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A post on Facebook broke my heart the other day from a childminder who had been given a mug for Christmas that said “Thanks for being a great babysitter”. Upset, insulted, underappreciated, and angry don’t begin to describe the range of emotional responses from other childminders. Of course the parents didn’t intend it as an insult. But it would be really hard not to take it that way. How can you make sure you aren’t the next victim of a ‘thanks for being a great babysitter’ mug?
Get paid in advance
Babysitters are paid when you get home tipsy after a night out. This allows you to round their pay up (or down) depending on how generous you are feeling at that point in the night. In most cases this is a terrible business model for a childminding business. Ultimately it gives parents the power to decide how much they can afford to pay you this week/month based on how much money they have left.
In my opinion, childminders should insist on being paid in advance, ideally one month in advance. This is how most nurseries are paid; why should childminders do things differently? If you offer flexible hours, why not charge a flat rate upfront, and then offer refunds or charge a surplus at the end of the month? This allows you to be flexible but doesn’t leave you entirely at the mercy of parents. Put yourself in charge of the money.
Get a contract in place
A written contract signed by both parties keeps things formal right from the very start and sets the professional tone of your relationship with the parents. You are not offering “casual care” like a babysitter. A contract shows that you offer a regular service for a set number of agreed hours.
If you allow parents to use your service too flexibly, to sometimes use you and sometimes use the grandparents or the church summer club, in other words if they can come and go as they choose then they hold all the power in the relationship. Set up with a proper, written contract from the very start. Parents should feel you are doing them a favour if you occasionally allow them to break their contracted hours with prior mutual agreement. A written contract shifts the power to you, rather than giving it all to the parent.
Offer “Exceptional Educational Programmes” in your living room
No, I’m not kidding. At their own homes with their own parents, small children ‘play with blocks’. At your setting they are ‘engaged in mathematical play’. Parents and babysitters let their children ‘paint’. You offer ‘messy play’ as a ‘structured activity’. Yes, of course it’s the same thing. But your attitude towards it, and what you call it in front of the parents alters the parents’ perception of the activity and their perception of you as a caregiver.
A few well-placed educational posters will transform your living room into a ‘highly stimulating learning environment’. Throw in some themes and make sure the parents know what you have planned. This week we are exploring ‘stranger danger’ with the children, or learning some Polish as part of our ‘diversity awareness programme’.
“Blocks are part of our educational programme”.
Practice saying this a few times in front of the mirror so you can say it to parents with a straight face without smirking!
Show off your knowledge of child development
When new children start at your setting, wow the parents by making some starting point assessments on them within the first few months of them starting. Create learning journeys and make sure parents read them. Dazzle parents by casually dropping some of the characteristics of effective learning terminology into your conversation! The trick is to keep your knowledge of their child’s development just a tiny fraction ahead of their own.
Be an authority figure
Many childminders were parents first, and not only that, they were most likely parents who were good at it, and who enjoyed it. You certainly don’t go into childminding if you were one of those parents who spent the first year tiptoeing around your baby in case you broke it, or second guessing every disciplinary decision you made for your toddler! You were probably one of those parents who had most of it under control and took a lot of it in your stride. Otherwise you were probably unlikely to choose a career that means looking after other people’s children as well as your own!
Whether you were a parent first before you became a childminder or not, most likely you have more experience than many parents in dealing with children. You have probably potty trained a child before, whereas they haven’t. Whatever the issue, you have probably seen it, done it and had the t-shirt vomited on before!
Share your knowledge about healthy eating, exercise, first aid, food allergies, special educational needs. Often you have that little extra experience than they do to reassure parents that everything is normal, or have that little extra knowledge about ‘the system’ to point them in the right direction of the speech and language support in your area for example. The more that you act like an authority figure, the more this role will come naturally to you. Ultimately parents are often happy to take advice from their childminder, but nobody takes parenting advice from a babysitter!
Publicise your successes
Don’t be modest. Make sure that parents are aware of all the great things you do because their children won’t tell them anything you want them to! When the parents come to collect the child it is hugely important not just to tell the parents what the child ate and how he slept and what his nappies were like… it is also a brief but crucial opportunity to show the parents all the great things you are doing with their child. Put up photos where parents will see them. Some childminders use daily diaries. Newsletters are a great way of spreading your success stories. Babysitters don’t write newsletters.
Treat parents as if they are valued customers of your business
Babysitters don’t ask for feedback on their service. They don’t evaluate and reflect on ways to improve the service they offer or ‘treat parents as partners’. They don’t send home questionnaires about ways to improve their service or offer parents a chance to help plan for their children’s time. They definitely don’t have a plan in place for their continual professional development. Good childminders do all this stuff, because we are childcare professionals.
“Subtly” remind parents you are a childcare professional at all opportunities
“During today’s fire drill we ….”
Parents and babysitters definitely do not do fire drills!
Don’t become a victim of a bad mug. Always remember the childminder’s daily mantra (to be chanted on the school run): I am not JUST A BABYSITTER. I am an Ofsted-registered childcare professional, paediatric first-aid certified, DBS checked, potty-training certified, heathy-snack provider, licensed double-buggy driving CHILDMINDER.
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About Kay Woods and Kids To Go
Kay Woods has been writing and selling childminding resources through her company Kids To Go since 2008. Her products include the Ultimate Childminding Checklist, the Learning Journey Plus for planning, observation and assessment and best practice resources promoting diversity, safety and childminding in the great outdoors (Forest Childcare). She is the author of the Start Learning book set published by Tarquin and she writes the free quarterly Childminding Best Practice Newsletter.
Lots of places offer help to childminders. I provide solutions.