How long does it take for a toddler to adjust to daycare?

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    Transitioning a toddler into child care or daycare is tough — not only for the child but also for the parents. For a preschooler, child care means a change in routine, a step into the unknown, and time away from parents or caregivers. For parents, it's questioning a decision, being calm during a meltdown, and trying not to cry during drop off. But, with a little planning, taking your toddler to child care can be a positive and rewarding experience. Here are a few tips on how to help a toddler adjust to daycare.

    Children develop at different rates depending on a number of both genetic and environmental factors. Their physical development is often what parents record in milestones, but social development is just as important. If you've spent day after day at home with your child for the first few years of their life, the transitioning social process could be a little more difficult than a child who has already adapted to external childcare. However, it's important to understand that even though it might take some kids a little longer than others, eventually, they'll come to understand and accept the change of pace. In this article, we'll explore how long it takes for a child to transition into daycare and how best to prepare them for this change in their routine.

    Depending upon your family situation, your child may have no trouble at all getting used to a new childcare situation. But, on the other hand—particularly if they are a certain age and have been home with you as the primary caregiver for the past few years—going to a new location or having a new caregiver in the home all day may prove to be a difficult transition.

    The good news is that most children do eventually make peace with the new order. However, if you did not ask the childcare provider how she handles children with separation anxiety during your interview, be sure to do so before the first day your child is in daycare. In addition, there are steps that you can take to facilitate the change in routine and ensure your child is comfortable with the different settings.

    Preparing for and Transitioning into Daycare 

    Suppose you've given your newborn some exposure to childcare, great. If not, that's okay, too. There are still plenty of ways for you to prepare to transition them into daycare. There isn't a definitive age that children should start attending daycare. Instead, you should base it on your child's developmental stage.

    When the time is right, the key to a successful daycare experience is preparation. Make sure that you take the time to prepare with your child before getting into daycare on the first day. If they have an idea of what to expect, it makes the entire concept less frightening and more welcoming. See if you can bring your child to the daycare facility for a few short visits before they start attending. This helps them acclimate to the environment, so it's not as foreign when the big day comes. You can also read a few books about daycare to help introduce the concept to understand it. Make sure that you maintain a positive attitude during these interactions, as children share the same views as their parents.

    Try to adjust your child's sleeping schedule before starting daycare so that they are well-rested and ready to go. Irregular sleeping schedules can create mood swings, irritability and cause more uncertainty—especially when leaving your side.

    The night before daycare begins, let them pick out a special item that's daycare approved. This helps them to maintain a sort of safety blanket. 

    Then, when it comes time for the big day, make sure that you talk to your child about what's happening, when you're going to be back, and try to spark their interest in something at the daycare. Then, as soon as possible, you need to leave. While many parents struggle with this, the longer you wait around and try to comfort them, the longer it will take for them to adapt.

    On average, most children take about three to six months to adapt to a new situation fully. However, the more your child engages in the daycare facility and any activities they offer. They adapt faster. Some children have adjusted to daycare in as quickly as two weeks! 

    To help improve the speed with which your child accepts daycare, create and maintain a consistent goodbye and hello routine for drop-offs and pick-ups. The continuity helps your child build trust and decrease anxiety because they know how the day will end. Here are some tips.

    Prepare Yourself for Preschool

    Understanding how to help a toddler adjust to daycare starts with you. Children sense your moods. They know when you're anxious or uncomfortable. If you are uncertain about your decision, your child may be more hesitant about preschool. Be calm and confident when talking about transitioning to child care. You've got this!

    You wouldn't be a parent if you didn't worry about what's best for your child. But, of course, it's natural to talk through your concerns with friends and family. Just remember, preschool opens your child's eyes to a beautiful world.

    Preparing Your Child: A Few Weeks Out

    Enrolling a child in a daycare centre or family daycare presents a whole set of potential adjustment problems. Not only is the child with a new caregiver, but they are also in an entirely new environment. The more time they have to get used to the idea before going to daycare for the first time, the smoother the transition will be.

    One of the best ways to put your child at ease before starting a daycare is to have them visit the facility or family day care home, preferably more than once, for short visits. Then, they can interact with the primary caregiver at the facility, as well as with the other children that will be in their room, or not interact at all.

    It may take some time before your child is ready to participate with their classmates, and that is all right. Your job is to support your child and not push them into playing with or talking to others if they are not yet comfortable doing so.


    Some experts suggest reading books with your child about going to daycare before the first day arrives. Both before and after reading together, talk about your child's feelings. Always be reassuring, explain why this arrangement will be good for them (they will make friends, get to play, etc.), and above all, remain positive. Your child is likely to adopt your outlook. If you have a bad attitude about the child care situation or your return to work, the chances are good that they will feel the same.

    Another way to ease this big change in your child's life is to get them on an adequate sleep schedule at least several days, if not weeks, before the first time at daycare, if they are not already on one. Grade-school-aged children typically need at least 10 or 11 hours of sleep every night; toddlers and preschoolers need even more.

    Determine how much time you and your child will need to unhurriedly prepare to leave each morning, and make that your child's wake-up time. Then count backward from that time, 10, 11 or 12 hours, depending on your child's age and sleep pattern, and make that bedtime. Then keep to that schedule. A regular rest every night will help give a sense of security to a child in transition.

    Try to spend a few minutes with your child when putting them to bed. Sing to them, read a book or just talk (or let them talk). Not only will these become cherished moments for both of you, but the dependability of the routine will help them deal with feelings of uncertainty about going to daycare.

