Whether you're a beginner at finding childcare or a seasoned pro at the process, these tips will help you find the ideal situation for you and your child.
1. Narrow your childcare options
Break down a seemingly overwhelming task by researching the various options available - such as a day care center, nanny, au pair, or even family members -- and choosing one or two that you think fits your family's needs best. From there, you can focus your search on finding the best provider available who meets your family's needs.
2. Keep work hours and location in mind
Trying to choose between a childcare provider closer to work or closer to home? Each has its advantages and disadvantages so walk through your typical daily routine - and decide whether taking your children along for an hour commute will be quality time you'd like to spend with them. Or, if neither you nor your husband has regular work hours, an in-home option might offer the additional flexibility you need.
3. Watch your penniesCost shouldn't be the determining factor when finding quality care for your child, but research all the extras carefully. The late pick-up fees, food costs, supply fees, paid holidays and other extras tacked onto your bill can really add up over time - and potentially make another childcare option more attractive and affordable.
4. Ask prepared questions
Don't go into an interview or facility visit unprepared. Think through your concerns, wants and desires and develop a list of questions that will help you get the answers you need to make a well-researched, informed decision.
5. Mesh child-rearing stylesAre you a parent who plans to adhere tightly to a schedule or are you more than willing to skip nap times for activities? Be sure you choose a caregiver whose parenting style aligns with yours so that your child receives consistent rules and expectations from you and your provider.
6. Research your provider
Talk to other parents, many of whom can weigh in with good or bad recommendations about local providers and childcare options. Check local and state licensing regulations to be sure your provider fulfills all the necessary requirements. Or, ask local and state agencies if they've had any complaints about a favored provider.
7. Verify communication methodsMaintaining a good relationship with your childcare provider is only as good as your ability to communicate. Also, decide how much input you want. Perhaps, you would only like to hear news about your child during pickup and drop-off times at a facility or maybe you'd prefer your live-in nanny to call you after every activity. Make sure there are open lines of communication, with regular opportunities to give and receive feedback on how your child is adjusting and enjoying his childcare.
8. Be willing to changeWhat seems and feels like the perfect childcare option during your research may not turn out to be an ideal fit once reality hits. Keep your second and third choices in mind just in case your chosen option doesn't work out. And, don't remove your name from any wait lists until you're absolutely certain all is well.
9. Listen to your childIf your child seems unhappy with the provider you've chosen, listen to her. And, be sure to listen to your parenting instincts. If you are getting bad vibes during a site visit or interview, trust your gut and go with a different option.
10. Create a back-up plan
What will you do when your child gets sick and can't go to the childcare facility for the day? What happens if your in-home provider is sick and must take a day off? Be sure to arrange a back-up plan, perhaps with help from family members or a close friend, to handle unexpected situations.