Is Daycare Stressful For Toddlers?

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    The period of time known as "toddlerhood" is characterised by a great deal of development across multiple domains, including cognitive, emotional, and physical development. Toddlers are typically sensitive to the world around them and are more likely to feel stressed as a result of this sensitivity. This is because of all the changes that are taking on in their small bodies and minds. The naturally occuring developmental stage of separation anxiety or unintended exposure to the evening news are both examples of stressors that can affect anyone.

    When babies and their parents both start daycare for the first time, it may be an extremely stressful period. Some infants will soon adjust, while others will continue to fuss first thing in the morning for several weeks. When a child first attends daycare, does this have any effect on their developing brain? It can. This is especially the case with infants and toddlers who are less than 36 months old (3 years of age). Because of this, research suggests that the ideal age to start attending daycare or preschool is three years old. Cortisol levels that are consistently elevated in children have the potential to change the architecture of the brain. However, the fact of the matter is that the majority of parents are forced to enrol their children in childcare far earlier than the age of three years old.

    First, a Little Science on Stress and the Brain.

    Because saliva contains the stress hormone cortisol, which is a glucocorticoid hormone, researchers are able to test children's levels of stress by collecting samples of their saliva. However, when it comes to children's stress, we cannot rely solely on the behaviour of the children because some children will absorb the stress they are experiencing.

    Cortisol levels are known to go through natural swings throughout the course of a day. For instance, our levels of cortisol are at their peak when we first get up in the morning, and they are at their lowest in the evening (the spike helps you wake up, and the decrease allows you to fall asleep). This is the rhythm that our bodies begin to create while we are young. As a result, the levels of natural cortisol that a child has will be impacted in a negative way if they are exposed to high levels of stress throughout the day. This is what has the potential to do harm in the long run.

    The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) axis, which is responsible for regulating stress and emotions, will be activated in a child's brain whether the source of the stress is internal or external. The HPA system causes higher quantities of cortisol to be produced whenever there is an incident that is stressful. There is a strong connection between the HPA axis and the hippocampus, which is the region of the brain that is responsible for learning and memory. Memory problems can be caused by chronic and extreme stress levels, such as those caused by emotional neglect, abuse, or witnessing violent acts. These types of stress can affect the hippocampus. Searching for a Sydney childcare that helps your child develop, keep up & excel. Check us out! 

    Children who spend the day at daycare tend to have greater cortisol levels than children who spend the day at home, according to a number of studies that have been conducted on the subject. Not only because they are separated from their parents for such long periods of time (if it is at all possible, try to reduce the number of hours a child under the age of three spends at daycare), but also because being in peer groups at such a young age is very demanding on them due to the frequent emotional arousal that they experience in their environment (other kids yelling, lots of movement and noise etc.). The close relationship that your child has with the person who cares for them at daycare is essential to successfully managing their stress levels. Your child will benefit from this attachment or link with their caregiver to a greater extent to the extent that it is stronger. This will make your youngster feel less stressed.

    Causes of Stress for Children in Child Care

    Children who are in child care may feel stressed as a result of being exposed to a wide array of settings. Child care workers should be on the lookout for these scenarios in order to spot signs of stress in children and to assist the children in coping with the stress as fast as is practicable. The following are some instances of stressful conditions that young children may encounter when attending child care:

    • changes in routines
    • a new child care setting
    • conflict with peers or bullying
    • lack of sleep
    • overcrowded child care settings
    • a new sibling
    • loss of a loved one
    • conflict at home
    • deployment of a family member

    How should we make sense of the reduction in cortisol levels that occurred around midmorning? The researchers propose three different avenues of investigation:

    • The results may suggest there may be some adaptation to parental separation. The results found that there were decreases in the midmorning levels of cortisol, suggesting that the early weeks were representative of stress upon leaving the parent, which does seem to attenuate as the weeks progress.
    • In line with other research is that children (even infants) "anticipate" daycare days and have higher HPA axis activity overnight, resulting in periods of hypoactivation the following morning. This means that the anticipation of daycare causes stress. By the next morning, their brains have gone into a period of hypoactivation to compensate for the higher levels of adrenocortical activity overnight. (Total aside: What's interesting about this is that this idea of cortical "anticipation" might negate one of the criticisms of the research looking at cortisol levels during extinction sleep training. Namely, the infant in that study showed high levels of cortisol just before the onset of the bedtime ritual on all days tested, even though mom was present with the child, and many speculated that this stress was due to the new environment, despite most research suggesting new environments with mom don't result in this change. My speculation had been the anticipatory nature of bedtime that had been problematic for the families leading them to the sleep clinic in the first place. Anyway, I just thought I'd share that tidbit here though it has no bearing on daycare.)
    • The third possibility is that the sleep changes that often go along with transitions to daycares result in a shifting of the cortisol levels at the midmorning assessment if they have been waking earlier the longer they are in daycare. This presupposes that the patterns of sleep-wake times shifted significantly over the 10 weeks, which was not measured in this particular study, but remains a possibility.

