Every daycare worker has a recurring set of complaints about parents in those 'water-cooler moments'. Of course we do. Don't YOU complain to your fellow workers and family about clients or workmates who get up your nose?
If you're reading this column, you've made a great start to being a fantastic parent, because you're willing to learn (I note that you have to pass a test to drive a car, but nobody issues licences for parenting, so good on you for showing some initiative- not all good parenting is instinctive!). You deserve to know what parenting behaviours really annoy your children's carers- let's face it, we won't tell you this to your face, because we try to be positive.
You can't be expected to get it right all the time if you haven't ever been told what drives us mad. So here are the seven deadly sins that get right up our noses.
1. Dump and run, or 'just can't let you go'
Do NOT open the car door, push your child out and send them inside unaccompanied. I don't care how late you're running. You ALWAYS have to escort them in, make sure the teacher knows they've arrived and sign in.
Similarly, do NOT run in at the end of the day, grab your child by the arm and keep running. I STILL don't care how late you're running. You ALWAYS have to let the teacher know your child is leaving, sign out and give the poor staff a chance to tell you if anything important has arisen during the day concerning your child.
Do I even need to explain why this is important? Our first duty as carers is to know where all the children are at all times. How can we protect your child if we don't know she's arrived? And spare a thought for carers who are desperately searching the building for a child who has gone home without going through the protocols.
At the other end of the scale we have parents who make separation that much harder for their child by clinging on themselves, sometimes staying for over half an hour and saying repeated goodbyes without leaving. SETTLE YOUR CHILD INTO AN ACTIVITY WITH A STAFF MEMBER, SAY GOODBYE ONCE, AND GO.
If you've done the right thing in the first place and spent some planned time settling your child into care (see my previous blog column), you are being completely counter-productive by hanging around- especially if you are monopolising the attention of staff, who need to be watching all the children, not just talking to you about yours. Make an appointment if you want an extended interview. If you actually enjoy seeing how upset your child gets when you try to leave, and you hang around and extend the experience just to make yourself feel really needed, you have a serious problem. LET GO.
Your child will be fine- most stop crying within 5 minutes of the parent leaving (some within 5 seconds!)- and if they DON'T settle, the staff will ring you. NOW GO.
2. Weather? What weather?
PLEASE look at the weather report before you dress your child for the day, and also ensure they have some alternatives in their bag for different weather conditions.
A child who's dressed in warm tights and a sweater on a midsummer day (just because it was a bit chilly this morning) needs to be able to change or shed layers later on, and I'd like a dollar for every time I've open the bag of an inappropriately dressed child and found nothing. I've had children sent to care in shorts and thongs in freezing weather, with not even a jacket in their bag; they were fine inside in the air conditioning, but HELLO, we also play outside every day.
That is NEGLECT. It makes your child unhappy and uncomfortable. Don't do it.
3. Archaeology of the schoolbag
CHECK YOUR CHILD'S BAG after each day. They may have used all their nappies- take the time to replace them, please. Childcare fees don't cover free nappies; maybe some parents expect us to steal some from another child?! No, they were probably just busy and didn't think. PLEASE THINK.
An older child may have wet or soiled all their undies or pants, and if you don't take them out to wash and replace them with clean ones there will be hell to pay at both ends of the equation. Do you really want the embarrassment of staff finding bags of stinking dirty clothes instead of a clean change next time your child has an accident? Do you want your child to be standing around naked while staff hunt for something for them to put on in the spare clothes drawer, then feel humiliated by having to wear something unsuitable because it's all we have?
Oh, and are the clothes in there appropriate for the season, or is the bag still full of t-shirts and shorts in mid-winter? I've taken clothes out of kids' bags which are actually mouldy and way too small, they've been there so long.
I won't even mention what happens to any food you've put in there this morning (or last week) which they haven't eaten. Yech. And then there's the note from the teacher, which she's probably assuming you'll find, and the art and craft which will be crushed to smithereens if you leave it there...
...what message does it give your child if you can't even make time to check their bag once a day?
4. The Santa-sack schoolbag
PLEASE don't let your child bring toys to care from home (whether in her bag, or hand, or pocket). A home toy that comes to care has one of the following fates awaiting it:
Quarrels over who can play with it, followed by confiscation by the teacher. Children are taught to share the toys at daycare, and the owner of a home toy usually has significant problems letting the whole class have equal access to something they own.
Breakage when little Johnny doesn't get a turn, grabs it and smashes it in a rage- or an older kid or teacher steps on it- or another child who doesn't understand its limits 'experiments' with it. Many a 'transformer' has died this way.
Permanent loss. The teacher is NOT going to have time to keep an eye out for Mia's special little miniature pony, or to search for it when she gets distracted and can't remember whether she had it in the sandpit or in the dress-up area. By the time it turns up, the teacher may well have forgotten who owns it.
Theft. Not all children understand ownership at this age, and someone else's toy that takes their fancy can end up in their own schoolbag. So many toys come to care from home that the teacher won't remember who owns what, either. It's not like anyone names toys... parents don't even seem to name their child's clothes any more. I've had war break out because 'Tim' and 'Bill' owned identical Spiderman jackets and Bill, who didn't even bring his jacket that day, thought Tim had stolen his. I had no idea which child the jacket belonged to.
