Leaving your child in someone else’s care for the first time is an unavoidable heartbreak that everyone faces at some point. It’s not uncommon for all the adults in the household to have to work, so you are certainly not alone. If you and your toddler have been joined at the hip but now it’s time for you to go back to work, here are some tips to help make the transition to daycare easier for both of you.
#1. Get Used To Group Play
Going from playing alone to playing with other children in a group is a big step developmentally for your toddler, especially if they are an only child. If your child isn’t used to group activities, you can help by signing them up for classes or activities in the community. You can find classes at the library, the community center, churches, and other local businesses. They will learn how to share, take turns, and build confidence with their social skills.
#2. Practice Separation
If it’s allowed, try leaving your toddler in their class alone without you for longer and longer periods of time. You can go to the waiting room, lobby, or even wait in your car so that you are still nearby. You can also practice separation by leaving your toddler with a trusted family member or family friend for short periods. Some toddlers have more separation anxiety than others, and a few have none at all.
#3. Be Positive
Keep all talk about the new daycare and the new routine positive and upbeat. If your toddler senses a lot of anxiety from you, they may view the experience as frightening. Keep an emphasis on the fun new games to be played and great new friends they will meet.
#4. Simulate The Daycare Routine At Home
As soon as you choose your daycare center, ask them for their daily schedule. Try to slowly transition your child’s nap and eating times to match what will soon become their new normal in daycare. According to a Huffington Post article contributed by a daycare worker, having a dependable schedule helps a child feel safe and secure. You can also practice putting away toys, and doing routine self-care activities on their own, like hand washing and eating.
#5. Get Familiar With New Foods And Self-Feeding
If your daycare provides the meals and snacks, ask what they typically serve. Sometimes toddlers can be quite picky about their food and introducing them to any new foods in advance can help ease anxiety at mealtimes. If your daycare requires you to provide a packed lunch, you can help your toddler help make some of the food choices so they can enjoy a feeling of control in their day. With multiple children per teacher, your child will have to be able to eat largely without help, so self-feeding is another skill to work on before going to daycare.
#6. Shop For Play Clothes And Other Necessities
Make a list of items you might need before daycare starts. The daycare might ask that you provide bedding for naptime or other supplies. You’ll also need to make sure that your child has comfortable play clothes to wear each day that are easy to move around in and have simple wash and care instructions. Shopping together and telling your toddler help pick out clothes can help build excitement and avoid any “what to wear” power struggles during your morning rush to get out the door.
#7. Choose A Comfort Item To Bring From Home
When dealing with a new environment, a comforting item from home can help a toddler feel more secure. A stuffed animal or a blanket might work nicely. A photo from home they can keep in their pocket or cubby for when they are feeling homesick might also be useful. Check with the daycare guidelines to see what items are allowed.
#8. Talk About Your Feelings
Let your child talk about their feelings and express themselves. If they are not yet using a lot of words, they can express themselves in other ways through play or art. You can read books or watch videos about children going to daycare for the first time and talk about them together. You can find books at your local library or videos online.
#9. Visit The Daycare Several Times Before The First Day
Just as it was important for you as the parent to tour the daycare when you were choosing the best one, it’s important for your child to tour it and spend a little time there as well. Schedule one or more short visits where you can stay with your child and enjoy a snack or have some playtime with the other children. This way, the building, staff, and new friends won’t seem so scary on the first day you leave your child alone there. They will be able to form some stress-free, positive memories to the daycare in advance.
#10. Start Part-time If Possible
Your situation is what it is, and sometimes a quick start can’t be avoided. In a perfect world, if allowed, you should start daycare on a part-time basis. Starting with half days or just a few days a week can help ease the transition and make the whole ordeal less stressful for both the parents and the child. If you can’t start part-time, you can focus more on the group play and trial separation activities we talked about earlier.
You put a lot of effort into choosing the right daycare center, and now it’s time to trust them to help make this a positive transition. Keep in mind, the daycare center staff has lots of experience helping new children adjust to daily routine and with helping parents and children who are leaving each other for the first time. Keep these tips in mind at home as you prepare for your toddler’s first day.
Sandra Chiu works as Director at LadyBug & Friends Daycare