6 qualities to help any day care teacher shine

Feb. 19, 2019

I remember clearly the first time I dropped off my first child at day care. I was so scared to leave him and worried he wouldn’t get the TLC he got at home. As a new mom, a million “what-if”s ran through my mind. What if they don’t like him and treat him badly or ignore him? What if he doesn’t take the bottle? What if he misses me all day long?

But I was relieved to find that the woman in charge of the baby room cared for him lovingly. She was patient with him when he refused to take a bottle and even held him extra closely to make it feel more like breastfeeding. My son developed a bond with his caregiver; by the time a few months rolled by, it was clear by their interactions that they had a deep connection with each other. Knowing this made every day less stressful for me.

As a day care provider and early childhood educator, you know you’re there to provide a nurturing environment for a child while their parent is away, to provide structure and stability in kids’ days and to teach them how the world works, no matter how young. You can also ease many a parent’s mind by exhibiting the following qualities and behaviors. They’ll make you an asset to the workplace, too.

1. Have clear communication

When parents are regularly informed about what’s going on with their child during the day, they will have so much more peace of mind.

“In a day care situation, I knew if I had questions I would want answers ASAP,” says Amy E., a mom in Middletown, Connecticut. “I went with my daughter's current day care provider in part because they responded to my initial email and subsequent emails rapidly and thoroughly while another did not. Since winning my business, the rapid response has not stopped, and it gives me a lot of reassurance. It also makes them seem super professional and ‘on it.’ Communication is everything.”

Even if you’re not in charge of responding to business inquiries, you should make sure you’re responding to parents’ calls and questions. You can also try to answer them before they even ask by keeping the lines of communication open. This could be with written notes or daily, quick chats: Did they nap? Were they a little cranky? Was today a success all around?

2. Exhibit a positive attitude

There are sure to be times when kids don’t exactly act like model citizens, but parents will really appreciate when you focus on the positive.

“I loved how [my 2-year-old] kids’ day care teacher saw the positive traits of each child and communicated with them in just the right way for them,” says Rachel F., a mom in Philadelphia. “I felt she was able to give them self-confidence and self-awareness in a way that we were not always able to. This gave my kids a lot of strength later on in school where sometimes the focus was on their weaknesses and the positive feedback was not always there. That foundation they got when they were younger helped them get through hard times, and I'm sure will be helpful later on in life.”

3. Be calm

“I have a toddler and am currently in the process of touring preschools and day cares,” says Lisa A., a mom in Los Angeles. “I love it when a child care provider provides a calm environment. It’s easy, with young children, for the environment to feel chaotic, disorganized and overwhelming. When I walking into a facility and the providers are relaxed, yet in control of the environment I feel like my child is in good hands.”

Calm is what many parents crave — so we’re so reassured when we know our kids are in a relatively Zen space. You’re going to make our already hectic, rushed days so much less crazy when you help us with transitions, which we all know can be tough for small kids.

“The best quality is someone who can handle the morning madness,” says Leah L., a mom in Worcester, Massachusetts. “Mornings are rough. Kids are apprehensive about school, parents are eager to get to work, and combining those feelings makes for one monstrous day care/preschool drop-off! It's therefore so important for the provider to welcome your child in. I like when they greet them by name… lead them in, show them what's going on for the day and get them excited about what's to come. When a provider does this, it eases the child's anxiety, and makes it easier for mom or dad to head on out!”

If you’re mellow and enthusiastic, it’s going to cut down on separation anxiety-fueled tantrums during drop-off. And really, we want your calm to rub off on us and our kids.

4. Respect kids’ individuality

We love it when you find ways to celebrate our kids’ individuality!

“It really stood out to me when our current caregiver got each of the kids something they liked for Christmas,” says Jacob M., a dad in Franklin, Indiana. “Obviously I'm not saying you have to buy my kids things for Christmas, but it showed me that she pays attention to them and their interests and wants to foster it. I like anything like that where it shows a more personal connection with the kids and what they like. [A day care is] not just a room for them to exist in while we're at work.”

When you make a connection like that with our kids, you’re not only fostering their interests, you’re also showing them that you respect them as individuals. It really doesn’t have to be gifts. Maybe you show a dinosaur lover to the classroom box of dinosaur toys, or you provide them with a printable prehistoric coloring sheet or read a book on T. rex in their honor. Having a show-and-share day, where you encourage them to bring in a favorite item, can help, too.

5. Embrace flexibility

Parents may feel reassurance if you’re highly experienced but they also want to know that you’re going to make the right judgement call based on the situation.

“Experience has its small drawbacks,” says Alina A., a mom in New York City. “Whenever parents would suggest a new way to do things or a potential adjustment, [my day care teachers would say,] ‘This is the way we do things because this is the way we have always done things.’”

Of course, rules are good, and methods and procedures that work should continue to work, but we also really appreciate it when you have some flexibility and change up things that aren’t working to create better systems that really benefit the kids.

6. Handle problems with compassion

“I really like my child’s day care teacher’s ability to give me honest and genuinely helpful feedback about his behavior,” says Jennifer L., a mom in Houston. “For example, she informed me that my child had some overly aggressive tendencies. This information was difficult to hear at first, but I definitely appreciate it as it allowed me to nip it in the bud and take the necessary steps to address and change this behavior.”

At first, a parent might not be happy to hear that their kid has a problem at day care. But if you catch a negative behavior early and give us advice or resources on how to handle it, you’re going to help us on the long run. For that, we will thank you wholeheartedly.

7. Discipline kids without anger

“I didn’t always like the way one of the day care teachers spoke to my child and the children in general,” Jennifer L. says. “I understand they have got to be firm at times, but sometimes I felt it was overly hostile, especially for little ones.”

I’ve been there, too, and let me say that yelling or speaking harshly to my kid or their day care buddies doesn’t sit well with a parent. The best day care providers turn kids’ misbehaviors or mistakes into teachable moments, and/or redirect them to a positive behavior. Anyone having trouble knowing what to do in a discipline situation may benefit some extra child care training or continuing education in child development.

8. Be proactive

I also really loved that my second child's day care teacher was observant and proactive. When he was 2 or so, she noticed his diaper was dry during the day, so she suggested starting him on potty training before we'd even considered it. I think that's why he was so successful so quickly, because he was truly ready, and she noticed and seized the moment! And what better day care teacher than one who practically does the potty training for you? I will always remember that day care teacher and how she made our lives so much easier.

Read next: Must-dos for a successful first day at a day care job

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

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