Once you become a parent, you have to be prepared for your heart to burst with pride regularly. But, you also need to be ready for it to break regularly as well, and starting your child at daycare for the first time will most likely be a heart-breaking experience. It is hard. Your baby will cry, you will cry, there will be tears all around. But that is all completely normal, and your baby will be just fine.
Is your child entering a daycare program for the first time? The transition from being home with family to being in a childcare centre can be very difficult for a toddler, even when the caregivers are top-notch and the environment is loving. Getting ready for the first day can be both exciting and scary at the same time.
How to Prepare Your Toddler for Their First Day at Daycare
Talk About Daycare
The more you talk about something, the more your child will be comfortable with it. Then, depending on your child's age, you can explain to them everything that will happen.
Communication is key! No one wants to be dropped off at an unfamiliar location with no idea of what's going on.
Besides its educational benefits, reading can give your child an idea of what their experience at daycare would be like! For example, introduce the book My First Day at Daycare or a similar book a few months before they start going to daycare.
You can also watch tv shows that have episodes about the first days of daycare or preschool. For example, try Daniel Tiger's first day at school. For visual learners, a video will help them picture daycare easier than a book will.
By the time daycare is beginning, your child will be familiar with the idea! You can even reference the book or video when dropping the child off, reminding them how much fun the child in the story had.
Get Them Excited
Work daycare into your child's pretend play, show them how exciting it's going to be. Excite them!
Pretend with them that they are in daycare. Go through lunchtime, playtime, nap time, and any other activities they might be doing at daycare.
Make it extra fun for them. You can also start calling daycare "school" if the term daycare isn't as fun for them.
Talk about their teacher and use the teacher's name frequently. This will help them remember the teacher's name, and it will get them excited to see them.
Talk about all the friends they will make, their activities, and the new toys they will get to play with. Make daycare seem like the most fun place on earth.
Try Out the Library
See if your local library has a story hour. Go there with your child to practice listening to someone else read and give directions. One major benefit of this is that you will stay with your child for this storytime.
Encourage your child to sit with other children while you stay in your spot. Some libraries will have a specific play area for children. If there is playtime, have your child play with other children while you watch from the sidelines.
You can also check the library's schedule for arts and crafts times, anything that gets them out of the house, and listening to another adult give directions.
When your child gets used to library time, they will probably have an easier time transitioning into daycare because they have the confidence to play with other children.
Work on Independence
Give your toddler extra time to complete tasks at home. Give them choices and let them gain independence.
Let them know that they are now a big kid and can do some things themselves. Let them know that they did a great job; a little praise goes a long way.
When giving your child choices, limit the choices to two things that are acceptable to you. For example, what would you like to do first, brush your teeth or brush your hair? Or, what would you like for a snack, oranges or strawberries?
This will make daycare easier, but encouraging independence will increase their creativity and boost cognitive function. The more a toddler spends trying to figure things out themselves, the better patience and problem-solving skills they will have later in life.
It's also important that you try to have your toddler eating independently. This way, at daycare, you can be sure that they are eating and snacking well. In addition, they should be confident in their eating abilities.
Sleep Schedule Changes
You may find that you have to start waking your child up earlier for daycare. At least a month before daycare starts to let your child adjust to the new sleep schedule. Then, wake them up when they would normally get up for daycare and adjust their bedtime accordingly.
Sometimes daycare naps will be at a specific time during the day. This could affect your bedtime and your child's sleeping patterns. Ask your daycare provider if they have their nap schedule or if they consider your child's sleeping routine.
Try to get your child on the new schedule as soon as possible, and before they start daycare if you can. A good sleep schedule, as you know, is vital in keeping toddlers happy.
Establish a solid and predictable morning routine: Wake up, diaper change, get dressed, brush teeth, eat breakfast, and off to daycare. Knowing what to expect next can make mornings so much easier for you and your child.
Give yourself enough time to get all your morning duties done in a leisurely fashion, and if possible, don't rush. Rushing will make your child more anxious than they need to be.
Toddlers love repetition and predictability. Creating and maintaining this morning will make the transition so much better for your child.
Practice Drop Offs
Practice drop-offs, especially if you've never left your child with an unfamiliar person in an unfamiliar place before. Bring your child to a friend's house who also has kids, and leave them there while you go and get coffee.
Practice leaving them someplace new at least a few times. At each drop-off, keep your leaving routine the same: Hug, kiss, I love you, I'll be back later, bye!
This will help them understand the routine and know that mom or dad will be back to get them in a little bit. The more often you do this, the easier it will get.
Meet the Teacher
Give us a call at one of our locations to see if you can meet the teacher and visit the daycare centre before your child starts daycare. This way, your child is familiar with the teacher and their surroundings. You can also see certain toys that your child likes and uses when getting them excited to go back.
It's also a good idea to ensure the teacher knows your child's cues for things, like when they have a dirty diaper or what to do when your child feels sad. Daycare providers are usually very good at keeping track of these things, but if your child is calmed down with a certain song or phrase, be sure to share that with your daycare teacher.
Ways to help ease your child's transition to daycare
Especially if you have a younger child, ask the school if you can visit together and spend some time either in his classroom or on the playground. This will help both you and your child feel safe and comfortable as he explores his new environment for the first time.
If joint visits are not allowed by the school, try driving to the school on a Saturday and just showing your child the outside. This is especially helpful if you can see the playground from the parking lot, as many children will be excited to check out the new equipment they'll get to enjoy.
If the school or daycare allows it, do a gradual transition where your child stays a little bit longer each day.
