Over 32 million children were in some form of a non-parental child care arrangement in the year 2011, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. If you are returning to the workplace and your kids are not yet in school, you have a big decision to make. The decision whether to choose a daycare center or a babysitter is a personal one, with pros and cons on either side. Whichever way you choose, conduct interviews, visit centers you have in mind, and check references and licensing and ensure the person or center caring for your child understands child development, is warm and caring and is well versed in first aid.
Daycare provides social and educational benefits galore to your child, including those that he may not receive in the care of a single sitter. According to the child development pros at Zero to Three.org, interacting with peers can help young children to develop social skills and relationship-building abilities. Daycare provides a prime place for preschoolers and older toddlers to make friends and practice social skills such as sharing, taking turns and participating in group play. Additionally, a daycare center with a content-based curriculum, such as science, social studies, math and early literacy lessons, can build your little one's academic knowledge and boost his cognitive development.
Although daycare certainly has its pros, this center-based childcare arrangement isn't for everyone. Unlike a sitter who comes to your home on your schedule, daycares operate on a fixed-hour day. If you go to work early, don't get home until later at night or work on the weekends, a daycare won't meet your needs. It also might not meet the needs of a infant or young toddler who needs a quieter setting with a familiar face. Additionally, while your preschool or older toddler's exposure to new peer situations is a positive factor, exposure to germs isn't. The combination of close peer contact and immature childhood immune systems often means that a virus or bacterial infection can quickly spread around a daycare, notes Dennis Clements, MD, PhD at Duke Children's Hospital.
While a babysitter doesn't provide the social scene that a daycare does, quality in-home care does have its advantages. Unlike a center-based option, you can find a babysitter who is available at the times you need, a huge advantage if you have a non-traditional work schedule or work overtime. A babysitter can also give your child the individualized attention that she won't get in daycare. Instead of being part of a larger group, she'll have her caregiver's undivided attention.
For some parents, a babysitter simply isn't the way to go. While all of the attention that your sitter can lavish on your child will make her feel loved, she may also feel pangs of loneliness as she grows into a more social creature. Additionally, a babysitter isn't subject to the same type of supervision as a daycare worker is where a supervisor watches over the staff. Without being present you can't always ensure that your babysitter is doing the same.