    Preparing Your Child: The Night Before

    When packing up for daycare either the night before or the morning of the first day, you could try having them pick out a special item to bring. Be sure to check with the daycare director first to see if they will not allow items. A good facility will have space to store this belonging and should not have a problem bringing a blanket or a toy that does not pose a hazard to others.

    If there is a good reason for not letting them bring an item, let them pick out a picture—or better yet, help them make a small photo album or scrapbook—that they can look at during the day. Your child may even come up with ideas for making the first day more enjoyable.

    The transition to the new childcare setting may go more smoothly if you take it in small steps. If possible, consider bringing your child in for an hour or two the first time. Of course, if you are beginning a new job and cannot take time off, staying in the daycare centre or home with your child will not be an option. One way around this would be to go into the facility or home an hour earlier than you normally would for the first several days to give your child time to become accustomed to the surroundings. If you do this, however, you will want to move bedtime up an hour so that your child still gets the necessary amount of sleep.

    Involve the Teacher

    Teachers have seen it all. If you're worried about how your child will adjust to preschool, talk to your child's teacher. Let a teacher or caregiver know if your child has separation anxiety or is reluctant to try new things. A teacher may offer to have a special activity or toy set aside. Child care facilities may have an arrival ritual that makes drop-off less stressful for your child.

    Teachers may have a "script" to help parents get past the tears. For example, a teacher might suggest acknowledging the child's tears, saying "I love you, " passing your child to a teacher or aide, saying goodbye, and leaving.

    Try a Phased Transition

    If the child care allows, try a phased transition, where your child spends at the facility increases gradually. Transition plans may look like the following:

    • Day 1. Parents and their children spend one hour at the facility.
    • Day 2. Parents drop off the child for one to two hours.
    • Day 3. Parents drop off their child, who stays for three to four hours, including lunch.
    • Day 4. Parents drop off the child who stays through nap time.
    • Day 5. Parents drop off their child who stays a full day.

    Teachers can modify a transition plan based on the parents and their children. Therefore, transition plans benefit teachers, parents, and children. However, no family is the same, so modifications should be expected and adjustments made as the plan unfolds.

    Schedule a Visit

    Introducing your child to a new environment without other children present can help ease anxiety. If allowed, schedule a time when you and your child can visit classrooms and see the playground. It's an opportunity for you to tell your child what to expect. Knowing what is coming lessens the stress of the unknown for your child.

    Build Trust

    To ease children's fears of attending child care, parents tend to excite the experience. But telling your child, it will be the most fun ever can backfire. What happens when it isn't fun? Your child may begin to wonder if you can be trusted.

    Instead of exciting the experience, talk about the daily schedule. For example, outline the program by saying, "When you arrive in the classroom, you'll put your things away. Then, you'll work inside until snack time. After a snack, you'll go outside if the weather is nice." Knowing what to expect can help your child feel more comfortable in a new environment. It is also a way to build trust. When the day progresses, your child will see that what you said happened, and you can be trusted.

    For teachers, building trust begins on day one. Consistent application of rules and consequences is a good place to start. It not only brings order to the classroom, but it also tells children that you can be trusted to apply the rules. As you know, toddlers can be very concerned with what is "fair."

    Create a Routine

    Children need routine. Knowing what to expect gives your child a feeling of control. To get your child off to a good start, find a morning routine that works for you and your child — and stick to it. For example, maybe you eat breakfast together or pack lunches. Or maybe, you and your child have a checklist to make sure everything is in that backpack before you head out the door.

    Clear Your Schedule


    It's tempting to pick up your child from child care and head to the grocery store or run a few errands. Whether your child loves or hates child care requires mental and emotional energy, especially in the beginning. Instead of trying to "get things done," give your child a chance to relax and work through everything that happened while at child care. Going to child care for your toddler is the same as going to work for you. A little downtime is needed.

    Say Goodbye

    Leaving a screaming child at child care may be a parent's worst nightmare. There's a rush of emotions ranging from embarrassment to guilt. You don't need to be embarrassed or guilty. Most parents and all teachers have experienced a nightmare drop off (or two, or five, or sometimes even more – children take their own time to adapt, and this is perfectly normal!).

    In the middle of the crying chaos, don't even think about sneaking out! It only worsens the separation. Your child may feel abandoned or even tricked into staying. It is a sure way to lose trust. When saying goodbye, be calm and confident. If you feel comfortable leaving, your child will become comfortable staying. Most children stop crying after their parents leave. If you are concerned, you can ask the teacher to have someone call if your child is still crying after 30 minutes. When children cling to you, it's best to hug them, acknowledge their feelings, and leave promptly. The longer you stay, the more likely your child is to continue crying and screaming. Staying gives your child hope that you will remain.


    Every child is different, and while it might hurt to see them suffering on their first day of daycare, it's an important step for their developmental health. There are many advantages of daycare that have been proven to last into adulthood, so it's best to view this as a positive time, not a time of betrayal. Your child will be introduced to plenty of positive interactions with supportive staff, rules, peer relationships, and learning opportunities that give kids a behavioural, social, and academic boost.

    It's completely normal to feel guilty leaving your child crying at daycare. In those moments, be kind to yourself and remember that your child's crying is a normal part of their development process.

    If your child is unhappy at their daycare, their behaviour can become extreme. You might find they become very clingy, either not wanting you to leave them at the service, or becoming clingier at home. On the other hand, you may find they begin to ignore you.

    Starting daycare can be a stressful time, for both babies and parents alike. Some babies will adapt quickly, while others will cry every morning for many weeks.

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