If it's your child's very first time being away from you, start with just an hour. Based on how she reacts to the new environment, work with her teachers to find a transition timeline that will push her a little more each day so that she's comfortable.
Tell your child what to expect
Exciting things up too much can backfire—children see through us so easily. Telling your child he'll have the best day ever and going on about how fun school is while you're anxious about how he'll handle it won't work.
This approach can also be problematic because if you tell your child he'll love school, and then he doesn't. He may be confused or feel like he can't trust what you say. Instead, try talking to him about the specifics of his day. Tell him the name of his teacher and tell him a few details about the daily schedule.
For example, try something like, "When you get to your classroom, you'll see Ms Jones. You'll play inside for an hour, then play on the playground, and then eat lunch. Then I'll come and take you home."
Understanding what will happen while he's at school or daycare will help him feel more comfortable. As the day progresses, he will see that what you told him is indeed happening, and that will help him feel safe.
Adjust your schedule at home
Request a copy of your child's schedule and try to follow it as closely as possible at home the week before he starts group care. For example, if the class eats lunch at 11 am and naps at 12 pm, try adjusting your home schedule to match.
Being away from you in a new environment is a lot of change as it is. Adjusting your schedule ahead of time will help the rhythms of the school day feel more natural to your child.
Clear your calendar
It can be tempting to make up for lost time and do *all the things* when you pick your child up from school or on the weekends.
Even if your child loves school or daycare right away, though, it is a huge change and takes a mental toll. So try to keep life at home as simple as possible for the first few weeks of this transition. Plenty of time for open-ended play at home will give your child the opportunity to decompress and process everything that is happening.
Say goodbye with confidence
The number one suggestion for parents starting a child in our classroom is to say a quick, confident goodbye.
There are few things harder than leaving your child crying and screaming for you. The thing is, if you stay and try to comfort your child, she gets stuck in a sort of limbo and can't move on. As long as you're still there, part of her wonders if she can convince you to stay, and that makes it very hard to calm down.
Most children calm down very soon after their parents leave. However, if you're concerned about leaving your child crying, ask the school to call you if he's still upset in 30 minutes so you can come up with a plan.
Saying goodbye with confidence also shows your child that she is safe. If you seem anxious or upset to leave her, her anxiety will likely increase as it signals that it's not okay for her to be left there.
Starting group care is a huge adjustment, both for the parent and the child. No matter what you do, it will likely be a bumpy road for a little while. Taking some time to prepare your child ahead of time, though, will help you both feel a little more comfortable with all of the changes to come.
Tips for the Morning of the First Day of Child Care
- Wake up early enough to get ready for school without rushing. Enjoy a leisurely breakfast and remind your child about the plan for the day.
- Allow ample time for the transition from home to child care. Upon arriving at the centre, spend a few minutes reintroducing your child to the teacher. Spend time with your baby and caregiver. Talk to the teacher about your baby's evening and morning, and then be sure to give all necessary instructions both verbally and in writing. Help your toddler or preschooler child find an activity he likes and join in for a few minutes before having to leave him.
- When it's time to leave the child care centre or school, create a goodbye routine. Give your child a cheerful and confident goodbye. Reassure your child that you'll be back at the end of the day and when, for example, "after storytime." Never sneak out during the child care drop-off. Always tell your child you are leaving. Although it might be tempting, sneaking away when your child is engaged in activity will likely cause him to have a harder time trusting when you will leave and when you will return. Let the teachers know when you are ready to leave. Teachers want to nurture children through the transition and need to know when to help your child say goodbye. Say goodbye to the teachers. Leave quickly; don't linger at the door.
- After you leave, reflect upon the morning. It's normal to feel a bit anxious or concerned during child care drop-offs. Call the daycare centre any time for updates and reassurance. Understand that it's normal for many children to shed tears, scream, or beg you not to go. If this happens, think about the happy children you saw during the pre-visits or ask for a call later. Be careful not to judge the class by drop-off time. This is one of the most hectic times and isn't usually typical of the rest of the day. Remind yourself that your child is in a wonderful child care setting, playing, learning, enjoying new experiences, and developing relationships with teachers who will do everything possible to help him feel secure and happy.
This is a hard milestone for parents to go through, dropping their child off at daycare for the first time. It's not an easy time for anyone, as you all adjust to the new routines, and your baby gets used to their new environment. Incorporate lots of extra snuggles at home during this time to reassure your little one that everything is okay.
Have faith that you all will get through this process and that your baby will be just fine. Trust that you can do this, Momma. It will be a great experience for your little one. They will make new friends and learn new things, and they will be better at it in the long run. So trust that this, too, shall pass.
School is exciting. It's a place to learn new things and a place to make new friends. When children attend daycare or preschool, it is a stepping stone in preparing them for formal education. Do your research and choose a daycare where you feel comfortable leaving your kids for a couple of hours a day. Leaving your children in daycare may be daunting at first, but the tips listed above will help you prepare for it. Good luck!
Swimming classes, group music lessons and playtime at the local park are all great ways for your child to practice skills they will learn at daycare, such as sharing, spending time in larger groups and taking turns. As the time approaches, try leaving your child for a few hours at a time with a trusted adult.
Generally speaking, waiting until after your child has had their first birthday can be a good time to start looking into a childcare service. Many parents look to between one and two years of age.
On average, most children take about three to six months to fully adapt to a new situation. The more your child engages in the daycare facility and any activities they offer, the faster they will adapt. In fact, some children have adjusted to daycare in as quickly as two weeks!