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10 Tips from a Former Caregiver for Parents With Children in Daycare


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During my year working in a child development center (daycare), I started compiling a list of tips for parents including, among other things, bringing weather appropriate clothing. I held off on posting it while I worked there since I wasn’t sure how it would go over. Well, today I was reminded of it when someone in a military spouse group posted asking parents with children in the CDC to bring “full winter outdoor items (coat, hat, gloves, snow pants, etc.)” because she had seen toddlers outside without gloves. So I figured now would be a good time to post. I wrote this with the pre-toddler (1.5 to 2 years) to toddler (2 to 3 years) ages in mind since that’s the group I worked with most often, but I think most of it could apply to children of any age in daycare, except the parts about diapers and nap time. It’s pretty long, but I wanted to get it all into one post in case that’s all someone sees, so please bear with me.

1. Bring Enough (and Weather Appropriate) Clothes, Including Outerwear
In the winter, children should have outwear including, at a minimum, a warm jacket, gloves, and a hat. At least at the CDC I worked at, children went outside unless it was below freezing or other weather conditions (like rain) prevented it. Unfortunately there will probably not be adequate staff for someone to stay inside with your child, and they can’t deny outdoor play to all the rest of the children. If you would be cold without a coat, hat, gloves, etc., your child will be too.

It should go without saying, but your child should not come to daycare in shorts, a tank top, or sandals in the winter. If you bring them in short sleeves, also bring a long sleeve shirt they can change into or a sweater or sweatshirt they can wear over it. In the summer I would recommend shorts, especially if you’re in a location where air conditioning is not standard. If you must put your child in pants, lightweight material would be the best. Please don’t bring your child in a long sleeve shirt in the summer unless they also have a short sleeve shirt to change into if they get hot. Socks are a must all year round to keep feet warm in the winter, and to provide cushion and absorb sweat year round.

oh mickey. Children should always have at least three extra pairs of weather appropriate clothes in their cubby including extra socks and, if your child wears them, underwear. I recommend bringing more underwear if your child is potty training. Kids get messy, tend to play in the water at hand washing time, and need to be changed if a diaper leaks or they have an accident. If a child has no extra clothes, they’ll either have to stay in the clothes they have, borrow clothes from the center (if they’re available, but don’t count on it), or the parent will have to bring in a change of clothes if the change is due to an accident.

Having only clothes for the wrong season can be almost as bad as not having extras because a child will be cold if forced to wear a T shirt in winter or too hot if all they have are long sleeves in the summer. By the way, when a child is consistently not dressed appropriately for the weather, this is considered moderate neglect according to Childwelfare.gov. If you can’t afford new clothes, that’s understandable. Check eBay or thrift stores, or see if there is a ‘virtual yardsale’ group on Facebook for your area.

2. Buy Your Child Shoes That Fit and Are in Reasonable Condition
When children have shoes that are too small, not only can their feet be damaged (as far as not growing properly or having blisters and ingrown toe nails), they may have difficulty and discomfort walking. They may start doing things like taking off and even throwing their shoes. One might think buying shoes a child can ‘grow into’ would be a good idea, but it isn’t for the similar reasons. This can also cause damage such blisters and chafing, and it creates a risk for tripping. Children with shoes that are too big also tend to not want to keep them on. Any shoe store can properly fit a child and explain how to tell when it’s time for a new pair. Make sure the shoes are also in decent condition. If your child’s shoe has holes, this is going to make your child uncomfortable when he or she goes outside. If you can’t afford brand new shoes, try to find good used shoes after finding out what size they need in a shoe store. I also recommend making sure your child wears socks. They help keep the feet warm in winter, and all year they help cushion the feet and absorb sweat.

diapers for my son3. Have Enough (and Well-Fitting) Diapers or Pull-Ups and Wipes
Depending on how long they are in daycare and the frequency of bowel movements, children who are in diapers or pull-ups may go through at least four a day, plus several wipes. (For sanitary reasons, the center I was at required throwing away a wipe after one front to back use). Prepare for this. The center may not always have extras and could have to call you to bring some. If extra diapers or pull-ups are used, they may be too big or small. Additionally, toddlers know their own diapers or pull-ups. They often talk about whatever is on them (their princess, their superhero, etc.), and they know when they aren’t getting their own and will say so (and sometimes aren’t very cooperative about wearing one that isn’t their own). Make sure the diapers or pull-ups are the right size, because ones that are too small will be uncomfortable and may even leave marks on the skin. When a diaper or pull-up is too big or small, it can also cause what is in the diaper to end up on the outside (leading to the use of those extra clothes previously mentioned).

