6 signs you need to break up with your day care

Feb. 19, 2019

You’ve done the painstaking work of finding a great day care and hope your child will love their caregivers and thrive in their new environment. In the majority of cases, that’s what will happen. But occasionally, parents may realize that the situation isn’t, in fact, working out and may find themselves making the tough call to pull their child out of a program.

When Lexi Rogers, a mom of one from Plano, Texas, enrolled her son in a highly coveted full-time day care program in her area, she thought the experience would be a homerun. She loved the child care providers and was impressed with the facility during her day care tour. But once her son got started, she found that the program just wasn’t suited for his needs.

“Two months in, he was still getting upset at drop-off and telling me he didn’t want to go and he didn’t like it,” Lexi says. “The day care itself was great, but it ended up being that my son was overwhelmed by the classroom and all the kids and constant activities. He needed a smaller, more flexible day care where he got more one-on-one attention.”

Day cares can be a bad match for all kinds of reasons, and it’s important to be aware of that.

“Even if a program is highly rated or you have friends who have children who go through the same program, you always have to find what works for your family, and sometimes it’s just not a fit,” says Katrina Macasaet, a child development expert and content specialist for Zero to Three.

If you’ve been wondering what a “breakup”-worthy day care issue looks like, here are some red flags that indicate it might not be working out.

1. Lack of communication

It is so important to have an open line of communication between the parent and the educator, says Macasaet.

“Parents should be getting a report about their child every day,” she says.

If a child is injured or there’s a behavioral incident and you don’t hear about it from the educator, that’s a major issue. Similarly, if you’re not being consulted about how best to care for your child or you’re not being told about important events, staff changes or any requirements for your child’s classroom, that’s something that needs to be addressed by the provider immediately.

2. Your child is consistently bored or unhappy

Not every program is a fit for every child. Sometimes, through no fault of the provider, a particular philosophy or curriculum just isn’t a match. I had to pull my 3-year-old son out of a Nebraska program that was too academically focused. He thrives in a play-based environment and felt stressed by things like sitting and working on writing his name, and we had to find a space where he could learn the way he wanted to.

Macasaet says it’s important to keep in mind that there will be adjustment periods and “fine-tuning” that has to take place when you’re starting any program. But if your child is still not loving it after they’ve had plenty of time to adjust, and you and the educators have exhausted every option to address the problem, it may be a sign that the program is just not the right one.

“As a parent, you really have to trust your intuition,” Macasaet says.

3. Discipline problems

If your child is being disciplined in a way that you are not OK with and your provider is unwilling to change tactics, that’s a sign that it’s time to go. Amber Olson, a mom of one from Dallas, says she ultimately decided to ditch her son’s day care program after he was harshly punished for minor behavioral problems.

“They kept calling us to come pick him up because he told them ‘no,’” she says. “Then, they didn’t give out his birthday cupcakes because he was in trouble for something small.”

Discipline and behavioral issues can be difficult to work through, but your child should always be treated with dignity and respect, and the provider should be willing to implement strategies that you’re comfortable with and that will be effective for your child.

4. Unwillingness to accommodate individual needs

“I think a major red flag is when a program is not willing to work with you and hear your needs or hear the reasons for why you need certain things,” says Macasaet. For example, if your child develops an allergy or dietary need that the day care program isn’t willing to accommodate, that’s ultimately not going to work. Similarly, if your child has a behavioral issue or learning difficulty and the provider is not willing to work with you to address the problem and help them be successful, that is not the right provider for you.

5. Lack of professionalism

If a provider frequently has issues keeping track of payments, paperwork or other important information, that’s a bad sign. Megan Rikas, a mom of two from Hanover, Pennsylvania, says her former home day care provider overcharged her and refused to make it right.

“Furthermore, she couldn’t give us copies of the paperwork we signed on the first day because her printer was out of ink, and she refused to produce copies after several written and verbal requests,” says Rikas.

Parents shouldn’t have to babysit their day care to make sure they’re being charged correctly or have the right paperwork. Ultimately, Rikas dropped the provider because of her inability to run her business like a business.

6. Safety issues

Rikas adds that a lack of professionalism isn’t the only thing that drove her away from her provider.

“Once, she took my daughter in her vehicle to pick up her child without first informing me, so [my daughter] wasn’t there when my husband went to pick her up,” Rikas says. “When she came back, the car seat straps were so loose the chest clip was hanging over my daughter’s belly.”

That may be an extreme example of a safety violation, but in general, any evidence — lack of baby-proofing, serving unsafe foods, failure to follow safe sleep guidelines — that a day care is being lax about safety is a sign that it’s time for either an immediate fix on their part or to part ways for good. Safety is just too important.

To file a complaint against a day care for matters regarding children’s health and safety, parents should contact their local child care licensing agency. If a child is in a situation where they are being abused or are in immediate danger, parents should notify the police.

Tips and stories from parents and caregivers who’ve been there.

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