You’ve toured several daycare facilities, received recommendations from friends and neighbors, and now you’ve finally chosen a childcare setting that is a great fit for you and your child. But while you know your little one will eventually make great friends, become attached to her childcare providers, and thrive in an environment where she can learn and play, changes can be difficult for young children. When you’re making the transition from in-home care, whether you’ve been a stay-at-home parent, on parental leave, or have been employing a nanny, you’ll want to take steps to make this big step as smooth as possible for your child…and for you!
1. Talk with your childcare providers about the daycare center’s philosophy regarding that first transition. Different centers may have different plans regarding handling the first few weeks, and you may want to discuss your child’s temperament, and how he responds to new people and places, in order to come up with a game plan.
2. Schedule a visit. If your daycare center has such a policy, take your baby or older child to his new daycare for just an hour or so, to introduce him to the childcare providers, the other kids, and his new setting. You may want to show him a few toys and games that are sure to entice him back when the time comes! You also may want to practice a dry run, getting your child dressed and ready for daycare, packing his food, a lovey, and a favorite toy, and bringing him to daycare, showing him where he’ll put his things, and where he’ll go when he arrives. This will eliminate the fear of the unknown and make his first drop-off that much easier.
3. Think about your own feelings of anxiety. Taking your child to daycare for the first time can be emotional for parents, but it is important not to allow your feelings of ambivalence, fear, and guilt to affect your child. If you need to discuss your feelings with your spouse or another family member or friend, do so in advance, so that you can bring your child to daycare with a brave and optimistic face!
4. Don’t rush the first day. The first few days you drop your child off at her new daycare, make sure that you’ve built time into your schedule to account for unexpected tears, negotiations over what to bring to daycare (you won’t be able to stuff absolutely every favorite toy in your child’s backpack), and a little time to settle in and to get acclimated to the new setting.
5. Don’t linger. While you’ll want to take some extra time to get out of the house in the morning and get settled at daycare, you don’t want to linger too long. Make your goodbye sweet and loving, but brief. There may be some tears that first day, but your child will learn to love being dropped off each morning in no time!
6. If you’ll be packing your child’s meals for him, send him with some of his favorites in those first few weeks. Include several items of food that you know he will enjoy, that will comfort him, and ensure that he won’t end the day hungry.
7. For older babies and toddlers, communication can be key in easing the transition into a childcare setting. Let your child know that the childcare providers at daycare will take good care of him, and that he’ll have plenty of games, toys, and snacks throughout the day. Let him know that you’ll be back at the end of the day to pick him up, everyday, and talk about what you’ll do when you come home together.
8. Before enrolling your baby in daycare, allow her to spend some time with grandparents, aunts, uncles, or babysitters outside the home. Giving her the experience of being cared for by people other than her parents, and in an environment different from her home, will help her to understand that new people and places can be fun and not scary.
9. Try not to make too many changes in other areas of your child’s life when he is starting daycare. Keep his waking up and bedtime rituals the same, and don’t introduce too many new things into his life at once. His first toddler bed or a new nap schedule can wait until he’s adjusted to his new childcare arrangement.
10. Remember that for a few days or even weeks, your baby or toddler may be a bit clingy or emotional. He may refuse some foods, or fight naps or bedtime. While his stress level might be temporarily impacted by a new change in his life, just as with adults, his stress levels and behavior will go back to normal as he gets used to, and learns to love, his new environment!
Taking these steps to ensure a smooth transition will make the first days and months of your child’s entry into a new childcare setting smooth for him, and for you. Daycare can be a wonderful experience for many children that will allow them to socialize, learn, and grow. If you’re patient during that transitional period, you and your child will reap the many rewards of a fantastic childcare setting in no time.