4. Try to Provide Items Requested by the Daycare
Many times parents seemed frustrated when presented with lists of things the daycare has requested them to bring for their child. A couple common ones to lack were a blanket and a toothbrush. We asked for blankets for naptime because we didn’t have enough extras to go around. If too many kids didn’t have one, some had to go without. In addition to it being helpful to your child to have something familiar at naptime, it is sad to see a child curled up trying to keep warm at naptime because they didn’t have a blanket or crying because they didn’t have their own. Some won’t even take an extra if it is available because it isn’t ‘theirs’, and their nap suffers for it. We sent the blankets home on Friday to be laundered, which may have been inconvenient, but helped keep germs down.

Day 284: The Toothbrush (Again)This is the same reason we asked for a new toothbrush every couple of months or after an outbreak of illness. Some parents don’t send a toothbrush at all. Even if your child is one who doesn’t like to brush his or her teeth, send one anyhow. They won’t be forced to use it (at least not at the center I worked in), but most kids not only lined up eagerly to get their toothbrush and disliked when it was time to stop brushing, but some would even stand near the toothbrush stand asking for theirs. Those who don’t like to brush at home will usually want to at daycare because their friends do. Brushing teeth at daycare helps build healthy brushing habits that will help children throughout life. Unfortunately, if a child’s parent doesn’t bring a toothbrush, that child will get left out of the experience.

5. Talk to Your Child’s Caregiver(s)
A lot of parents drop their child off and pick them up with little to say to the caregiver(s). If something happened at home (say the child was recently sick, the parents are separating or divorcing, or one is deployed) the caregiver(s) should know at drop off, so they know what to expect and look for. At pickup, find out how your child’s day was. Even if it was a bad day, it’s best to know what’s been going on. Generally there’s at least something positive to hear even on the “bad” days, and most days you may learn something about your child you didn’t know before (what they like to do, a new food they enjoy eating, etc.). Or maybe you can share something the caregivers don’t know. A few times I’ve talked to parents and learned how to approach a child’s problem behavior from the way the parent has been approaching it at home.

Listen, Understand, Act6. Listen to Your Child’s Caregiver(s)
It’s hard to hear if your child is having a problem, especially if it’s that they are hurting others or are behind on developmental milestones. Sometimes parents brush off if their child had a bad day or a series of them. Common statements include “It’s not in his/her character” and “Well he/she doesn’t do that at home”. And it may be true that you don’t see the behavior at home, especially if you have an only child. However, if something repeatedly happens in daycare, it’s a concern whether or not it occurs at home. Some children spend 60 hours a week in daycare, with most caregivers being around for at least 40 hours of that. That’s a lot of time to be around your child, so it’s worth listening to what the caregivers observe about him or her. If there is a problem behaviorally or developmentally, the sooner parents are willing to accept that there may be a problem, the sooner they can collaborate with caregivers to look into assistance via observation, counseling, and/or special programs that can benefit their child.

7. Don’t Bring a Sick Child to Daycare & If Yours Becomes Ill at Daycare, Pick Him or Her Up Promptly
I know it’s hard to call off of work, but if you bring your child in when they’re sick, you’re not doing yourself, the caregivers, or, most importantly, your child any favors. I have seen many parents usher a child in without a word only for me to realize after they’re out the door that the child has a condition that excludes him or her from care. (If you’re not sure what those condition are, ask your daycare, but it’s usually any contagious illness, vomiting, and/or fever of a certain temperature).

Sometimes parents knew the child threw up earlier and didn’t mention it. Or if they had a fever, they gave them medication hoping to “bring it down”. Once a fever-reducing medication wears off, the temperature will spike. At my center, a child had to be excluded from care until he or she was clear of a fever for 24 hours WITHOUT the aid of acetaminophen. Nothing is gained by bringing the child in if you know they’re sick; you’ll still have to come pick them up once staff becomes aware of their condition.

Sick and sleepingNot only do you create more hassle for yourself having to come back, your child isn’t enjoying his or her time at daycare, and germs are being spread around, which tends to result in other children (and sometimes the caregivers) getting sick as well. This is also why you’re asked to pick your child up promptly when they need to go home. Once the illness starts spreading, it tends to go around the room, and sometimes the same child gets sick at least one more time. Of course kids are encouraged to wash their hands, cover their mouths, and not put toys in their mouths, etc., but that doesn’t always help (and children don’t always listen). The best thing to do with a sick child is to keep them home so they can rest, get well, and come back to daycare sooner.

