Ten Things Your Baby Wants You to Tell the Sitter
Only when I took a job in a federally funded childcare center did I realize kids went to daycare for multiple reasons. Not only so parents could eek out an existence, but to further their education, for example.
Still, I was loathe to think anyone would leave an adorable, tear-stained child of six months in the care of a substitute with absolutely nothing invested in the child – except a paltry paycheck at the end of two weeks. The idea of a woman leaving a child to fulfill herself in a career that raked in six-figures was beyond my comprehension.
It was decades before I got real.
Not that I approve of reality. It’s just that I’m not that ostrich-woman any more. I’ve pulled my head out of the sand.
Still, I weep whenever I read about the latest case of a baby dying in the care of a babysitter or childcare provider. Recently there was another tragic case. The baby was reportedly making “baby sounds” in her crib when her father, who was supposed to be watching her while the mother worked, repeatedly smashed her head in with his fist.
How did this happen? Everyone wants to know. A young and immature parent, someone who doesn’t understand why he’s angry, why he’s even there at all, and resents taking care of his baby while the mom is at work. Punch! Punch! Punch! The baby’s dead. And the dad is going to prison.
Lots of ruined lives here, people. There’s no turning back the clock.
If you’re leaving an infant in the care of a grandparent, a father, boyfriend, neighbor, older sibling – someone other than you, the biological mother – please educate yourself and your caregiver, on your infant’s developmental needs.
Get a book from the library. Order one off Amazon.
Because in raising a baby, you need to be curious. You need to ask: What should I know that I don’t know right now?
And then make yourself find out.
Ask yourself, “What would my baby want me to tell the babysitter?”
Be sure to include your own preferences, because dammit, it’s your baby.
(I am not addressing daycare facilities here. But if you do have to leave the baby in a daycare center, make sure the center is fully licensed, and comes highly recommended.)
- First and foremost – in your opinion, and the opinion of others, is the person keeping your child mentally stable? Are they smart? Get references. Talk to neighbors and friends. It’s not worth the risk of leaving your baby with someone who has a history of aggressive or erratic behavior, unstable emotions, drug or alcohol addiction. Or who has the intelligence of a turnip. So don’t compromise.
- Comfort is important! Babies need to be comfortable in order to be happy. They can’t communicate what’s wrong. So – how does a sitter know if your baby’s onesie is scratchy at the neck, or if the elastic is too tight? She needs to be curious, asking, “What could be the problem here?” And find out!
Tell the caregiver to feel your baby’s hands and feet often throughout the day. Are they cold? Time to put on another layer, or add socks. Is the baby fussy because he’s sweltering under three layers of clothing? Is there something irritating his skin? Remember, a baby cannot speak for himself. It’s up to the adult to pay attention to his comfort-level. Remind your caregiver that your baby is 100% dependent – on her!
- Make sure the caregiver knows it’s alright to change your baby’s diaper frequently. Not just because she’s soaked through to the skin. Or because the box advertises that one diaper lasts seven hours! But because babies needs hands-on nurturing.
- Babies brains need stimulation. (Watch this video on The Neurology of Secure Attachment, featuring UCLA psychologist Allan Schore. You’ll learn what happens when babies are given the interaction they need – and what happens when they don’t get it.) This means your caregiver must be the kind of person who talks to babies! Sings to babies. Picks them up and holds them. And – this one is very important – the sitter should have no problem making eye-contact. This is what babies need. The caregiver must be attentive to your baby’s cues and respond accordingly. When the baby looks at them and coos, they should look back and interact. Will your caregiver pick her up and take her for a walk around the house? Is the environment stimulating? Are there paintings and photos on the wall? Pretty plants to look at (but not touch!)? Show the caregiver how to point things out to the baby. How about looking at clouds? Gently take the baby’s hand and point it in that direction. Tell them to talk about what they see. “Look at the doggy!” Or the rain, or the mailman. Etc.
This is called verbal stimulation. The benefits last a lifetime.
- Babies need to be picked up when they start to cry. Not five or ten or twenty minutes later. This is because babies do not yet have their own internal stress-response system. The parent or caregiver acts as an external stress-response system. The ability to cope with stress takes time to develop. So becoming upset with a crying baby only makes it worse.
