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Beyond The Night Nurse

Finding a caregiver for every stage

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Although the newborn stage often feels like it will last forever, it doesn't. And as babies grow and change, so do their (and their parents') needs. A caregiver who's great with a teeny babe may or may not be the best bet for a toddling one-year-old, let alone a negotiating preschooler. So we asked Aliza Pressman, Ph.D., co-founder of Seedlings Group, to break down the key qualities for a caregiver as a baby grows.
 
According to Pressman, it's typical for moms of infants to look for a caregiver who's meticulous and nurturing—which is important—but there are many other aspects of the early years to consider. "Children's needs evolve alongside their development, and a successful caregiver also needs to evolve with the change from infant to toddler to preschooler," Pressman says. "With a newborn, it's all about loving, soothing, and being responsive to his needs. But eventually, you'll want a caregiver who knows how to roll up her sleeves and get down and dirty with your toddler."
 
Pressman says that with every year comes a new focus. The first year should be about supporting physical growth, responsiveness, sensitivity, and establishing predictable routines and transitions. For years two and three, it's ideal for a caregiver to be able to help foster independence, to be articulate and encourage language development, and to be comfortable in a more authoritative role. A toddler caregiver should also be someone who can scaffold play—meaningful play that keeps kids challenged, but not frustrated.
 
Pressman warns that this does not mean parents should change the caregiver at every milestone. "After the six-month mark, it's important to have consistency, because this is the age where children start to form attachment." The best way to think about this, Pressman says, is that "the 'right nows' are so fleeting, so an important quality to look for in a caregiver is flexibility and the ability to adapt as your child grows."