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What New Parents Need From Your Nursery

Heather Dawn

Every pew was filled waiting for the pastor to teach when I noticed an elder nod to the mass of moms and dads swaying in rhythm with their babies at the back of the church. "I wonder why they're not using the nursery?" he whispered to another elder. If only he would've asked one of the new parents lining the wall!

Living in the information age, parents are bombarded with child-care warnings from their doctors, parent magazines, talk shows, and newspapers.

Frightening images from Dateline and 20/20 fill their heads as they're told to interview each baby sitter and child-care provider thoroughly, make surprise visits, and ask for references. The result? Fear.

The fact that your nursery is located in a church isn't enough for parents anymore. So what's a nursery filled with loving volunteers to do? Simple. Jump into the shoes of your new parents to see their fears and understand their needs. Let's crawl into the mind of an informed parent as she thinks about your nursery in each of these areas.

STAFFING

The people seem to be nice enough, but I wonder if they have any experience or training. Let's see: 1, 2, 3, 4. Okay, there should be at least one adult per four babies. I hope they have backup in case more babies come. I'd love it if just one familiar face could greet my baby week after week so she'd have some consistency.

ENVIRONMENT

The toys look cute enough. I hope they're all age-appropriate. Hmmm. Some of this equipment may not have been checked for recalls yet. Does all the staff know that my baby is too old for the swing but too young for the walker? Are the toddlers and infants separated? Surely all the cabinets are childproofed. Do they disinfect the toys each week? Uh-oh, are sick babies allowed in here?

SECURITY

How do I know that someone can't walk in here and take my baby? I know pedophiles and kidnappers seek easy targets. I don't care as much about my diaper bag getting mixed up, but I want to make sure they don't get my baby confused with another baby. Is my baby kept in this room at all times? My friend came out of the service the other week, and it took her half an hour to find her baby! A volunteer was walking around the halls with her baby. I couldn't handle that happening to me.

SEPARATION ANXIETY

What if my baby needs me and I'm not there? Will they really make the effort to find me in a crowd of people? Will she be traumatized? I'd feel awful. What if she's scared? She clung to me when I dropped her off; I know I saw fear in her eyes. What if they let her cry the whole hour? My baby!

JUMP INTO THE SHOES OF YOUR NEW PARENTS TO SEE THEIR FEARS AND UNDERSTAND THEIR NEEDS

Okay, now let's crawl out of that young mother's mind, and let's talk. Even though you've heard some of the concerns of a new parent, you know each parent carries a set of fears as unique as each baby. So what can you do? Here are four low-cost steps you can take to give parents peace of mind and confidence in your nursery.

1. REMEMBER NEW-PARENT JITTERS

Many of your volunteers are excellent veteran parents who may not remember the jitters new parents experience leaving their first baby in new hands.

There are simple things you can do to be sensitive to new parents. For example, allow a parent to decide when to hand over an infant. There's nothing more unsettling than having a stranger, no matter how well-meaning, take your baby out of your hands and walk away with "she'll be fine; just relax."

If an infant is crying when a parent comes to your nursery, remind the parent that it's her choice to leave the child in the nursery. If she's comfortable with trying your nursery, let her know she can check back later. Reassure her that you'll locate her if her child hasn't stopped crying within 10 minutes. Constantly consider parents' feelings. Remember: You're caring for the most precious thing in their lives.

2. GET TO KNOW PARENTS Start a conversation. Address any concerns the parent may have, taking caution not to belittle his fears in any way. In the few minutes you interact with a parent, introduce yourself and ask as many questions as you can. The stronger the relationship between parents and nursery volunteers, the more confident parents are in your volunteers' ability to take care of their angel. You'll also make visitors feel welcome. Remember that many parents try church for the first time or return to their faith because of their newborn child. What a great opportunity to make their visit one worth repeating.

3. INFORM, INFORM , INFORM This is the greatest thing you can do for any parent with needs and concerns. Knowledge truly is power, and informing parents of your nursery's policies and procedures will only give them more confidence and a greater sense of control. Let parents know what a great nursery your church offers!

The first church my family attended after moving with our new baby had a statement boldly printed in the bulletin, "Parents of infants are strongly encouraged to take them to our nursery." That was it. I searched through their information center and brightly colored bulletin boards to find more information, and I found nothing. When I actually went to the nursery and asked about training and security, I got shrugs. Needless to say, I didn't feel safe leaving my baby in that nursery.

The following Sunday we visited a church that had a nice pamphlet detailing policies, training, and their security and notification system. On the way to the nursery, a bulletin board with a couple of Polaroid photos introduced me to two ladies who were committed to being in the nursery every Sunday. When I went into that nursery, I instantly knew who was in charge and the quality of care my baby would receive. What a difference in my anxiety level when I worshiped that morning!

4. EVALUATE YOUR NURSERY EVERY YEAR Have there been any world changes or tragedies that might bring up new fears or concerns for parents? How can you address their new fears? Proactively address any issues that parents may be dealing with. Keep up-to-date on the latest parenting issues and infant development discoveries. Update written communication to parents when necessary. Check out current parent magazines or books to understand the information new parents are receiving. You can find great magazines online or at a local newsstand. For Parents magazine, log onto www.parentsmagazine.com. For Christian Parenting Today magazine, log onto www.christianparenting.net.

Review your policies on staff, training, and security. Update your staff's infant and child CPR certification. Locate the Red Cross nearest you by logging on to www.redcross.org or checking the yellow pages.

Check for any recalls on your equipment and toys. You can learn more about recalls from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. On the Internet, go to www.cpsc.gov. Or call 800-638-2772. Add your name to a list that automatically emails you with the latest recalls.