8. Notify Caregivers If Your Child Will Be Dropped Off Near a Meal Time or Nap Time
The kitchen prepares early for meals based on how many children are in class. If a child comes in a few minutes before lunch or after lunch has started, there may not be enough food because there was no reason to expect they would be there for it. Similarly, if a child is not there earlier in the day, caregivers won’t have a mat set up for naptime, and it may disturb other children when they have to put one out. If caregivers know ahead of time a child will be coming late, they can put their mat in their spot for their arrival.

Children who come that late often don’t fall asleep, however, and because everyone else is napping, they’ll have little they can do. If your child hasn’t been up long, I recommend bringing them at the end of nap if possible. Sometimes children who have been with their parents all day cry when the parent leaves, so if your child does and you have the time, I would also recommend staying to soothe your child to sleep as it will help them feel better and help ensure other children’s naps aren’t disturbed.

Military Man Hugs Daughter9. If It’s a Training Holiday, Consider Not Bringing Your Child to Daycare
This one is specific to the military families. The center I worked in was closed on holidays, but we were open on training holidays since not everyone gets those off. Sometimes the children of parents who did get those days off still brought their children in. You may not realize it, but although they don’t know the name of the day, the kids know the difference between a regular day and a training holiday for a couple of reasons. First, they know the difference between what mom or dad wears to work and what they wear at home. They also know most of their friends aren’t there that day.

These were the hardest days to work because kids who are normally fine with daycare talked about their parents being home and wanting to be with their parents all day long and were just generally not enjoying themselves as much, no matter what we tried to do. Unless you work that day or  have something to do your child can’t be there for, consider spending the day with your child. Of course everyone needs a break sometimes, and no one will begrudge you taking some time for yourself, but given that there are generally so few kids that day and those that are there get pretty restless, at least consider bringing them later or picking them up earlier than usual, being mindful of the notes regarding meal and nap times above.

10. Take Your Child’s Artwork Home 

This is really not a big deal in comparison to some of the rest, but it’s something I think would be kind of nice. Your child puts a lot of effort into whatever he or she is making and tends to be proud of the result. A lot of times, children made something and specifically told me it was for mommy or daddy. Your child can’t wait to show you their creations. So when you leave artwork pile up, I imagine this doesn’t feel too good to them as they see other parents taking their children’s artwork home. At the center I worked in, once things piled up too much, we put out a notice that we were clearing the artwork out on Friday and anything not picked up would be discarded. I felt bad throwing out some of this stuff that I know the kids worked hard on.

No one says you have to keep it forever. Take it home and put it up on the fridge for awhile. When they bring home something else, put that up instead, and you can do what you like with the old one. If you’re not inclined to keep it (although I think it’s nice to at least keep your favorites) consider taking photos. That preserves the memories without having random paintings piling up. I came across this cool app called Artkive that lets you photograph your child’s artwork and tag it with their name, grade, and the date it was created. If you want to later, you can create a customized coffee table book for your own enjoyment or to send to the grandparents. Pretty snazzy. (On a related note, if you *do* like art, in the future I am going to post on some of my favorite toddler hand and foot print projects, like the one in the picture, so stay tuned.)

I know some of you might have read these 10 tips going “Duh…of course” a time or several along the way, but trust me, they’re all in here because there were parents who were doing these things (like bringing their kids in while they were sick) or not doing them (like bringing in weather appropriate clothes). If you didn’t need to be told these things, then I am glad, truly, and thank you for reading anyhow. If you did need to be, I hope this list has been helpful and that you’ll heed some of this advice so your child can have a better daycare experience. In either case, if you know parents with children in daycare you think could benefit from this information, please pass it along via one of the sharing options below.

Do you have any tips for parents with children in daycare or find any of these tips particularly useful? If so, please share in the comments. 

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4 Thoughts on “10 Tips from a Former Caregiver for Parents With Children in Daycare

  1. I still have all my artwork from Kindergarten! Love that my parents kept everything!

    • See…so it’s worth people considering ;-). I think it might be a bit much for military families to move it place to place but I really like the idea of that app so they can either just store it that way or make books that would be easier to preserve than the originals.

  2. It is sad that parents bring their children in when they are sick. Reminds me of how animals are treated, not living human beings. I’d be sooo mad if I were to get sick from someone else’s kid, too!

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