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Child care is necessary for many families, and there are quite a few options available these days! And while it’s nice to have choices, sometimes it can get a little overwhelming.
Child Care: Costs and Options
Here are some general guidelines regarding various child care costs and options.
For children under preschool age, this is the option many parents think of first. And then they think of the cost! Daycares can indeed be pricey; they range in price from $350 to $1,500 a month for a baby or toddler, but financial help from your local government or community is a real possibility.
You’ll likely need to produce proof of income and other financial documents to find out if you’re eligible, but it’s worth trying to see if you can get some financial help.
Besides cost, here are some other things to consider about daycare.
- There may be a waiting list to get in.
- Few daycare centers accept newborns.
- Babies and kids in daycare get sick often.
- The staff is professionally trained.
- The facility is held accountable by a higher agency – they must be licensed and regulated.
- Kids get to socialize before school age.
2. In-Home Babysitter
Many parents like the idea of a babysitter who comes to their home every day. This might be a cheaper option, but not necessarily. You can save some money by offering to pick up and drop off the sitter and provide meals. Younger people (such as teenagers) cost much less than an older, seasoned babysitter. You’ll pay more if you ask the sitter to do housework and drive their vehicle.
Here are some other things to think about when hiring a home babysitter.
- The kids get to stay in their own homes.
- The babysitter can be a trusted family friend or someone highly recommended by other families.
- In-home sitters are more flexible than a daycare with set hours (and you can come home at odd hours if you feel the need to check up unexpectedly).
- Leaving someone in your house all day may make you uncomfortable.
- Unless the sitter brings her kids, your kids won’t get to be with other children.
Nannies are generally the most expensive option. They are professionals, and they often live with the family. You can expect to pay anywhere from $500 to $700 a week for a qualified nanny; if she lives with you, it may be a lot less since you provide room and board.
Here are some pros and cons of nannies.
- Children get to know one caregiver.
- There’s more personalized attention.
- Children stay in familiar surroundings.
- Nannies can go with you on vacation, errands, etc.
- There may not be regulation or supervision by a higher agency.
- Taxes and paperwork for hiring a nanny can be extensive.
Family members will often watch your children without asking for any pay. You may feel more comfortable paying something, however, so you don’t feel obligated. Giving gift certificates or buying appreciation gifts is another way to “pay” for family member help.
Here are some other things to think about with family member care.
- Relatives get to spend time with their cousins/nieces/grandkids/nephews.
- Family members have a personal interest in your kids.
- It can be hard to establish a “working” relationship where the parents are respected as the rule-makers.
- There may be tension if your discipline or care philosophies differ.
- Active kids can wear out senior relatives.
5. One Parent at Home
Even if you think this isn’t an option, think again. Given the high costs of many other options, it may be a more affordable choice than you think. Sit down with a pad and pencil to determine the difference in income if one parent stays home versus one of the above child care options. You may be surprised at what you find!
You can also do a combination of the above. Perhaps a parent can stay home several days a week, while a babysitter comes on other days. Hopefully, this information will help you make the right decision for your family.
Child Care: What It Involves and What It Costs
When parents consider care for their children, just what that care entails and how much it costs are the questions usually uppermost in their minds. It’s not a bad idea to sit down and figure out what the costs will be and what you’ll be paying for.
There are exceptions, of course, and not everyone is the same. And significant variations are depending on your location.
Here are some general guidelines to help you better understand what child care involves.
The expenses of child care begin before birth, but we’ll start here. If you give birth in a hospital, sources say it can cost anywhere from $3,500 to $8,050, depending on the extent of the care needed. C-sections are more expensive than vaginal births. If you choose to have a home birth, a midwife is usually much less – around $3,000 to $5,000 for the entire package, including prenatal care.
For many parents, daycare is necessary. For full-time care, you can expect to pay anywhere from $125 to $200 per week. A nanny will likely cost more, but home-based child care (such as a babysitter) might be more affordable.
Before you get to daycare, there are diapers – lots of diapers! Cloth diapering is considered the least expensive choice, even when you factor in the water and energy costs of washing them. The initial investment for cloth diapers is around $200 for a set of ten; including three-times-a-week washing and energy costs, you can expect around $400 for the total package. After that, you only pay for the washing. Disposable diapers can easily cost $80 a month, depending on how many kids you have in diapers. They average $20 a package.
4. Food: Formula, Breastfeeding, Solids
It’s probably obvious that breastfeeding is less expensive than formula feeding. When you feed formula, buy cans of it repeatedly, and if your child has food allergies, it can get extremely pricey. Formula averages around $20 to $25 a can for the “typical” stuff.
