Childcare: Biggest Mistakes

by Ann Douglas

Choosing someone to care for your child is a big responsibility one of the most important decisions you will make as a parent. That's why it's important to avoid making any of the following all-too-common mistakes:

Leaving your search until the last minute: Childcare spaces are in chronically short supply, so it pays to start your childcare search as soon as possible especially if you're looking for childcare for an infant.

While you may still luck out and find the childcare arrangement of your dreams despite the fact that you have left your search until the last minute, you increase your odds of finding something suitable if you start looking a little sooner. As a rule of thumb, you should have your search well underway by the end of your second trimester of pregnancy.

Of course, if you've got your heart set on finding a space for your child in a particular daycare center, you will want to get your name on the waiting list even earlier than that perhaps even as soon as your pregnancy test comes back positive.

Not understanding what makes for a good childcare arrangement: Most parents spend more time researching car purchases than they do in educating themselves about what makes for a good childcare arrangement.

Before you start evaluating various childcare arrangements, you'll want to arm yourself with the facts. Find out what caregiver-child ratios are appropriate for children of various ages; what training childcare workers are required to have in your particular state; what health and safety features you should be looking for when you're evaluating a childcare center or home daycare; and what makes for a fun and stimulating childcare program.

Neglecting to consider your family's long-term needs: Changing childcare arrangements is hard on both you and your child. That's why it's important to consider your family's long-term needs before settling on a particular arrangement.

Will the quiet home daycare environment that is ideal for your sleepy newborn be an equally suitable setting when she becomes a rambunctious toddler? Will your child's space in the company daycare center disappear if you decided to change jobs? Is the nanny you're thinking of hiring committed to your family for the long term or for just a year or two? These are the types of questions that you need to consider before settling on a particular childcare arrangement.

Not checking the caregiver's references carefully enough: It's tempting to rely on your gut instinct when you're evaluating a particular childcare arrangement, but you owe it to your child to check things out a little more thoroughly. That means checking the references of the nanny,home daycare provider, or daycare center staff person who will be caring for your child.

Because many people are reluctant to badmouth a particular childcare provider out of fear that they'll be sued for making slanderous remarks, you really have to read between the lines when you're conducting a reference check. Bottom line? If the person providing the reference is less than enthusiastic about the caregiver's ability to care for young children, start looking for another caregiver.

Failing to understanding your responsibilities as an employer in the event that you decide to hire a nanny: The moment you hire a nanny or other in-home caregiver, you automatically become her employer at least in the eyes of the IRS. That means that you are responsible for finding out whether she's legally entitled to work in the United States; paying her the minimum wage and complying with other state and federal labor laws; withholding social security and medicare taxes, the Federal Unemployment Tax (FUTA), and federal income tax from her pay checks; carrying Worker's Compensation Insurance (where applicable); and notifying the government that this person is working for you.

Just a quick word of warning: You shouldn't assume that you're off the hook if your caregiver happens to work for you on a part-time basis: even if she makes less than $1000 from you per calendar quarter, the government might still consider her to be your employee.

While there are plenty of other issues to consider when you're choosing childcare for your child, you'll be well on your way to making a good decision if you manage to avoid making these five mistakes. Good luck!

Ann Douglas is the author of numerous books about pregnancy and parenting including the bestselling "The Mother of All Pregnancy Books." She regularly contributes to a number of print and online publications, is frequently quoted in the media on a range of parenting-related topics, and has appeared as a guest on a number of television and radio shows. Ann and her husband Neil live in Peterborough, Ontario. with the youngest of their four children. Learn more at her site,

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