The first step in putting your child into a daycare setting is searching for the perfect daycare center to meet both your needs and your child’s needs. But once you find a child care program that fulfills your requirements, it’s important to prepare yourself and your child for the transition into his new child care setting. Children are highly adaptable, often more so than parents, but whether your child is starting care with a child care provider for the first time, or a daycare veteran starting in a new program, you can take some simple steps to ease the transition on everyone.
- Learn about the program and its schedule ahead of time: Chances are that during the search for a suitable program for your child, you did your homework and learned about the day-to-day operations of the center prior to choosing it for your child. Take that knowledge and begin to apply it at home. For example, if the center has a set schedule for lunch and naps, it will ease your child’s transition if you begin to implement that schedule at home ahead of time.
- Talk about the program in a positive way: With children who are old enough to understand that they are going to be attending a new child care program, it is important to be positive about the program so that the child gets excited. Referring to the program as “school,” or explaining that it’s a very fun and special place for big boys and girls, may be just the right enticement to make your little one get excited about gaining some independence and doing something that only big kids get to do. Be positive, and sell it.
- Expect there to be an adjustment period: It may not be smooth sailing right off the bat, especially if this is your child’s first time in a daycare setting. If your child is young enough, the adjustment may display itself in waking up more in the night (she just wants to spend time with you!), and the adjustment may be even harder on you, especially if you are leaving your baby for the first time. Give yourself and your child time to adjust.
- Settle your child in as much as possible: Many programs allow for an actual “settling in” period where the child attends the program for a designated period for longer stretches of time each day, or the parents are present for the first couple of days. Some children are ready and off to the races right away, but for those children that find leaving mom and dad a little tough, it’s important to make them feel comfortable. If there is no formal settling in period, pick your child up early the first week, or check with the center as to whether it is permissible to send your child to daycare with a lovey or some other comfort item. Comfort is key.
- Establish a predictable daily routine: Children thrive with routines. You may not be a family that adheres to strict time schedules, but establishing a routine can further help your child transition into her new setting. If your child knows that when she wakes up in the morning, she will have breakfast, then get dressed, brush teeth, and read a book with mom or dad before she leaves the house (in that order), she will come to know her routine and not fight any portion of it- including daycare drop off. The last thing you need when you are trying to get yourself to work is an unhappy child at drop off.
- Communicate with staff: About what’s going on at home, about what’s going on at daycare, about what you’ve noticed your child doing or not doing, about what you would like the staff to work on with your child. Communication is essential to a good child care experience. After all, your child will be spending a majority of his waking hours with his child care providers. An open line of communication is the best way to make sure that everyone, most importantly your child, is happy.
- Listen to your child: once your child is able to communicate in any nominal way about her day, ask. Always. You know your child better than anyone, and you should be able to pick up pretty easily on whether there are any issues with her child care situation, or whether she’s happy. Yes, you need someone to care for your child while you attend to life’s inevitabilities, but of paramount importance is your child’s happiness.