You found the best childcare centre for your little one and now it’s time to get ready for the first day. Starting childcare is an exciting milestone in your child’s life, but it can also be a little scary (both for you and your child). While childcare offers the opportunity for babies and toddlers to explore exciting new stimuli, make new friends and develop deep connections with their educators, it is also a completely new environment that can take some getting used to. In many cases, starting childcare can also be the first time a child has spent an extended period of time away from their primary caregiver(s), meaning it may take some time before they begin to feel secure and confident being cared for by somebody new. Here are some simple tips to ease your child’s transition into childcare and remember, this process takes time. Ask any seasoned parent and they will tell you the difficult days pass and before you know it your child will be running into childcare without a backwards glance!
Starting slowly is absolutely key to building your child’s trust and confidence in the brand-new childcare environment. This means you need to plan ahead – factor in at least a week or two dedicated to helping your child settle in by sending them for short periods before gradually building up to full days. Start with whatever your child is comfortable with (even if that’s just a short visit with you by their side) and gradually work up to longer stints, without you present.
Babies and small children are so perceptive of their caregiver’s emotional state, so they will absolutely pick up on any stress on your part. One way to minimise stress and ensure you have the capacity to focus on your child’s emotions during drop off is by getting everything organised the night before. Make your child’s lunch (or ensure everything is ready for preparing their bottles or breastmilk) and pack their bag the night before so that in the morning you can give your child your full attention while also projecting a sense of calm and confidence.
While childcare is lots of fun, all that stimulation can also be tiring. No matter the age and personality of your child, they will need some time to wind down and relax when they get home from care. For babies, some skin-to-skin time (e.g. a cuddly feeding session or a walk in the baby carrier) can be a great way to relax after childcare, while older children might enjoy reading a book in bed or simply some quiet play with familiar toys. You may also notice they need an earlier bedtime or an extra nap on their daycare days.
Attachment research has shown that the moment of separation (saying goodbye to your child) and reunion (greeting them at the end of the day) are crucially important to a child’s experience. This means you should make sure you take a couple of minutes at drop-off and pick up to give your child your undivided attention. You’ll also want to ensure you have time to connect and bond with your child before and after care so that they start and end their day feeling deeply connected with their caregiver. Some great ideas for connecting with your child include baby massage, reading a book, playing, singing or dancing together, or cuddling or rocking your child to sleep.
Saying goodbye can be difficult for children, even when they are happy and comfortable in their childcare environment. One way to ease the transition is to create a goodbye ritual which is repeated every day at drop off. This can be tailored to suit your child’s age and preferences, but the repetition of the ritual can be reassuring to your child and it also prevents long, drawn-out goodbyes (which can actually make separation more difficult). Some examples of goodbye rituals include singing a short song, repeating the same phrase with an accompanying action or even a secret handshake or special goodbye dance for older kids.
A transitional object is a special item which offers comfort and security to children who are experiencing separation anxiety. If your child has a comforter, special blanket or cuddly toy they are already attached to, this can be an extremely useful tool to help them settle into childcare. If they don’t have one, now might be a good time to introduce one. If your child is old enough, you could go choose the object together and explain that they can cuddle or stroke the item when they are missing you. If your child is a baby, choose a comforter and sleep with it overnight or hold it between you during feeds so that it smells like you.
Children look to their caregivers to understand whether a new environment, object or person is safe. Therefore it’s absolutely essential that you show your child that you have complete confidence and trust that they will be safe and happy in their childcare environment. As hard as it can be to hide your own emotions during the first drop off, or when talking about childcare, it’s important your child sees that you are not worried in order for them to feel safe. While you might have to fake it at the start, if you project a happy and confident attitude towards childcare, before you know it you will really feel that cool, calm confidence as you see your child thriving.
One great way to build your own confidence in the daycare environment is to get to know your child’s educators. Building rapport and trust with the people who are caring for your child will not only help you to feel more at ease, it will also help your child build trust, comfort and familiarity with their educators. Your child should see you speaking warmly with their educators and have the chance to talk about them with you at home. If your child is pre-verbal, they can still benefit from watching your positive interactions with educators and hearing you say their names and talk about them before and after care.
Starting childcare can be a challenging and emotional time, but with the right approach, you will be delighted to see how your child gains trust and confidence in their new environment. At Little Zak’s we work with you to ensure your child’s transition into care is as smooth as possible, allowing your little one to thrive! Contact us today to find out more or to schedule a visit to tour a childcare centre near you.