Expect to pay more for jarred foods than homemade ones. A 5-ounce jar of baby food costs between $1 and $2, depending on the food. For example, say, a 5-ounce jar of pureed carrots costs $1.50. Yet you can buy a 1-pound bag of raw carrots for a similar price.
In the realm of clothing, the costs vary so much that it’s hard to make an estimation. Buying your baby and child everything they need from the retailer, brand new, will cost significantly more than using hand-me-downs, making your clothes, or getting used clothes at yard sales and second-hand shops. The differences are enormous. The average is around $35 a month for clothing per child, according to scholarly research. But you can “beat” this easily by some methods mentioned earlier yard sales, hand-sewing clothes, and so forth.
These are just a few of the costs of child care. Entertainment, extracurricular activities, hobbies, birthday parties…the list could go on and on! This is just intended as a basic guideline to help you get a handle on what you’re looking at cost-wise for child care.
How to Choose the Right Daycare for Your Family's Needs
Choosing a daycare can be a tough decision. Not all daycare centers are the same; for another, even a good daycare with a positive reputation may not be the right one for your family.
To help you make this important choice, here are some tips on how to choose the right daycare for your family’s needs.
1. Locate the Daycare Centers
If you are unsure what centers are in your area, try placing a call to your local child care experts. Look in the phone book or do an internet search to see what’s out there and locate child care agencies like the Child Care Resource and Referral (CCR&R) agency.
2. Ask about Requirements
When you’re on the phone with the CCR&R, ask them what the laws are in your area about licensing, violations, and, if applicable, financial help. There may be laws about the child-to-caregiver ratio and how and where to complain if you believe a daycare center violates a licensing requirement or has some other problem.
3. Make an Unannounced Visit
Your first visit should be unannounced. Come into the center and, without being disruptive, ask to observe the daycare. Note how you’re treated. Was the staff welcoming? Did they ask for and listen to your observations and opinions of their facility? Look at how the kids are acting, too. Are they getting plenty of attention? Are there enough adults present? It’s amazing what you can observe in just a few minutes.
If you like what you see and consider that daycare as a possibility for your child(ren), it’s a good idea to follow up your unannounced visit with a scheduled one so you can be shown around the whole facility.
4. An Educational Approach
Do you want the daycare your child attends to have an educational approach? If this matters to you, find out about the daily activities and see if they meet your criteria. See if the activities are educational but age-appropriate and taught in a manner that you think would work for your child.
For example, some daycare centers take a playful approach which might be just what your child needs. Others are more academic and regimented, which may be more like your cup of tea. So finding out details about the daycare center’s activities is important.
Make sure that the center’s hours fit your schedule. What plan if you get held up and can’t make it to the daycare center at closing time? Also, how flexible is the daycare about hours? You may have to pay for an entire day even if your child is only there for a few hours, depending on their policy.
6. Health and Nutrition
You’ll want to know what kind of food is being served at the daycare. Look for healthy, easy-to-eat foods that are age-appropriate. If you breastfeed, ask about their storage and preparation of breastmilk.
Hopefully, asking some of the right questions will help you make the right decision for your child’s daycare. Never be afraid to ask the daycare staff questions you may have.
In-Home versus Daycare Center: Pros and Cons
There are a variety of options available for parents looking for child care these days. Sometimes, it seems like there are too many options! One of the key decisions for parents is whether to go with in-home care or a daycare center.
As you make this very important decision, it’s important to weigh the pros and cons. Here are some things to think about as you consider in-home care versus a daycare center.
In-Home Care: Pros
1. Convenience and flexibility are advantages of in-home care. If the provider or nanny lives with you, she (or he) is always present, making for a great deal of flexibility on the part of the parents.
2. She might help with the housework and cooking, too.
3. Your children will get familiar with an in-home provider and maybe more comfortable with her because they don’t have to leave their familiar surroundings.
4. A trusted in-home provider may be able to take your children on “field trips” or outings.
In-Home Care: Cons
1. In-home care tends to be more expensive than daycare, and you can’t get financial aid like you can in a daycare facility.
2. A nanny is only human, so if she gets sick or has other available problems, you will need to have a backup plan in place.
3. There is more paperwork involved in hiring in-home care if it’s a nanny (such as reporting her on your taxes). But a more casual arrangement may not be paperwork-intensive.
4. Finding a qualified in-home provider can be challenging.
Daycare Center: Pros
1. Your child will be with other children in a social setting.
2. If you need financial help, it’s possible that you qualify for state or federal aid.
3. Generally speaking, daycare is more affordable than paying an individual for in-home care, even if you don’t use any financial aid.