Immediate confiscation because the toy doesn't fit in with centre guidelines for safety or suitability. Lip gloss, boxing gloves, toys that shoot or stab, scary masks, small items unsuitable for under-3's (even if your child is a preschooler) and the like will all disappear the moment a staff member spots them.
None of these fates will make your child feel good. In fact, they'll probably crack a brilliant tantrum.
The teacher may allow children to bring a special item for news (that's ONE item), but when it's not news time it stays in the child's bag. Children usually get a turn at news once a week. Talk to your child's teacher and ask what her news day is, so your little angel can't put one over you.
And absolutely DO NOT send junk food hidden in your child's bag. NO lollies, NO chips, NO 'health food' bars or Tiny Teddy biscuits. Other children with allergies or whose parents don't want them to eat these foods may access them, and your child may end up on a sugar high with all sorts of behavioural repercussions.
5. The little angel and the little sh*t
Guess what? Your child is fallible. There's nothing a childcare worker hates more than having to break bad news about behaviour to a parent who simply won't accept that their child is anything less than an angel. Children don't necessarily behave the same way at care as they do at home (in fact often you get the diametric opposite). Open your ears, defend your child by all means if you really think something's unfair or highly unlikely, but do consider the possibility that there may be a real problem. (And if you really think your child's being picked on by the staff after talking the matter through rationally and at length with the staff and director, vote with your feet, not your tongue- change care centres.)
At the other end of the scale there's the parent who has a scathing opinion of their own child and tries to pass that on- less common, but it happens. I've had a parent walk into the centre and ask me grumpily 'Where's that little sh*t of mine?' I've had parents suggest to me that I belt their kid when he mucks up, just like they do, because 'it's the only thing he understands'.
Sadly, these are also the parents who constantly test the patience of staff by turning up late to pick their child up. There's a little equation here that staff laugh about rather sadly: the more unsettled the child, the later the pick-up. (The chicken or the egg?) If you want the staff to appreciate your parenting qualities, don't wait till bang on closing time to pick up your child (let alone turn up 15 minutes AFTER closing, as some do).
It's probably pointless to even go on talking about the vices of the negative parent, because that sort of parent doesn't read this sort of advice- but let's just say that a great parent is one who falls between these two extremes, and loves and supports their child while accepting that he'll stuff up now and then.
6. You talkin' to ME?
Then there's the chronically inattentive parent, who never reads notes sent home or never returns them, whose parent pigeon hole is stuffed to the brim with old information that's never been removed, who never takes the time to talk to staff about their child, who expresses surprise (and maybe even anger) to find that their child needs a costume for the play they're in TOMORROW after ten notes have been sent home, and who invariably forgets anything the teacher asks them to do.
Communication is a two-way street. Please take care of your side. I still remember the sad eyes of one adorable little child whose mum hadn't bothered to read the piece of paper still sitting in her parent pocket about a professional photo day; everyone else was so excited to be brushed and combed and tidied and sat on the special photo seat while the big light went off, but she didn't get a turn.
'Oh dear,' said mum vaguely when I grabbed her and told her that evening that her child had been very upset to miss out. 'I would have paid for it if I'd known...'
7. Peel me a grape, lackey!
Perhaps most irritating of all is the parent who thinks that because they pay a huge amount of money for childcare, the staff are their servants and should cater for their every whim.
Out of those fees, which have to cover everything from insurance to rent to toys to food and much more besides, daycare staff are paid a pathetically inadequate amount of money to take a huge responsibility for your child's emotional and physical safety, early development and education. And they work at a ratio of between four and ten little children under 6 years per staff member. That's like having quadruplets, or quintuplets, or... think about it and have a little respect, please.
We are not washerwomen. We will rinse out your child's soiled clothes and bundle them in plastic so they don't smell so bad, but it's not our job to launder them. YOU are the mum or dad- you get to do that.
We are not dieticians. Many centres will feed your child, but if your child needs a special diet or will only eat vegemite sandwiches, YOU are the one who needs to send packed lunches or make time to research appropriate recipes and deliver them to the designated centre cook.
We are not your child's personal servant. We don't have time to make ourselves familiar with the appearance and location of every unnamed piece of your child's clothing, including shoes, to avoid you abusing us at the end of the day when you can't find something. LABEL your child's clothes and shoes, and leave enough time to find any missing items at the end of the day.
We are not your child's private tutor. We design educational programmes to suit the age group and the general make-up of the group, we observe your child as an individual and try to design activities to suit her, and we try to provide extension and support for children with special needs or special gifts- but we are not magicians, and there are up to nine other kids we need to take care of along with your child. If your child really needs a lot of extra support, apply for special needs funding or take your child to out-of-school support classes.
Most daycare workers love their job and will go out of their way to make the children in their care feel happy, comfortable and loved. But we do need parents to work with us and avoid the Seven Deadlies if we're going to stay calm and do the very best job we can. Now you know what they are, let's hope it helps you to do the best job you can.