Child Says Caregiver Hit Him

Dear Dr. Rene
My son, who is almost three and is quite verbal, just told us that his daycare provider hit him.  It sounds as though she hit him during nap time when he was “moving around too much.”  He said it hurt him and he didn’t like her.  The comment was unprovoked and came as we were playing at home today (Saturday) – no discussion of daycare, no discussion or recent episodes of him hitting anyone and needing to be disciplined.  In other words, I believe him (we have seen him make stories up about what other people have done a couple times, but it’s always been in the moment and for a direct gain, like getting a toy from another kid).
He’s been going to the same in-home provider since he was 6 months old, and he has always seemed very, very happy there.  My husband and I think the world of her and are quite pleased with her and with the loving environment she provides the children.  That said, we never had a conversation with her about discipline (since he started with her as a baby), and she comes from a fairly traditional background.
I suspect that she spanked him to discipline him and with no intention of harming him, but we do not want him to be spanked.  Do you have any suggestions for how to approach her about this?  Or for how to talk about this with our son, or look for signs that things maybe aren’t as great as we thought they were?  As further background, my son will be leaving her care soon to go to pre-school, but we now have our 7-month old with her as well.
Sincerely, Karen
mom of two
Dear Karen,
I am sorry for this.  It means the world to trust our children’s caregivers and feel confident as we drop them off.  I want to start by saying, I believe him too.  Part of the difficulty here is your child is shy of three years old and children under six years old tend to be poor reporters so while I do think he was hit, getting any meaningful details beyond that is difficult at best.  It may have been a light tap that startled him or a real spank out of frustration.  Asking more questions also easily leads his answers.
I think my best response would be to have a direct conversation with the caregiver.  Start by letting her know what was said, ask about her discipline for small and big behaviors and let her know your guidelines.  Be clear and firm in your limits of not spanking or otherwise using physical discipline.  If you feel comfortable with her response and decide to stay, plan to be a good, open listener moving forward.
Honestly, I wouldn’t stay.  Whatever her response, my concern is that the spanking seemed to happen over moving too much at naptime which in the big scheme of things is a relatively small behavior.  My concern would be for her handling bigger behaviors such as pushing or biting.  This is such a personal decision and difficult because you have a long history and otherwise high regards for her level of care.  I hope this is helpful.
Sincerely, Rene
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