4. The staff are trained and held accountable by a regulatory organization.
5. It may be much easier to discern credentials, qualifications, and references.
Daycare Center: Cons
1. Let’s face it – even the cleanest daycare centers are total germ factories. Having your children in a large group may mean that you’re dealing with a sick baby or child on a fairly regular basis.
2. There may be a waiting list at a reputable facility. (This is a good reason to start this search early.)
3. In a group setting, your child may not receive the individual attention you think they need.
4. You will need to transport your child to and from the daycare center, which may get difficult depending on your work hours.
Hopefully, this list has helped you as you consider the best child care options for your family.
How to Choose a Child Care Provider: A Checklist
Choosing the right child care provider is one of the most important decisions you’ll ever make. Children learn long before kindergarten, and the child care they have before can make a big difference in their academic performance.
For older kids, the right child care provider is just as important during these formative years. Here’s a helpful checklist to help you choose a child care provider.
1. Space for Your Child
Is there an opening for your child? This is an important first question, whether you are contacting an individual or child care facility. There’s no use wasting time on other queries if they are not taking any new children.
2. Adult to Child Ratio
What is the ratio of adults to children? If you’re going with a home-based caregiver, find out if they have children at home as well. If it’s a family of six kids, adding more children can push the ratio out of balance. The same is true for a commercial facility. A rough guideline is this: there should be 1 adult for every:
- 4 newborns
- 5 infants from 6 weeks to 18 months
- 8 preschoolers
- 10 children aged 5 to 9
- 20 children aged 10 to 12
Again, this is a rough guideline. Your local regulations may differ, and your requirements may be different also.
3. Find Out about Violations and Complaints
Contact your local child care information agency regarding a provider’s record of complaints and violations. If there are some complaints, it pays to do your research – there might be violations in the past that are no longer an issue, for example, or that have gotten worse instead.
4. Do an Internet Search for Reviews
When you have several names of providers, type them into your search engine with the word “reviews.” This can yield much information.
Small children need to eat frequently, and babies do too. Ask about the food policies of the child care provider. If you demand-feed your infant, will the provider do the same? If you take a more scheduled approach, will the child care provider respect that? For older kids, you’ll want to ask about the food that’s served and how often. Find out if there are provisions made for kids with food allergies.
Make sure the hours of the provider fit with yours. If there are scheduling problems or delays in pick-up times, ask about the provider’s policy if you’re late or early with pick-up or drop-off.
7. Credentials and References
Ask for references and credentials. The provider should be glad to give you the contact information of individuals who have used their services. Ask about licensing, accreditation, and how long the provider has been in business.
Above all, sit down and make a list of important things to you and your family in choosing a child care provider. You may have specifications that are not standard, and those are still important. So having a master list helps a lot in keeping you grounded during your research.
Is My Child Old Enough to Stay Home Alone?
As children grow up, parents wonder if their children can stay home by themselves. After all, child care can be a lot of trouble and expense. And during the summer months, parents may wish their child could be home alone for at least a little while.
Of course, all children are unique, and some kids are ready to be left alone at a much younger age than others. Your child’s maturity level, home environment, geographical location, and other factors all play into the issue. And there are certain laws on the books about this as well. So age can be determined somewhat, but there are other considerations than your child’s age.
So answering whether your child is old enough to stay home alone, it’s important to look at various factors.
1. Your Child’s Age: How Important Is It?
First, look into your local laws. You must follow those guidelines foremost.
And some obvious things in the age department can determine how independent your child is. For example, it’s never okay to leave a baby, toddler, preschooler, or kindergartener home alone, even for a few minutes. Once your child gets to grade-school age, though, it gets to be more of a gray area.
2. How Long?
How many hours your child will be home by themselves is another key thing. Children in grade school, the “latchkey kids,” as we came to call them – may be fine to be at home for an hour or two. But leaving a grade-school-age child at home alone all day is not advisable. A general guideline is, the younger the child, the shorter the time home alone.
3. How Safe Is Your Neighborhood?
If you live in a high-crime area with no trusted friends or relatives nearby, then leaving your child home alone at a young age may not be a good idea at all. A quieter neighborhood with a family down the street is another matter altogether. So your location has a lot to do with your decision.
4. Evaluate Your Child
Besides age, your child’s character traits have a lot to do with whether or not they are ready to be left alone. Here are some things to look for and ask:
- Does your child listen and take directions well? If so, they may be mature enough to be left alone a bit. He will need to know how to follow directions when you’re not there.
