meet your child’s needs in his formative years.
“My Baby, Myself”
If you decide to care for your child yourself, congratulations! It is important that you are there for your child – not just physically but mentally and emotionally – particularly in the early years when he is dealing with the basic issues of security and trust. Here is how you can give your very best to your child:
A stay-at-home mom who positively affects her child is one who has the support of her spouse. Help him understand what you are experiencing and involve him in raising your child together.
Find your network
If you do not have relatives, find a network of like-minded moms. Not only can you exchange babysitting hours, a network gives you a social outlet and much-needed encouragement.
As there is no formal “training” to be a mother, take the initiative to read up on child development and parenting. Your child will benefit from a knowledgeable and well-informed mother.
Not every moment you spend with baby will be perfect. There will be boring hours, there will be pangs of loneliness. Along with the joys, be prepared for the frustrations.
As with every job, you need time-off. Once or twice a week, go for a jog, take a long relaxing bath or meet a friend for coffee. This will do wonders for your attitude and coping ability.
Spend quality time together
You may be with your child 24/7, but quality time is not about you doing housework while your child entertains himself in front of the television. Mealtimes or homework sessions do not count either. Do something meaningful together every day: read a book, sing some songs or play a game.
“What if I can’t stay home?”
When staying home to care for your child is not possible, do not feel guilty. Instead, put your energy into finding the best possible care provider for your child – this may be your own parents or parents-in-law, a babysitter, a maid or childcare centre. But before you make your choice, there are several things you and your spouse need to understand and accept:
Do not take advantage of your childminder’s flexibility. Be considerate and understand that they need time-off too. Care for them so that they can care for your child.
Accept their limitations
Because childminders – particularly grandparents, babysitters or maids are rarely trained in child development, intellectual stimulation will be minimal. Compensate for this during the time you have with your child.
Give and take
While basic values and approaches must be followed, your childminder does not have to do things exactly the same way you do. As long as your child’s safety is not jeopardised or your authority undermined, try to compromise. Different caring styles will not harm your child.
Bagging a good babysitter
Home-based babysitters usually come by word-of-mouth recommendations. That may give you some form of assurance, but do not take anything for granted. There is more to childcare than good food, a clean house and babysitting experience.
- Find out about the babysitter personally: what are her beliefs, values, approach to childcare.
- Visit the babysitter’s home. Is it clean? Are there any potential safety problems?
- How many children is she caring for, including her own?
- Observe the children in her care: how do they behave?
- Who else lives with her? Does she have regular visitors to the house?
- What if she has to leave the house for an emergency? Who is her backup?
- Is she running other businesses from home apart from babysitting?
Most babysitters are unlicensed, so it is up to you to monitor the quality of care your child is receiving. Give a call or pay a surprise visit once in a while.
Bringing home the maid
Even with video conferencing services today, finding a good maid can still be a challenge. Use a reputable agency and be specific on the type of maid you want to care for your child. While you will be hard pressed to find a maid who understands child development and can stimulate your child intellectually, a good maid can provide emotional stability. Key things to find out are:
- Does she love children?
- Does she have childcare experience?
- Is she psychologically sound?
- What is her culture, values and beliefs?
- Is she able to stay long?
Close supervision is important, particularly when your maid is new and still adapting to your home and how you want your child to be cared for.
Make it clear to your maid that she is your child’s caregiver, not his servant. There are things your child must do himself – for instance, pick up his toys or wash his own cup after drinking. Only by doing things himself will he learn to be independent and experience the satisfaction of accomplishment.
Many Malaysian parents worry that their children will pick up poor language or wrong behaviours from their maids. The consequences depend on how much time you spend with your child: do you take over when you come home or is your maid practically raising your child for you?
Your child’s affections
“Agood maid loves and cares for your child, and your child will naturally return this affection. This won’t affect his love for you – as the parent, you’re still the most important person in his life. Don’t be threatened. Continue to love him and make every moment you spend together count.”
Checking out the childcare centres
If grandparents, a babysitter or maid is not for you, you might want to consider sending your child to a childcare centre.With so many choices out there, you need to do some research and talk to other parents to narrow down your options. Armed with a list of possibilities, the ‘investigation’ begins:
The most important thing is to check if the centre has been registered with the Social Welfare Department. Ask also if the staff have undergone any basic childcare course.
Go see for yourself
Is the centre clean, cheerful, spacious and airy? Look for safety measures: Are there sharp corners? Are the toys free of small parts? Are the sink and toilet child-sized?
Watch how the staff and children interact with one another. Do the children seem happy and productively occupied? Are the staff responsive to the children’s needs?
Schedule of activities
A schedule should have age-appropriate activities and enough time for play and rest. Too many academic activities may mean minimum attention to emotional development.
Continuation of care
Children thrive when the care they receive at home is similar to the centre’s. Ask about the centre’s values and views on discipline.
Parenting cannot be delegated to the childminder. You must play your part to make it work and for this, there will be sacrifices.Whether it is making more time with your child or visiting his centre more often, do what it takes to ensure that he receives the best care – from his childminder and from you.
No matter what the arrangement – whether it is your mother-in-law, the babysitter, maid or childcare centre – safe childcare is an absolute must. Watch out for these signs that signal possible neglect or abuse:
- Weight loss
- Unexplained marks or bruises
- Lack of progress in language
- Subdued and withdrawn
- Crying and refusing to go to childcare
If you suspect abuse, call the 24-hour line TELEDERA at 1-800-88-3040 immediately.