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Cries at the sitter's?
Q: My daughter is 16 months old. Since she was born, I have been working part-time. For the past five months, I have taken her to the same babysitter.

At first, I ignored the crying when I left because I thought it was normal. After a few weeks, it went away. In the last month, it has returned and is more severe. Should I be worried? The sitter, who watches two other children at the same time, thinks she’s going through a phase.

I chose that sitter because she attends the same church and was willing to give me a break on her fee. We have had several differences on how to raise a child, with her giving in on some and me doing the same.
A: If your daughter’s tears had begun immediately after you transferred her to the new sitter, I wouldn’t be too concerned. For a child this young, one can expect some tears and anxiety whenever a different childcare placement is arranged. However, your daughter cried for a few weeks, stopped and now, after five months in the new setting, is crying even more.

It sounds as though something may well have happened that has raised your daughter’s anxiety level, and I think you should look into the situation. A good place to start would be with mothers of the other children being cared for by the sitter. If their children have shown similar behavior, then I would be concerned. If not, there may be something in the relationship between the provider and your daughter that is causing the problem. Has she scolded or punished your daughter too much? Is your daughter left alone without interaction and supervision too long?

Incidentally, the arrangement you have is called Family Child Care. Although state regulations for Family Child Care are not as strict as those for Center Care, all 50 states require that a person offering such a service be either registered or licensed. Call your local Department of Human Service and find out if your sitter is licensed, though she may not care for enough children for this regulation to apply to her.

Let me offer another piece of important advice: never try to economize on your childcare arrangement. Remember that the person you choose is sharing your daughter’s care with you. In so far as possible, you want the quality of the shared care to be comparable to the care you provide. Just as the woman you hired was willing to “cut her fee,” she may also be prone to “cut corners” in providing top quality care to young children.

Finally, do a little sleuthing on your own to see if you can understand what is happening. Take her a little early one day and then drive back unannounced and see if she continued to cry after you left. If so, how did the sitter handle the tears? As I am sure you know, it is not uncommon for the tears to stop as soon as mom gets in the car and drives away. Check it out. And if you find any reason to distrust the provider, take your child out of there. Such screaming and crying, especially five months after a placement, is not normal. Something is wrong, and you need to find out what it is.

Dr. Bettye M. Caldwell Ph.D. Professor of Pediatrics in Child Development and Education