5 red flags for parents when selecting a daycare or hiring a nanny

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(Photo: Getty Images/Petri Oeschger)

Few things are more anxiety-producing than leaving your baby with someone for the first time. While there are many reputable and recommended services, and experienced caregivers throughout the country, there are also dangerous scammers who don’t take this indispensable role seriously. Seeing the signals of possible neglect or malpractice isn’t always easy or transparent, and child psychologists recommend parents follow their gut reactions above all else.

Here, they share the red flags no parent should ignore when selecting a daycare or hiring a nanny.

It isn’t clean

You might be rolling your eyes at this sign, since, hey your home definitely isn’t squeaky-clean with an infant or a toddler under your roof. But a well-run daycare will make every effort to ensure their space is hazard-free for little hands, feet and curious mouths. As psychologist and author Dr. Kimberly Ortiz-Hartman, Psy.D., LMFT explains, keeping a spic-and-span daycare isn’t only about washing away germs, but ensuring the safety of the children who rest and play there. “Safety red flags may include missing outlet plugs, gates around pools, child locks, safety gates, inadequate food storage, and outdated licenses or codeless entrances,” she explains.

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Cleanliness is also a huge issue at childcare locations because kids are always sick and are happy to share their germs with each other, she adds. This means the kind of childcare provider you want to choose for your children will work tirelessly to tidy up, disinfect and protect. “When checking the safety of a location think like a baby. What this means is get down on your child’s level to look for possible dangers,” she says. “And while you’re down there, make sure it looks clean.”

There are no background checks or drug testing

While this is pretty standard in most childcare facilities, clinical psychologist Jessica Nicolosi, Psy.D. says some independent contractors might not offer this as a service. This is a big no-no, since it gives you no indication of a nanny or a provider’s past or current practices. And an applicant who isn’t willing to be tested or background checked? They’re likely not as committed to the job as you need them to be to care for your children. “If you are searching for a nanny, there are inexpensive websites where you can pay to access public records in order to look into someone’s legal history,” she urges. “In addition to drug testing up front, some parents may request ongoing, even random drug tests and that is something that you should negotiate with your provider or nanny up front.”

They seem distracted, impatient or irritable

You’ve witnessed your child’s complete, total, insane, manic meltdown more than once. And you’ve seen them when they can’t be calmed or refuse to take a nap. Making it through these tantrums are hard enough for you — so it might be difficult to imagine a stranger having patience with your baby. That’s why getting a sense of a nanny or a caregiver’s personality is important during the interview process. As psychiatrist Gayani DeSilva, MD explains, if they appear distracted, impatient or irritable, they’re likely not a winner for the job.

“They will give your child the experience of being neglected, which will trigger a defensive response of either withdrawal or agitation. Either way, the child will develop a conflict between feeling worthy of getting their needs met or not feeling worthy of getting needs met,” she warns. “A nanny or caregiver who cannot take their feelings in stride, will not have the patience to care for children. If a caretaker is irritable, even if not irritable at the child, the child will develop insecurities about their self-esteem. Look for caregivers who have a sunny disposition and are not easily frustrated.”

They’re overly confident — or not confident at all

No matter how skilled someone is at their profession, everyone has areas of weakness — and that’s not a bad thing. In fact, when you get those real-human vibes from someone, when they express empathy humility and kindness, you’re more likely to connect and trust them. Ortiz-Hartman shares there’s a fine line that an effective nanny or caregiver should walk between being overly confident — and not confident at all.

“Working with babies and children is an extremely exhausting and taxing job. Your nanny should come off as confident for the job, providing examples of how she or he has handled challenging situations in the past,” she explains. “On the flip side the nanny that comes in as a ‘know-it-all’ could be a red flag too.” How come? Ortiz-Hartman explains since all children are different, and come with different requirements, the ideal nanny would be humble, and ask questions on how you want them to handle your children, specifically.

Your gut is talking to you.

It’s that quiet pit in the bottom of your stomach that speaks volumes without uttering a word. It reminds you that your instincts are alive and well — and they are worth summoning. As Ortiz-Hartman explains, even if a daycare has the highest review in your town, or a nanny comes with a glowing, 5-star personal recommendation — it still may not be the best fit for your family.

“A daycare with a state-of-the-art facility may have a childcare philosophy different than how you parent your own child. What may be a great place for your friend’s children may not be the best for yours — and that is ok,” she reminds parents. If you want to figure out why you’re feeling unimpressed or put off by a place, Ortiz-Hartman suggests inquiring deeper about a childcare professional’s philosophies or how they plan to deal with bad behavior. This makes it less about paperwork — and more about values. “Trust your instincts over reviews and resumes,” she adds.

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