What Should You Do When A Parent Arrives Early?

A parent knocks on your door with their child thirty minutes early. They texted you a message late the night before that they wanted to drop off early. But you hadn’t read the message and now they are at your front door.

What do you do?

One of the biggest benefits of being a family child care provider is that you are the boss. You can set whatever rules you want with parents (other than illegally discriminating based on race, sex, religion, national origin, ethnic background or disability).

You have two options on how to handle this situation:

One: Do what the parent wants

Accept the child early and not make a fuss.

Two: Do what you want

You can refuse to accept the child until your regular opening time. “I’m sorry, but I can’t care for your child for another half hour. Please return then.”

  • You can accept the child and charge the parent an early drop off fee. If your contract includes such a fee, enforce it. “I will accept your child now, but you will owe me an early drop off fee of $___ according to our contract.” You can set whatever fee you want in your contract.
  • If your contract doesn’t have such a fee, you can impose one on the spot. “I will accept your child now, but you will have to pay me a fee of $____ for me to do so. If you won’t agree to pay this fee, I can’t care for your child for another thirty minutes.”
  • Or, you can say, “I will accept your child now, without charging you a fee. But, in the future I will enforce the early drop off fee or I will start charging you a fee.”

Sometimes providers can get caught off guard in this situation and might accept the child without thinking it through. Later, you might wish you had acted differently. It’s okay to tell the parent at the end of the day, “I was surprised when you showed up early today and I agreed to accept your child. After thinking about it, I need to:

a) Charge you the early drop off fee according to our contract, or

b) Let you know that I won’t agree to this in the future. If it happens again I’ll charge you a fee of $_____ or refuse to accept your child.”

How to avoid this problem

Obviously, you want to try to avoid this problem. If you won’t accept children early under any circumstances, make this clear in your contract. You may also want to have a list available to give to parents of names of other providers who may be willing to take children early in the morning in an emergency.

It’s reasonable to require the parent to notify you in advance about an early drop off. A 24-hour notice seems reasonable, unless there is an emergency. You may want to insist that the parent call, rather than send a text or email, to be sure you receive the message in a timely manner.

Whatever approach you take, I recommend that you handle it in a non-judgmental manner. If you do what the parent wants, do so without anger or resentment. If the parent’s behavior makes you angry or upset, don’t give in. Instead, enforce your own rule or set a new rule on the spot.

When you do enforce your rule, do so without judgment. If your contract says that you will accept a half hour early drop off for $20, then you should be happy to provide the early care and accept the money. If you still feel resentment when the parent takes advantage of your own rule, then you need to make a change in your contract. Either raise the fee so you will be happy and not complain about it, or tell the parent you won’t accept any early drop offs.

Acting Professionally

Parents sometimes act irresponsibly. Parents sometimes have emergencies or are trapped by circumstances. They are not perfect, nor are you.

I don’t recommend telling parents, “You are being irresponsible and disrespectful for violating our agreement.” You certainly have a right to feel strong emotions in this situation, but I don’t think it helps to share these feelings with parents. I think it’s fine to say, “It’s inconvenient for me to open early” or “I need to have 24 hours advance notice, because that’s what works best for me.” But, blaming or shaming parents is not a good idea. Share your frustration with your spouse or loved ones, not the parent.

You should always treat parents with respect even if they are not treating you with respect. Setting and enforcing your own rules can be done in a manner that is kind, but firm. That’s your job. That’s what being a professional is all about.

There is an interesting discussion of this issue on Daycare.com [http://www.daycare.com/forum/showthread.php?t=82026]. Providers would handle this situation in many different ways.

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Tom Copeland

I've been the nation's leading trainer, author, and advocate on the business of family child care since 1981. I'm a licensed attorney and have presented hundreds of business workshops for family child care providers across the country. I answer thousands of calls and emails each year to help providers, tax professionals and trainers understand complex business and tax issues. Call me at 651-280-5991. Email me at tomcopeland@live.com. Visit me on Facebook. From 1981 to 2009 I worked at Resources for Child Caring in Minnesota (now called Think Small), where I was director of Redleaf National Institute for 15 years. I've written nine books on the business of family child care published by Redleaf Press, a division of Resources for Child Caring. I was on the board of directors of First Children's Finance, a non-profit organization providing low interest loans and consulting and technical assistance to help family child care providers suceed as a business. They operate in Minnesota, Iowa, Michigan, North and South Dakota, Kansas, Missouri, and Texas. Here are some YouTube videos of me talking about my work with this organization and the business of family child care. I graduated from Macalester College (BA) in 1972 and from William Mitchell College of Law (JD) in 1980. I live in St. Paul, Minnesota with my wife Diane and two cats, Duke and Ella.