- Does your child panic or be anxious? High-anxiety children may not be suitable candidates for being home alone.
- Is he able to fix food for himself?
- How does your child feel about being home alone?
- Has your child exhibited responsible behavior in the past?
- Can he make independent decisions?
5. Evaluate Your Home
Your home will need to be safe for your child to be left alone. For example, if your home is heated by firewood and it’s cold out, you’ll need to make sure your child is old enough to handle that without endangering himself.
Your water heater will need to be turned down to a safe level, dangerous areas need to be locked off, and your home will need to be safe enough not to pose any danger of injury.
As long as you are within your local laws, the final decision is up to you and your child. If you’re uncertain, try leaving your child home alone for brief periods at first, and then work up to longer times.
How to Prepare Your Child (and Yourself!) for Daycare
Are you dreading the day you take your child to daycare for the first time? Are you more excited instead? For many parents, this is one of the biggest decisions they’ll make regarding their child. It helps everyone to be prepared, including you!
Here are seven tips on how to prepare your child and yourself for daycare.
1. Get Ready…
Preparing yourself is an important first step. If you’re confident and cheerful about your choice to send your child to daycare, it will encourage your child to be more confident, too. If you’re doubtful, it may make your child feel insecure.
2. Choose the Right Daycare
It’s not too hard to be confident in your decision if you’ve chosen the right daycare for your child. Do your research and look for checklists and guidelines on choosing the best daycare for your family. Once you’re sure you’ve got the best likely situation for your child, you can be honest when you say they will have a good time, the people are nice, and so forth.
3. Bring a Friend (for Your Child)
As you prepare your child for daycare, scheduling playdates with other children destined for the same daycare can help. Then your child will see a familiar friend when they go to daycare. You might carpool together, too.
4. Get Familiar with the Facilities
Bring your child with you when you tour the facilities and meet the staff. Visiting multiple times and interacting with the staff and teachers is not a bad idea. This can help familiarize your child with their caregivers and give you peace of mind as you meet the people caring for your child.
5. Adopt a Similar Schedule at Home
Find out the daycare’s schedule and see if you can adopt elements of it at home. What time is a snack or a meal served? What about naps and playtime? See if you can implement some of the same routines so the schedule change will be minimal when your child goes off to daycare.
6. Find Out What’s Expected and Encourage Your Child
Many daycares have requirements for the kids in their facility. Make sure you know what these are and encourage your child in these areas. For instance, are kids expected to eat with spoons, or can they use their fingers? Will, your child be required to wash his hands independently or be totally potty trained? These are important things to find out ahead of time so you can get your child on the right track.
7. Talk Positively about It
Take opportunities to talk positively about daycare as often as possible, preferably every day. As you adopt some schedules and routines of the daycare, you can say, “This is the way they do it in daycare” or “Let’s try this I got this idea from Miss so-and-so at daycare!” Mention how nice the staff members are when you can, or talk about how much you like the facility.
Should You Hire a Teenager to Care for Your Children? Pros and Cons
There was a time when babysitting was a common way for teens to earn money, and it was often a teen’s first job. These days, though, there are many more options, and parents know well that there is over one way to find child care if they want to have a date night.
Of course, it’s still acceptable to hire a teenager to care for your children. But like any child care choice, it has some pros and cons. Here are some of those pros and cons to consider as you decide whether you should hire a teenager to care for your children.
1. Children Like Teenagers
Children often respond well to teenagers. They’re fun, and children know teenagers are not quite adults yet.
2. Teenagers Cost Less
It’s pretty well known that an inexperienced teen is a lot more affordable than, say, a professional nanny or older adult with lots of experience and financial responsibilities. Most teens earn babysitting money as spending money or saving toward a particular purchase or goal. They do not have the financial obligations and responsibilities that adults do.
3. They Are Fun
Teenagers have more energy to spare than their average adult. This can come in very handy if you have multiple children or a high-energy child who loves to play.
4. Teenagers Come to Your Home
It can help ease any anxiety about your leaving if children are in their own home. It’s also convenient; you don’t have to pack up your kids and drive them somewhere.
1. Lack of Experience
This is probably the number one con to hiring a teenager to care for your children. Teenagers rarely have children of their own, and unless they grew up with baby brothers and sisters to care for, they would not have a very broad frame of reference for handling problems and issues with their kids.
2. They’re a “Kid” Themselves
While this can come in handy in the energy department, teenagers are brain-wise, but still, kids themselves can’t be overlooked.
