If you’re a working parent, your childcare provider is likely on the short list of people who can make your life much easier or much harder. When things are going well, you feel at ease as you work, knowing that your little one is getting just the sort of love and attention you know they need.

When you have a miscommunication, though, or your expectations aren’t being met, it can be tough to feel productive at work and the stress takes a toll.

Perhaps your little one let slip that they’ve been watching TV each day when you have a screen-free agreement with your care provider. Or maybe you notice your child coming home in a wet diaper each afternoon. When a situation like this arises, use the tips below to plan a conversation with your care provider that ensures you both leave confident and clear about your expectations. Engaging in these tough conversations is a vital part of maintaining a positive relationship.  

1 | Start with praise

Most people enjoy hearing what they do well. If you’re committed to staying with your childcare provider, there’s probably a lot that you love about how they take care of your little one. Be specific as you thank them. “We are so grateful to have you in our lives. I love the way you talk to Jonah, you’re so warm and communicative with him. His eyes light up with you talk to him and I know his language development is on track in large part because of how you communicate with him.” Opening the conversation with genuine praise lets your care provider know how valued they are and ensures that they are as open as possible to any concerns to come. 

2 | Highlight common goals

When you highlight the goals you share (even if you were the one who initially set them) you remind your caretaker that you and she are a team. (“I know that we both want Jonah to grow up to be as healthy and happy as possible and that developing his imagination is a priority we’ve talked a lot about.”) Highlighting your common goals and the steps she’s already taken to reach them, helps pave the way for your care provider to buy into the request you’ll make later in the conversation.

3 | Share your expectations

This is often the difficult part of the conversation; it can feel awkward to bring up something that concerns you with someone you trust. As you begin this part of the conversation, ensure you’re doing so without judgment. Don’t accuse your caretaker of breaking the rules intentionally: “I know you’ve been letting Jonah watch TV,” or ask them questions you already know the answer to: “Have you been letting Jonah watch TV?”

Instead, frame the issue as part of an ongoing conversation: “I know we’ve talked before about our preference the Jonah not watch any television – as he grows and becomes a little more independent, I want to make sure we’re still on the same page about him remaining screen-free.” Phrasing your request as a future-oriented ask, instead of an accusation about what’s already happened, helps your care provider get on board in a positive manner.

 4 | Help them make a plan to follow

If your trusted care provider is doing (or not doing) something that you’ve asked, there’s probably a reason. Part of your job as an employer is to help them identify the barriers to success and make a plan to alleviate them. Do they feel pressure to accomplish other tasks such as cooking and cleaning during their childcare hours? Has your little one had a recent change in routine that may be making things more difficult? Do they have personal issues that makes what you’ve asked suddenly more difficult?

Offer something like: “I know it can be really hard to get lunch ready when Jonah needs your full attention as well. Would it be helpful if we prepared his lunches the night before?” Or: “I’ve noticed that since Jonah dropped his nap, he tends to get cranky and sometimes asks for TV in the early afternoon. I’ve found that reading a book to him, helping him set up a quiet project, or putting on some soft music usually helps him get over the afternoon hump without using screens.”

5 | Really listen when they share their feedback and adjust your expectations as necessary

Sometimes, as parents, we hold care providers to much higher standards than those we hold ourselves accountable to. Make sure you’re listening to what they have to say and remember that they’re just people, with good days and bad days and feelings, too. Try to give where you can to make their job easier without sacrificing your priorities. “It sounds like with the new baby in the mix, it can be really challenging to keep Jonah entertained on rainy days. In the future, let’s plan to have you offer several activities before screen time in situations like this, but, if nothing seems to be working, make sure you limit it to 20 minutes and let me know when I get home so I can squeeze in reading a few extra books at bedtime.”

6 | Thank them for the openness and for the love they show your little one

Caring for kids is exhausting and most parents ask their care providers for something unique – we ask them to both behave professionally and to invest an incredible amount of emotional energy and love into their work. Make sure your care provider knows how much you value not just the work that they do and love that they show your child, but also the openness of the relationship.