Admittedly, running a nursery that meets parents' needs is hard work, but one of the greatest things about nursery ministry is the instant reward you receive. There's nothing like spending time with infants who know and trust you, then watching spiritually revived parents return to greet them.

Heather Dawn is a free-lance writer in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

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ESTABLISHING PEACEFUL TRADITIONS

Routine helps babies feel comfortable. What may seem monotonous to some adults can help babies feel safe, secure, and protected. Whether your volunteer staff rotates weekly or is the same each week, create a predictable and peaceful environment by developing activities and procedures that stay the same each week. We call these Peaceful Traditions.

Think through a perfect morning. What is it like? What do volunteers say and do for babies? Take a look at the four times below. Place the traditions in your manual so they're easy to refer to.

WELCOME TIMES

Greet the baby in the same manner each week. Use a puppet, an interactive mural, or something uniquely yours. Play the same music in the background. Let the babies make both a visual and auditory connection to the nursery. You might even have a signature scent for greeting, such as simmering cinnamon or soft powder air freshener.

Think through your welcoming traditions. Do you want workers to always call the baby by name? To bend down and look a walker in the eye? Specify these traditions that are important to your sense of atmosphere. What do you want volunteers to communicate to parents? How do you want volunteers to greet new parents? Don't leave anything about this critical time to chance. Be intentional about what you do.

SNACK AND BOTTLE TIMES

Designate specific areas of the room as snack areas. Keep food and drinks within this area. Think through your snack traditions. Is there a specific time you will serve snacks? Will all babies eat and have bottles on demand? Is there a difference in scheduling for infants and toddlers? Is there a snack-time prayer you'd like babies to become familiar with? Are there manners that are important to you? Make a note of these things so that every worker can follow the same procedures.

CHANGING TIMES

How can workers convey that changing time is a pleasant routine? Do you want babies checked for changing needs at specific intervals throughout the morning? We consider changing time as individual attention time. We also suggest a stash of special changing-time toys to keep babies' hands occupied. Be sure workers are aware of your sanitation policies.

GOODBYE TIMES

Who picks up babies in your nursery? At what time? Do you use songs or little games to make goodbye times more fun? What are some things you want done each week before babies leave? What do you expect parents to do when they are ready to pick up their children? How will you tell each baby goodbye? What will you do to help ensure that parents know what their baby has done this week? We suggest making copies of some of the nursery manual activity pages included in our book to send home. Be sure to adapt them for family use by personalizing the "Other Notes" section.

Excerpted from The Warm and Wonderful Church Nursery by Kim Sikes and Lori Haynes Niles (Group Publishing; 800-447-1070 or 970-669-3836; www.grouppublishing.com).


PROVIDER CHECKLIST

CareGuide.com gives a checklist for parents to evaluate a child-care provider. Use this adapted checklist to look at your nursery from a parent's perspective and determine if your nursery makes parents feel secure in leaving their babies with you. For more information, log onto www.careguide.com, or e-mail care@careguide.com.

GENERAL QUESTIONS

1. Does the facility take your needs into consideration? Is the staff accommodating and flexible?

2. How long has the facility been in business?

3. How many children is the facility licensed to provide for?

4. What is the philosophy of the center or home?

5. Does the facility allow non-toilet-trained children?

6. Does the facility serve meals? Are they hot meals or snacks? Are they well-balanced and nutritious?

7. What is the facility's policy on sick children?

8. What supplies and equipment does the facility provide and what is the parent expected to provide?

9. Is your involvement encouraged?

FACILITY ATMOSPHERE


1. Do the children at the facility look happy?

2. Did your child seem to feel comfortable during your visit?

3. Did she/he like the other children?

4. Is there a feeling of belonging at the facility?

5. Does the environment seem child-oriented?

6. Would you enjoy spending time in this environment?

7. How is the lighting? the ventilation?

8. Are safe and sanitary conditions maintained?

9. Are there several toilets and wash facilities available, and are children encouraged to wash their hands?

10. Where do children nap?

11. Is there an outdoor area that is safe to play in?

12. Is there space for running about freely for active play and still other space where quiet play may go on undisturbed, both indoors and out?

STAFF/CHILD INTERACTION

1. Observe the interaction between the providers and the children. Does the staff seem happy and attentive to the children? Do they instill confidence in the children?

2. Do the children get individualized attention?

3. How does the staff physically handle the children?

4. Are the providers the kind of people you would enjoy being with outside of the facility setting?

5. How capable do the providers seem at being able to resolve conflicts between children?

6. How long has the staff been working at the facility (average tenure of staff)?

7. What is the staff-child ratio?

8. Does the classroom staff have experience and skills in child-care methods and developmental learning?

9. Are your questions, comments, and visits welcome?

10. Does the center have strict procedures for hiring caregivers?

11. Are applicants interviewed by management, fingerprinted when required by state law, and required to take a medical exam in compliance with state licensing regulations? Are background checks and written references mandatory?

ACTIVITIES

1. What is the emphasis of the activities? to have fun? to learn? both?

2. Are the learning programs specifically designed for each age group?

3. How big are the activity groups?

4. How noisy is it?

5. Are the activities the kind your child enjoys?

6. Are the toys used in the activities safe and appropriate for the children's ages?

7. Do the children have sufficient rest?

EMERGENCIES

1. How is the facility set up to handle emergencies?

2. What are the procedures for contacting you?

3. Is the staff CPR and first-aid certified?

4. Which hospital are they affiliated with?

5. Is the staff prepared or trained for possible allergic reactions or other special needs?
Please keep in mind that phone numbers, addresses, and prices are subject to change.

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