When 27-year-old Mumbai-based mum Shamita Basu went back to work after a one-and-a-half-year sabbatical, she chose a route that’s becoming increasingly popular with working mothers. Despite living in a joint family with enough help at hand, Basu decided to leave her two-year-old daughter, Savya, at a day-care centre close to her apartment in Andheri. “I heard the usual ‘Why don’t you leave her with the grandparents and maid?’, but to me a supervised childcare facility seemed a better option,” she says.
Across Indian metros, young parents are choosing day-care centres over the traditional option of leaving children home. Ageing grandparents often don’t have the strength to keep pace with an energetic toddler or, mostly, live apart in a different city. “I favour a day care because there is a lot of interaction with other children and planned activities. I can already see that Rishabh has learnt a lot,” says Jayshree Tankala, an engineer who leaves her 21-month-old toddler at a Bangalore day-care centre.
With fewer joint families and more working moms, the need for well-run childcare arrangements is a huge one. This is why, despite the cost, day cares are becoming a viable option for many parents. So much so that Bangalore even has a 24-hour centre—Discovery Zone—to cater to moms who work in a shift system.
A day at a centre, from 9am till 6pm, costs between Rs4,000 and Rs5,000 per month. Meals are usually included, as are kits that include a bag, cap and T-shirts. Many centres also set aside separate utensils and bedding for children. There are several additional benefits for toddlers, such as language development.
However, experts point out that day care-hunting mothers need to be cautious. “There are no government regulations and it’s like a cottage industry,” rues Katherine, who runs Kara, an internationally-acclaimed day care and playschool in Bangalore. Indu Kaura, coordinator of Rajkumari Amrit Kaur Child Study Centre at Lady Irwin College, New Delhi, a childcare centre since 1972, is also cautious. “Look beyond the glamorous features and concentrate on how warm and loving the staff is. A six-month-old baby doesn’t need an AC room as much as a caring attendant.”
A big advantage a centre gives a child is the chance to interact with other children. Swati Popat, educationist and director, Podar Happy Kids, which has centres in Mumbai and Bangalore, cites the example of a 12-year-old boy and a one-and-a-half-year-old boy who are extremely close at their Mumbai centre. “Most children these days come from single-child families. Being with children from mixed age groups enhances their social skills. They learn to share, wait and empathize.”
So, what is the right way to choose a day-care centre? “Ask a lot of questions. If you ask more than three questions and see the staff getting irritated, it shows their patience level,” says Popat. Hygiene is another important factor parents need to look at. “Check the bedsheets and bedding and touch the feeding utensils, toys, etc. If it’s greasy, the place is not clean enough,” she adds. Check toilets and kitchens thoroughly. Trust your instincts. If anything seems not quite right, cross the place off your list. You will never be at peace if you are not sure about these details.
“It’s vital to check if the staff is loving and trained to handle a child,” says software consultant Kusum Jhamb, whose three-and-a-half-year-old son Vaibhav stays at a day-care centre in Bangalore. Approachability is another important factor. “The day care should have an open-door policy. Parents should be welcome any time,” says Katherine. Basu says she removed her daughter from her first day-care centre because they didn’t encourage unannounced visits and were rude if she pointed out a heavy, unchanged diaper.
Also, parents should remember that it’s a home away from home for their child. Follow the rules. Kara, for instance, has strict rules regarding half-sleeved clothes for children— long sleeves can get wet and dirty. Also, Kara only allows children to be dropped and picked by an adult with a valid ID given by the centre. “We can’t break the rules for one parent,” says Katherine, adding that it’s a relationship which has to be based on trust. “As a parent, you need to be constantly vigilant. Be in an active partnership with childcare,” adds Kaura.
Also, don’t let guilt play on your mind. Leaving the child in a place that’s not home can be tough but, remember, “kids respond to the mother”, says Popat. “They cry when they feel their mother is sad.” Her advice: “Behave normally and leave with confidence.” Adds Katherine: “Tell the child you’ll pick him or her after some activity, and stick to it.”
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