Acknowledging caregivers

It's important for caregivers and teachers to know they're appreciated. Giving thanks also provides a wonderful opportunity for your child to learn this important social skill.

By June Solnit Sale, Kit Kollenberg and Ellen Melinkoff

Former editors of the UCLA Working Parents Newsletter and the authors of The Working Parents Handbook (Fireside, 1996).

Child care and teaching are notoriously underpaid and under-appreciated professions. People who stay in the field often do it for the personal satisfaction it brings them. Being told how important they are to a child and his family, in a thoughtful letter, note, or other presentation, can contribute greatly to job satisfaction. (And it's not a bad thing to keep in a teacher's or caregiver's portfolio for job-hunting or references, either.)

Acknowledging caregivers and teachers is not just a once-a-year thing. Thank them throughout the year. Depending on your situation, it may be a nice thing to do or say something appreciative for a birthday, Valentine's Day, or the end of the school year—and in between.

Involve your child

To many working parents this may seem like just one more thing to squeeze into a busy day: one more errand. But showing appreciation is important to everyone involved. Not only to the caregiver or teacher whose day will be brightened by a caring gesture, but also to the child who will see how much it can mean to someone to be recognized for their effort and good work.

Children love being recognized themselves. From a very early age, children love to be acknowledged for their own accomplishments—and this is an essential part of blossoming into adulthood. But they also need to be on the giving end of this process. Taking the time to acknowledge the important caregivers and teachers in their life is an excellent way to develop this habit. Yes, habit. Don't you want your child to be someone who sincerely expresses thanks to those around him? This is something to be learned young; preschool isn't too early.

You might bring up the subject with your child and see where it goes: "Wouldn't it be nice to do something for Miss Davis to show her how much we appreciate her?" Brainstorming, you and your child may come up with a letter, a store-bought card with a personal note (always a personal note, the longer the better), a picture created by your child, or even a gift.

What to give

"It's very nice to be appreciated but it doesn't have to include a gift," according to one seasoned teacher in a recent chat room discussion on the subject. Many other teachers e-mailed to agree. A sincere, glowing letter of appreciation for the work the caregiver or teacher does is something both you and your child can work on together. You can compose a letter together, or two separate ones, from your individual perspectives. You can write them longhand or print up a computer copy and then embellish with stamps, collage, or copies of your child's photos.

Still, you may decide that, for your situation, a gift is the most appropriate way to express thanks. That's much more easily accomplished when you know something about the caregiver or teacher's life. But how much do most parents know about their child's caregiver or teacher? Many prefer to reveal very little, which can result in 20 or 30 boxes of stationery and candy. You're most likely to pick up clues in a family child care arrangement. But even then, it is difficult.

One thing you can be pretty sure of, your caregiver or teacher can always use carefully selected children's books, toys, or classroom supplies. These might include art supplies (markers, colored papers, paints), sandbox toys, or balls. Head to the art store, classroom equipment store, or office supply shop for inspiration or a gift certificate.

If your child has a favorite book that you read together every night, buying a copy for the caregiver to share with all the children is both thoughtful and practical. But to be on the safe side, you might say to the caregiver, "We'd like to get you a book to read to the kids. We were thinking about Goodnight Moon. Or would you rather pick another one you know the kids would like?"

Another way for you and your child to make this a joint project is to make cookies or other goodies for your caregiver, teacher, or classroom staff.

The teachers who get 20 or 30 small gifts every year would probably be thrilled with a group gift. It may be a lot of work to organize every parent in the class, but even banding together with a few you know can result in a nice-size gift certificate to a department or book store.

Some centers have policies about teachers accepting cash from parents (either forbidding it or limiting the amount). But it's a different story for nannies. In some communities, a year-end cash bonus is customary and in others, gift certificates or just plain gifts are more popular. To find out what other families do, talk with other parents in your community and ask at nanny agencies.

Thanking teachers and caregivers for the good work they do for our children can enrich everyone's lives.