Wednesday 22 October 2014

Is your child better off in a crèche or with a childminder?

Edel Kennedy

Published 09/08/2012 | 06:00

Helena McDonald with her children Olivia (4) and Aoibhín (2). Photo by Lorraine Teevan

Edel Kennedy asks the question plaguing every working parent's mindTo crèche or not to crèche; that is the question facing thousands of new parents every year. Mums and dads are assaulted with reams of research, comments from experts, and stories from friends and family when it comes to deciding which form of childcare is best for their little one.

Some argue that going to a crèche and interacting with other children is essential for social development -- but others believe a young child should be at home with their mother for as long as possible.

Even child psychologists say there is no one straightforward answer and ultimately the parent must decide what is best for them, their child and their situation.

"If a child is used to social situations -- say, if they're from a big family -- that will make it easier (to go into a crèche)," said child psychologist David Coleman.

"Most children end up adapting but some end up with greater residual stress than, say, a child who is used to socialising."

He said some children can have "constant stress" from attending a crèche and slightly elevated levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, but ultimately they "cope fine".

He said, in a situation like this, which is more likely to affect an introverted child, it is important to keep in close and regular contact with the crèche.

"So long as parents are tuned in to their child and they spend time with them when they get home, they'll be fine."

He added that many parents simply don't have a choice when it comes to putting their child into a crèche and that instead of worrying they should simply ensure that they send their child to a good crèche and that they receive reports on their child's progress.

But Allison Keating, a psychologist at bWell Clinic in Malahide, Co Dublin, disagrees.

"In my personal opinion, if the child can be minded one-on-one until they're three, that's best for the child," she said, adding that it could be a parent, grandparent or childminder who is the carer.

"They have one person tuned into them, and that is hugely important in order to create a secure child." She said children don't begin socialising until they are three and will play on their own until that age, even when they are in groups. Up until that age, she said their emotional development is paramount.

A mother-of-two, she has just returned to work and her six-month-old daughter Hayley is now being cared for at her home by a childminder. Her eldest daughter Alannah (3) is beginning Montessori in September and is "beyond excited".

However, one mother -- who asked not to be named -- says she felt a crèche was safer after a bad experience with a childminder.

"I was a stay-at-home mum until my eldest was three and then I had to go back to work," she said. "I chose a private childminder as I viewed it to be safer, so I advertised in the local paper and then gave the job to a local lady who I knew of.

"She wasn't a childminder but she had children of her own.

"The experience was awful. My little fella damaged his hand badly when he was left playing outside one day. She didn't seem to know what happened to him as he was out there by himself with a few other children, the oldest being about seven.

"Her eldest son let it slip to me that they had lost him down a field and that it took them nearly three hours to find him."

At the time she had a four-hour round commute to work in Dublin and every time her son was driven past a landmark in her town he would start to scream.

"My mother thought it was because he was spoilt but when he passed that point he knew where he was going -- and didn't want to go."

Now a mother-of-three, she said that after that experience she decided to go for a crèche, settling on the fourth she tried out.

"In the first crèche the staff were changing every week so the children got very confused. The second had good care but the food was awful -- chips, chips and more chips. And the third was filthy and over- crowded." She is now happy with the care her children get.

While everyone's experience and opinion is different, the one thing all psychologists and crèche owners agree on is the fact that all children will adapt to going to a crèche, even if it might take some a little longer.

Irene Gunning of Early Childhood Ireland says newborns can be put into three very broad groups: slow to warm up, difficult, and easy going. The "slow to warm up" tend to be quiet and somewhat clingy, and are slow to adapt to new situations. The difficult are fussy, eat and sleep irregularly and are often known as a "crybaby". And the third is the "dream baby" who eats and sleeps regularly.

Irene says "every crèche is as unique as the child itself" so the parent must find somewhere which suits their child.

However, Susan Mitchell (49), who runs The Willows in Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin, says children cannot be categorised in terms of personality -- particularly as they grow older -- and that is why it is so important to ease them into the new environment.

"You have to use different strategies for different children," she said.

"A child might be very quiet but also confident at the same time. So it's important not to put them into a category as their personality is developing."

It is essential, she says, that a detailed interview is done with the parents so that they know more about the personality of the child and how the parents deal with different situations.

"Maybe the child won't eat during the day, so we need to know from the parents what they do when the child refuses," said Susan.

When it comes to discipline the naughty corner and naughty step appear to have been abolished. The preferred method of dealing with a disruptive child is to go down to their level and talk to them and tell them that their behaviour is upsetting the others.

Reinforcement is the key so that they learn their actions won't be ignored.

Irene of Early Childhood Ireland said encouragement should then be given when they are behaving well.

Psychologist Margaret Bednarska of Cork Counselling said parents who are wondering what the best form of care for their child is should go to a parent-and-toddler group to get an indication of how their child would cope in social situations.

"You can clearly see there which children are clingy and which are running around," she said. She has "never met a child who cannot adapt" but believes shy children should be in a smaller crèche or a small group.

She also believes that learnt behaviour in a crèche can be a huge advantage.

"When I do assessments in school I can spot the kids who went to pre-school or crèche. They have routines and are more open; others don't interact as well sometimes."

Crèche owner Susan thinks crèches are no more or less popular than in the past -- but parents are now much more educated about what to look for. "At the end of the day it's very, very hard for mothers," says psychologist Allison Keating. "No matter what you decide to do, the guilt is horrific."

Irish Independent

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