DAY-CARE DILEMMAS Some companies are helping employees find a solution


Last year the Rouse Company inaugurated a program allowing working parents employed by the firm to use their own sick leave when a child was home ill. No longer do Rouse employees have to pretend they're sick to stay home with an ailing child.

Although a relatively small step -- far less elaborate than creating an on-site day-care center -- the move was applauded by employees with small children, recalls William Boden, head of Human Resources at Columbia-based Rouse.

"People were happy they didn't have to fib about the situation. They appreciated not having to play games," Mr. Boden says.

Few Maryland employers have created on-site day-care centers for their employees' offspring. But many are moving like Rouse -- initiating relatively small personnel changes that can add up to important changes in the lives of their working-parent employees, says Sandra Skolnik, executive director of the Maryland Committee for Children Inc., a Baltimore-based non-profit organization.

"What's beginning to happen is this recognition that there is an interconnection between work and family life," Ms. Skolnik says.

Besides allowing more flexible use of sick leave and disability leave, a number of local employers are helping workers establish pretax spending accounts to cover child-care expenses. Through the use of such an account, an employee can pay a caregiver with funds not subject to income tax.

Some employers are purchasing slots in outside day-care centers and providing the slots to employees at a discount. Or, they are giving workers cash subsidies for child care.

Still others, such as Rouse and Hunt Valley-based PHH Corp., have contracted with the Maryland Committee for Children to provide employees with a day-care referral service. The computerized resource and referral counseling service, known as "LOCATE: Child Care," is for parents who are seeking child care.

On-site day-care centers are generally viable only for companies with 1,800 or more employees -- and a work force composed primarily of young people, Ms. Skolnik says.

"The on-site day-care stuff has been problematic around the country, mainly because of demographics. Some companies have spent half a million, built a building, set up a program and then, five years later, the center is half empty and they're very distraught," she says.

While on-site centers have had problems, education programs have often shown their worth, according to the Maryland Committee for Children. This week, in connection with the Maryland Week of the Working Parent, the committee has prepared a series of tips for working parents. Some examples:

* Communicate with your child's caregiver/teacher.

1) Keep the caregiver/teacher informed about unusual things in your child's life, such as sleep problems, family illness, divorce, etc.

2) Ask questions, share concerns and raise issues when they first develop.

3) Expect to share negative as well as positive comments about behavior. No child is perfect!

* Build self-esteem in your child.

1) Let children perform simple tasks with you such as helping write a grocery list (either with pictures or words) or helping carry your work supplies. This can help him feel good about himself and the important work you do.

2) When a child says, "I can do it myself" or "I don't need your help," respect her independence.

3) Give children the opportunity to make choices.

* Create evening routines that work.

1) Establish a consistent and reasonable bedtime, based on your child's individual sleeping needs.

2) Allow children some choices. "Do you want to brush your teeth before or after we read a book?"

3) Use a chart or a list to help the child organize getting ready for bed and for the next day (i.e. put toys away, lay out tomorrow's clothes).

4) Give an early warning so the child knows that bedtime is coming up soon.

* Understand your child's anger.

1) Know that anger is neither bad nor good, it is just a feeling.

2) A very angry child cannot listen to you. Wait until she has calmed down to solve the problem together.

3) Use humor to dispel anger.

4) Give the child a chance to save face and to rejoin an activity when he is calmed down.

5) Provide acceptable physical ways to expressing anger: pounding dough, throwing a ball outside against a wall, punching a pillow.

6) After a tantrum, reassure a child with a hug, or by helping him decide what to do next.

* Handle sibling rivalry.

1) Don't blame one child or the other: It really doesn't matter who started it.

2) Remember that each child is a unique individual: Don't compare children to one another.

3) Avoid labeling your children: "She's the bully; he's the quiet one."

4) Establish special times for each child when they don't have to share your attention.

* Encourage your child to help out at home.

1) Explain to your children that you can't do it all; you need their help in the mornings and at the end of each day.

2) Offer your child jobs that match his abilities (i.e., a 5-year-old can set the table; a 9-year-old can empty the dishwasher.)

3) Share your pride in their successes and recognize their efforts often! A smile, hug or shared cookies and milk can go a long way!

4) Use a simple chore chart to keep track of your child's good work.

* Communicate with your child.

1) Let your child know that you care about what she did during her day, whom she spent time with, and what she had strong feelings about.

2) Tell your child exactly and clearly what you want him to do. Children can't read minds!

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