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Choosing the right childcare for your family


Children attending a creche

Children attending a creche

Getty Images

Children attending a creche

Choosing who will mind your child is often one of the first and biggest decisions that parents have to make on behalf of their new baby. If we are lucky, that choice can include one or other parent staying at home to look after our own child or children.

But, minding our own children is often a luxury; a luxury some parents can't afford. So, realistically, some parents have to consider other options for childcare. Delaying this, by taking as much leave as you can, gives your baby more time with you.

The most common options for alternative childcare are to have your child minded by his or her grandparents (or other family relative); by a childminder in your own home; by a childminder in their home or to have your child minded in a crèche.

Each of those choices will come with some advantages and some disadvantages.

Having grandparents with the energy and time to look after your child can often be the best and easiest option. Your child will know them and so it might be an easy transition for him or her to be minded by them.

Because you know your own parents, then you will know clearly what kind of care your baby will receive. For better or worse, at least it will be predictable.

Grandparents can be more sensitive to your wishes about how children should be reared. So, for example, if you have a particular way of doing things then your parents are more likely to implement that in your absence then might be possible in somewhere like a crèche.

Another benefit of having grandparents minding your child is that if they get sick they are probably more likely to cope with that and not have to call you out of work to come and take your baby.

On the flip side, if your child is a very busy toddler and your parents are older, then you may find that they don't have quite the same energy to keep up with him or her as you might have.

Another real difficulty, for the grandparent, is that if they become a main carer for your child, they have to revert into a parent role, setting and enforcing rules and limits. This may not suit a grandparent used to a bit of spoiling and pampering of a grandchild.

Having a childminder come to your home to look after your little baby is another good option. Your child then has the familiarity of the home environment and they don't ever have to get used to, or adjust to, new surroundings.

Also, in the morning, you don't even have to disrupt them to bring them wherever they are going to be minded. Logistically, this makes it all much more simple.

A possible difficulty can arise if the childminder has different rules to you. When there are two sets of rules, which are used in the one place, it can be a bit more confusing for a child.

Often it is easier for children to adapt to different parenting/ caring styles when there is one set of rules in one place and another set of rules in another place. If it all happens in your home they may struggle a bit more.

Another consideration is that, depending on the childminder, it's possible that your child won't get exposed to as many different social situations as they might if they are going out to somebody else's home or to a crèche.

There are advantages to having your child minded by a childminder in their home. Although it isn't your home, your child will still be in family surroundings and will probably have a very sociable environment particularly if the childminder has their own children.

When your child is a baby, then having her minded by a minder can also be really helpful because she will probably get one-to-one attention that she may not get somewhere like a crèche.

Often, the arrangements can be quite flexible so that if you run late it's not a huge imposition for your child to stay on that bit longer

One of the disadvantages to having your child minded in a minder's home is that the pick up can be very disruptive for your child. For example, if they have been in a warm cosy family environment for the day and you come to pick them up in the cold dark of a winter's evening they could be very reluctant to leave.

Having your child minded in a crèche means that you have the comfort of a well-regulated sector of childcare. The carers working in that environment will have a professional knowledge of children's development and good crèches will conform to the strict guidelines set down for the care of children.

Most crèches are also very well stocked with age-appropriate activities and play materials. It's quite likely that a crèche will have a very routined day for your child which is also comforting and will allow them to become confident and settled.

On a more negative note, crèches, by their nature, care for a large number of children. As a result, it's possible that your child won't get the same level of one-to-one attention, or tailored, child-specific responses, that they might get in other childcare arrangements.

Some children may find that the highly social environment of a crèche, where there are lots of other children around, competing for attention, space and materials is a little too challenging.

Also, because a crèche has to cater for a range of children with a range of needs they may not be able to employ the same kinds of management techniques that you use at home.

Whatever choice you make, about childcare, it is vital that you monitor how it is going. Talk to your minder regularly and notice your child's mood and behaviour when they return to you.

In most situations children are happy and well cared for. In some, however, you may need to consider a change if the particular care just doesn't suit your child.

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