    The most crucial question is: how does this relate to the other research that has been done on daycare? It seems to fit in rather nicely with what we already know, which is as follows: To be more explicit, going to daycare causes changes in cortisol levels, more especially changes that are consistent with potential stress reactions. This contributes to the existing body of research by establishing that these changes take place during transition regardless of age, despite the fact that the amount and effect of these changes varied by age. This research did not evaluate the level of care provided to the participants, which calls into question whether or not its findings are applicable to all childcare facilities.

    This is really important because other recent research on a daycare that was just published was used to disprove the notion that there are any long-term externalising concerns. However, it is impossible to extrapolate or relate the findings of this research to the majority of the behavioural research that was listed earlier for one major reason: The childcare centre in question was not located in the United States, which is where the majority of behavioural research has been conducted, but rather in Norway. The United States of America and other countries across the world have a long way to go before they can match the superb and high-quality daycare that is available in the Nordic countries.

    As a corollary to this, many of the impacts seen in childcare are removed or at the very least decreased when the daycare is judged to be of "high-quality" (which is why I feel we need to push for high-quality daycare on a broader scale for families who need it), as was discussed previously. This is significant if we consider cortisol levels to be an indicator of potential stress that may have an effect on a person's long-term development, in particular social development if the stress is caused by interactions with one's peers.

    It is interesting to note that even in the Norwegian study, there were differences in levels of aggressive behaviour based on the amount of time spent in daycare when the children were 2 years old; however, these effects had largely disappeared by the time the children were 4 years old. This may imply that children find childcare to be stressful; nevertheless, children who attend daycare centres of a better quality receive assistance in adapting to and coping with the stress they experience in a manner that is beneficial to their longer-term well-being. On the other hand, in care settings with a lower quality, the stress is allowed to build up with minimal support from the carers, leading to a higher risk of longer-term difficulties based on the amount of time spent in care settings with a lower quality and the child's temperament.

    Creating a Supportive Culture in Child Care


    What does a supportive culture look like at a child care centre?

    • Teachers are trained on how to handle their stress and how to manage a classroom. It doesn't do any good to pretend that only bad teachers get frustrated. Very good and experienced teachers are not immune to stress. Acknowledge this and give teachers the skills to cope. Teachers can learn techniques to manage their classrooms positively.
    • Teachers get regular breaks throughout the day. Especially important to break away from the kids, not in the classroom. Naptime is not usually a break for teachers, especially if some of the kids don't sleep. Getting out of the classroom to breathe and regroup is essential.
    • Teachers are encouraged to ask for help. Sometimes the only way to calm down is to leave the situation, but a teacher often cannot leave the room without a replacement. Administrators can give a teacher an unscheduled break if they need it and do not make the teacher feel bad about it.
    • Teachers are looking out for each other. If a teacher notices a co-worker getting frustrated, they aren't afraid to step in and help or call someone to give that co-worker a break. Not to get someone in trouble, but to keep the co-worker and kids safe.
    • Administrators or extra staff are available during stressful situations in the classroom. Often transitions are the most challenging times (getting ready to go outside, transitioning from lunch to nap, etc.). In addition to providing teachers with training on making transitions smoother, just having an extra set of hands can make a huge difference.

    All of these are things that parents might enquire about at the centre for their child. Are the instructors allowed time off? Do administrators spend time teaching alongside their teachers? Are you able to observe a sense of order and consistency in the classroom? Child care facilities that have a culture that is supportive will be places where teachers enjoy going to work because they will feel secure in their own capabilities. This, in turn, will make it possible for them to assist their children in safely growing and learning. See our list of available early learning programs Sydney to help you make an informed decision for your child. 

    Tips That Will Help Your Child During Their Transition Into Daycare and Lower Their Stress Levels.

    Implement a Very Slow Integration.

    Researchers distinguished between the "adaptation phase" and the "separation phase" during the "start" of childcare. The beginning of the adaption phase for an infant occurs when they start attending daycare with their parents present. Increased levels of stress are experienced by the infant as a result of the introduction of a new environment and a new caregiver. They discovered that 1) the longer the mother stayed in the adaptation phase for integration into daycare, the better the attachment became with their mother, and 2) the lower the levels of cortisol when they began daycare, the stronger the bond between mother and child (i.e. the more secure they are with their mother) before the start of daycare. This is because the stronger the bond between mother and child (i.e. the more secure they are with their mother), the lower the levels of cortisol when they begin day.

