Is your baby or toddler headed to daycare this season? If so, you might be feeling a little apprehensive about how your child will handle the move away from the comforts of home — and it's likely you're going through a bit of separation anxiety as well. That gut-wrenching feeling is natural; but parents shouldn't fret. Kids often adapt quicker than we expect, and attending a daycare where your tot can interact with new kids, other people, and new experiences can be a good thing. To make that leap, we've rounded up a few tips to smooth the transition to daycare for both parent and child.
Tips for your child
1. Bring something familiar.
A reminder of home will make those first few trips to daycare a little easier and provide comfort on difficult days. We recommend "anything that smells and feels like home" for your child. That might be a piece of a blanket, mom or dad's T-shirt, or a small stuffed animal.
2. Create a goodbye ritual.
One great tip is for families create a consistent goodbye ritual to create a fuss-free drop off. That might mean giving a high-five, saying, "I love you," or a kiss on both cheeks — whatever feels natural to the parent and child. Make sure you do the same routine each time, so your child knows what to expect. This daily sendoff helps set a "limit for yourself" as well - so you won't be tempted to linger at the door, making the goodbye harder for you both.
3. Talk it through.
Children will benefit from parents talking through what this new thing called daycare is going to be like. For example, you can say, "Starting tomorrow, we're going to drop you off at so-and-so's and there are going to be other nice kids there! You're going to have lunch and play with these toys, and then after naptime and snack. Then I'm going to come pick you up." The child will pick up on your speaking cadence and emotional tone and they're going to get a sense of reassurance. It gives them a sense of predictability and that everything's going to be OK. Repeat the story once daycare starts for continued reassurance.
4. Try a gradual start.
If possible, let your child ease in to daycare by starting him off with a part-time schedule. The ideal transition into daycare is one that is gradual, so maybe you're going with them for an hour one day, and the next day, you'll leave them there for 20 minutes to play while you go get a coffee. Many daycare providers will recommend a similar gradual start, beginning with either a couple of half days or starting on a Thursday, rather than Monday, so the child or baby doesn't immediately plunge into a five-day-a-week, full-time schedule.
Tips for you, the parent
5. Do your research.
Invest some hours to research the best provider for your family. Ask plenty of questions like, "Is your staff CPR trained?" and make sure they're readily providing answers that assuage those fears. If you've done your due diligence picking the right place, including observing the staff in action, then you can tell yourself the rest of it is your normal parent anxiety.
6. Create a night-before checklist.
Daycare veterans will likely tell you one of the hardest things is actually just remembering to pack all that stuff! Toddlers need their items labeled, pack spare diapers or pull-ups, wipes, extra sets of clothes and possibly lunches and snacks. Post a daycare checklist near the front door (or on your phone) to help remember daily items. Do not forget seasonal stuff like sunscreen and hats or boots and hats and mittens. Pack everything the night before and you might just minimize a bit of that morning chaos, improving everyone's mood!
7. Do regular check-ins.
Letting someone else care for your child can make many parents feel a loss of control. You might worry about how much they're sleeping or wonder who their favorite friend is at daycare. Foster a rapport with the provider to make asking such questions easier. It'll provide a better glimpse into their new world away from home — hopefully one that makes you both happy. At pickup and drop-off, you can have some of these conversations with the teachers.
8. Expect some tears.
It can take anywhere from one day to four weeks, depending on their temperament, for a child to adjust to daycare. Until then, you might see a few tears upon pickup. Those tears are also an important milestone for growing children as they learn to adapt to different social situations where there might be different rules than at home. It helps them with flexibility and adaptation, so just let those tears flow.