Should I air concerns about my grandchild's sitter?
Q: I recently visited my 6-week-old granddaughter at the babysitter’s home while my son and daughter-in-law were at work. I found the sitter to be a warm and loving woman, and I like her very much. But she has two small poodles in her home that worry me.

During my three-hour visit I noticed a bad smell in the house, and think I sat on a small amount of dog feces on her rocker. The smell was strong, but I wouldn't have stayed that long if it wasn’t for the joy of being with my grandchild.

I worry about her staying at a house with dogs in it. I hope she isn’t placed on the furniture where the dogs lie down. My question is: Should I tell her parents about the smell since they might not have stayed long enough to notice it?
A: I think you should be completely honest and share your concerns with your son and daughter-in-law. But present them as concerns; don’t offer them as evidence until you are absolutely certain. After all, your son and his wife chose this childcare arrangement in good faith, and if you put it down on the basis of a hunch, they are sure to become defensive and say that you don’t know what you’re talking about—and that you’re meddling to boot.

You refer to the woman as a “sitter,” but the technical name for such an arrangement is family childcare. It is a widely used arrangement in America and is not as well monitored by licensing workers as childcare centers are. Some family childcare is of very high quality, and infants can thrive in it. Some of it, however, is of poor quality and does not meet the emotional and intellectual needs of young children.

About the dogs, some states have fairly stringent rules about pets on the premises. Call up the childcare licensing agency in your state (usually found in the phone book under the Department of Human Services) and find out what is allowed. If the regulations forbid pets, you certainly have something specific to talk to your son and his wife about.

Going to the caregiver’s home to observe and remaining such a long time, which is more than some parents have time to do, is the best way to know whether this setting will be a good one for your granddaughter. Keep visiting, and if the care provider objects, you can be sure that it isn’t a good place for her or any other children.
Dr. Bettye M. Caldwell Ph.D. Professor of Pediatrics in Child Development and Education