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21 SHUTTERSTOCK ood quality daycare actually benefits children, research shows, so it's important to find a program that will best nurture and support your little one. And that starts with the human element. "The most important thing to look for in a daycare center is the caregiving staff," says Noam Shpancer, a professor of psychology at Otterbein University in Ohio who researches daycare issues. "Are they welcoming, responsive, warm and friendly? Are they organized and experienced? Do they interact actively with the children both verbally and nonverbally? If the caregivers are well-educated, warm, involved and committed, then your child is likely to have a good experience there." Caregivers should also be able to encourage social skills and positive behavior, according to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), and set limits on negative behavior, in addition to relating well to children of different ages. PRACTICAL CONSIDERATIONS When you've found a caregiving staff that's a good fit for your child, you'll need to make sure other aspects of the daycare program are up to par. Group daycare facilities for children over age 3 would ideally have at least one teacher for every five children (more for infants and younger toddlers), according to AACAP, and staff members who have been there for a long period of time. High staff turnover can distress children, whose bond with specific caregivers gives them a sense of safety and security. Look closely at the daycare center's physical space too. Is there room to move indoors and out? Are there lots of materials, toys and play equipment? If the space is too crowded, noisy or disorganized, that's a big red flag, says Shpancer. Ask questions about hours, fees and late policies. Are they flexible and accommodating? Is the location convenient to your home or office? The choice you make will be far better for your family if getting to and from the daycare center is easy and the cost makes sense for your budget. MAKING THE TRANSITION A quality daycare program will also be able to help you introduce your child to the new environment gradually, as recommended by AACAP research. You'll be able to stay with your child at the beginning if needed and then extend the time period he is there each day until he wants to become part of the group. You can help your child with the transition by being actively involved with the staff and talking about your child's daily activities when you're together at home. • D a i i t h b t When your child makes the transition from home care to daycare, some resistance to leaving parents is normal, says Noam Shpancer, a psychology professor at Otterbein University in Ohio, and it can be tough for everyone during that time. "But if a child adamantly and persistently refuses to go to daycare, that may also be a sign that something about the environment there is not quite right," he adds. On the other hand, don't overthink the possible risks to your child at a well-run daycare center, based on media horror stories. Shpancer says concern over children's safety at good quality daycare centers is generally misplaced because supervision there is even more vigilant than in home environments. Likewise misplaced are concerns that putting a child in daycare amounts to some form of parental failure or abandonment, that the child's bond with the parents will suffer, and that parents may lose their status as primary influences in the life of their child. "Research shows that high-quality daycare does not harm children or their relationship with their parents," especially children older than 1 year who have had time to bond with parents as infants, says Shpancer. In fact, "children are likely to benefit [from daycare] in terms of cognitive and social development and school readiness," he says. Finding accredited daycare programs Formal, licensed daycare centers as a rule are better for children's development than more informal, unaccredited family daycare homes, says Otterbein University's Noam Shpancer, based on his research. For a listing of accredited daycare programs in your area, contact: • National Association for the Education of Young Children / NAEYC.org • National Association for Family Child Care / NAFCC.org