Letting them cry doesn’t strengthen the lungs. Or teach them patience. Letting them cry elevates cortisol levels, which, if chronic, can damage developing brain architecture. Crying-it-out teaches babies that no one will meet their expressed needs. Can you guess what the result is?
- Babies who are bottle-fed need to be held during feedings. No propping a bottle! And they need eye-contact, gentle stroking, and a soothing voice. This closeness makes them feel calm and secure. It helps both the baby and caregiver produce relaxation hormones, and promotes bonding. Which in turn helps the baby thrive, by assimilating the nutrients in her formula and feeling emotionally secure.
- Your baby definitely would want you to tell the caregiver that babies cry for reasons other than hunger and physical discomfort. Babies may cry because they’ve been overstimulated. Maybe the TV is too loud. Or they’ve just come home from a shopping trip. Or maybe they’ve been passed around to too many people. If hunger or a dirty diaper isn’t the issue, allow the baby to cry while HOLDING. Tell the baby it’s alright to cry. I like the phrasing, “It’s OK! Tell me your story.” The caregiver’s empathetic tone tells the baby it is safe to express his emotions. This is how children and adults develop a functional voice – not one that is deflected and denied with offers of food or even threats (stop that crying!) – but acceptance.
- To prevent abusive head trauma (formerly called shaken baby syndrome) have everyone who spends time alone with your baby watch UC Health’s amazing video, The Crying Baby Plan. This video is shown to every mother who has a baby at Memorial Health System in Colorado Springs, CO. Tell them you insist.
- A baby needs to be removed from the car seat upon arriving at home, at the store, post office, or other destination. Bring their head to a “kissable” height – whether in arms or in a wearable baby-carrier. Don’t leave them in the same reclining position stop after stop. Why? It’s about the baby’s ability to breathe. Car seats are for safety in the car. Not for walking all over creation. Not even for the convenience of the caregiver. And never leave a sleeping baby in a car seat. Not even in the driveway. Not even for a minute. Take the baby out of the car seat and bring her into the house. Always.
Here’s why: Babies’ necks are still weak. They can fall forward when unsupported. As a result, this could block the airway, obstructing breathing. (I know, I know. Once the baby goes to sleep, the caregiver doesn’t want her to wake up. But it can be dangerous.)
- Does your caregiver follow your feeding instructions to the letter? Some caregivers like to surprise parents: “Today I gave Lilly her first French fry! She was reaching for mine, like she really wanted it.” Being a childcare provider is a job. It comes with rules and guidelines. Give your sitter a list of what your baby can and cannot have. They should note how much formula or frozen breastmilk the baby consumes, any food eaten, along with changes in the baby’s routine or appetite.
- And here’s a bonus – # 11. Does your childcare provider spend a lot of time Facebooking or talking on the phone? Distracted with video games? If so, your baby would probably want you to tell them to stop it. If the sitter is the baby’s grandmother, auntie, or other family member, and not charging you much – or nothing all, you need to have a talk.
Make time to sit down with your sitter and together, watch the linked video featuring psychologist Allan Schore. Talk to your sitter about how babies’ brains develop. If your caregiver is usually distracted, that means your baby isn’t getting enough attention. Don’t compromise your baby’s brain growth to make someone else feel comfortable. Speak up.
In closing, I think it’s easy for young parents to feel intimidated by caregivers. Maybe embarrassed. It’s easy to let the sitter call the shots without questioning their knowledge and ways of doing things. But it’s OK to do that.
Parents can ask, “Is that plant poisonous? I’m afraid Annie can reach it.”
Or, “Can you please turn down the volume on your music? I don’t think you’ll be able to hear the Annie when she wakes up.”
Speak your preferences: “Will you please wash and sanitize the plastic toys before tomorrow? I think little Bonzo over there has a runny nose.”
Standing up for yourself is part of becoming your child’s best advocate. It’s part of following your parent’s intuition.
Because every parent is ultimately responsible for his or her own child. Take that responsibility a step further, and inoculate your child’s care provider with information. Talk about your wishes, your requirements.
Even dog-kennels have web-cams that allow owners to check in on their pets. Find out how you can do the same thing.
Remember, it’s your baby. You’re in charge. FFG