3. Young Teens Can’t Drive
This is a concern with emergencies. Some parents are uncomfortable with a caretaker who can’t drive or who doesn’t have a car of their own.
4. Teenagers are Busier and More Distracted Than Ever
These days, teenagers have many distractions (cell phones, video games), activities (sports, drama, music, etc.), and schoolwork. College preparation and competition are more intense than ever, and teenagers don’t have as much spare time as they used to.
As you can see, there are pros and cons of hiring a teenager to care for your children. Hopefully, you’ll be able to arrive at a decision you’re comfortable with that works for your family.
Communication with Your Child Care Provider: What to Discuss Ahead of Time
It’s really important to have an open line of communication with your child care provider. This starts with a thorough discussion of important topics that need to be on the table upfront.
Here are some ways to open up communication with your child care provider and what to discuss ahead of time.
If you’ve lived with your child’s allergies for a long time, you may get so used to living with them you’ll forget to mention them. But allergies can be scary or even life-threatening, depending on what your child is allergic to. So make sure you make a list of things your child is allergic to and post it in a prominent place after you’ve gone over it with your child care provider.
Also, if your child has any medications regular or for emergencies make sure your child care provider knows where they are and how and when to administer them.
This is a biggie. Many articles could be (and have been) written on this issue alone! But it’s a key issue to discuss with any child care provider, especially if they will be with your kids all day. Children quickly learn who’s lenient and strict, and who will discipline like their parents and who won’t.
First, you have to be clear about what your disciplinary approach will be. Then, write this out in clear and concise language so that your caregiver understands exactly what tools they can use in their disciplinary toolbox. It’s important for everyone to know the rules clearly, and what will happen if the rules aren’t followed.
3. Drop Off, Pick Up, Hours, and So Forth
Whether you are having an in-home caregiver or taking your child to a daycare facility, make sure you’re clear about what time to pick up and drop off your kids or what time you expect your caregiver to arrive or be ready to be picked up. Be sure you know what time the facility closes, too, and their policies regarding snow days, holidays, etc.
In-home caregivers should also be upfront about days they want off, holidays, what provision to make in case of illness or car trouble, and so forth. Everyone involved needs to know these things ahead of time to plan their days and weeks so no child is left in a dangerous or tenuous situation.
4. What’s the Backup Plan?
Have a backup plan and show it to your caregiver, or come up with one together. Back-up plans are essential for emergencies (such as a natural disaster or terrible weather), illness, or transportation snafus.
While these tips can help as a guideline for what to discuss ahead of time, it’s important to keep those lines of communication open all the time. It’s not a bad idea to schedule regular talks with your provider to make sure everyone is still on the same page.
Preparing Your Child to Stay Home Alone: Top Tips
Once you’ve checked with your local laws to ensure you’re not in any violation, you can decide whether your child is ready for this big step. It’s not always a simple decision.
If you’ve decided that it works for your family to let your child stay at home alone, it is important to prepare everyone in the family but especially your child. Here are some top tips for preparing your child to stay home alone.
1. Start Small and Short
Begin with brief times at home alone. Run across the street, chat with a neighbor, or take a short walk, but don’t go far.
These first times alone can be as short as 10 minutes or as long as 30; it depends on your ultimate time goal and your child’s temperament.
Then you can work up to longer times and go far away, such as running an errand across town or something similar.
2. Emergency Contacts
Sit down with your child and go over a list of emergency contacts. Post this list next to the telephone or on the refrigerator. This list should include the following numbers:
- Your cell phone number
- Other family member’s cell phone number
- 911 (young kids may need to see this written to help keep them calm)
- Poison control
- Nearest relatives’ phone numbers
- Your full name, address, phone number, and car license plate number (your child may need to give this information in an emergency)
Pictures can help with quick identification of numbers (a fire truck by 911, for example, or your picture by your cell number).
An idea for keeping kids out of trouble is to have a list of chores and responsibilities your child has to complete and then a list of privileges. If your child does the chores first, he can do the privileges.
Clarify that if you come home and he’s engaged in a privilege (like video games), and his chores aren’t done, then he’ll lose that (or some other) privilege.
For younger kids, why not practice a bit? Have your child call your cell phone while you go outside, for example, and then ask him to pick it up when you call.
If possible, you can arrange with your local emergency officials for a tour of their facilities (like the fire department and local ambulance service) and discuss how the 911 system works and what kids can expect if they call 911.
It wouldn’t hurt to let these emergency workers know your name and address and the approximate times your child will be home alone.
Preparing your kids can help ease the transition into staying home alone, and everyone will probably be calmer and safer in the end.
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