    Choose a High-Quality Daycare. 

    a small number of children to caregivers. According to the findings of study, the optimal ratio of children to caregivers is 4:1. (For every adult, there are 4 children). In addition, there should be no more than eight youngsters in a group at any given time. The greater the number of children in an area, the higher the volume of the noise, and for younger children, this can be too stimulating. In addition, if there is a large number of chords compared to the number of caregivers, the kid will have a more difficult time developing an attachment to the caregivers. If it is at all possible, you should look for a daycare that places the fewest possible children in each group.

    A low rate of employee turnover. It is important for your child to form a close connection (also known as a stable attachment) with the person who is caring for them. If a child is younger than three years old, it is essential that they do not have more than one caregiver, as this increases the likelihood that the youngster may struggle to form a connection to any one of the carers. Your child's stress level may increase if the daycare they attend has a high staff turnover rate or if they are cared for by a number of different people. The fact that your child will have the same caregiver throughout their time at the daycare makes high-quality home daycares an attractive option.

    A sympathetic and kind person who provides care. It has been demonstrated via research that if a child develops a solid attachment to a caregiver (someone who is not the child's parent), then that caregiver is better able to assist the child in efficiently lowering their stress levels in times of stress. However, in order for this to occur, the carers must provide care that is both sensitive and responsive.

    Increase Bonding Time With Your Child.    

    Your child may be experiencing increased levels of stress if they begin to display altered behaviours at home (such as increased weeping when they are with you, an increased desire to be in your arms more frequently, changed feeding habits, changed sleeping patterns, etc.) or at daycare.

    When you are at home, you should prioritise spending more time with them. Increase the amount of time you spend cuddling with them. If they are still young, you might want to try giving them massages and increase the amount of time spent skin-to-skin through this activity (which helps build a stronger attachment).

    The act of holding your infant and spending time with your child does not constitute "babying" your child, despite the widespread notion to the contrary. The greater the attachment that your child has with you, the more at ease they will be when you are not present. (An essay about attachment will be coming soon; if you don't want to miss it, make sure you subscribe to our newsletter!).

    Solutions to Toddler Stress

    Keep Calm and Carry On

    "Remain cool and be sure to acknowledge the sentiments that your child is experiencing. But make sure you don't go crazy with it. You want to reassure your child that you understand their emotions while also assuring them that nothing negative will occur while you are apart. That way, your child can learn that he doesn't have to let anxiety or tension paralyse him. Dr. Hackney suggests a strategy that she refers to as "matter-of-fact empathy," which is when the message is conveyed through words, body language, and tone of voice that you understand how your child feels but you're not changing course.

    In this strategy, the message is conveyed that you understand how your child feels but you're not changing course. Say something like, "I know, this is hard," to a child who expresses resistance to attending daycare, for instance. I am aware that you do not wish to go. You're having a good time at home, but you should keep doing what you normally do and then get ready to go as scheduled. This manner, "whatever you say conveys the message that 'I totally get it, but we're moving on.'"

    Stick to the Schedule

    Keep up with your normal daily activities, such as attending to daycare or preschool, feeding yourself, and getting ready for bed. The ability for toddlers to manage what to expect and the significant role routines play in the creation of a sense of calm are provided by routines. It is especially crucial for parents to maintain a regular bedtime for their children because being overtired makes children more susceptible to becoming upset.

    "In order to assist your child in coping with the pressures of everyday life, ensure that she is getting a sufficient amount of sleep each night, sufficient naptime, nutritious meals, and lots of daily activities. It is in everyone's best interest to put off other transitions that could throw off the typical routine, such as teaching a child to use the potty or upgrading them to a bigger bed. Instead, hold off until a more comfortable rhythm has been established in your life.

    Allot Time for Breaks

    Include sufficient time in your schedule for rest breaks, naps, and getting ready for activities. Children move to the rhythm of a clock that is significantly more leisurely than that of adults. They do not give any consideration to the activities that may lie ahead of them. Instead, they take a moment to reflect as they watch the cat snooze, investigate the colour patterns in the carpet, and think about the function of having toes. Therefore, you should assess your calendar to ensure that you are concentrating on the most important things while also making time to enjoy your child's company. Be careful not to miss any unforgettable moments in your haste to move on to the following activity on the agenda. If you're looking for a Early Learning Centre Sydney that develops children's unique capabilities, you’re in the right place. 

    Plan and Allow for Processing


    Children's perceptions of a stressful situation are heavily influenced by the manner in which their parents convey the issue, how they frame and discuss it, and how they respond to questions about it. The plan is to become real and begin on a low scale. For instance, if you need to break the news to your child that someone close to them has passed away, you could say something along the lines of "We wanted to let you know that Grandma was extremely unwell and she passed away."

    You will then be able to select how best to describe it to him if he has any queries (giving a toned-down version or rephrasing it based on your beliefs and comfort level.) If you are trying to introduce the concept of a new sibling to an older child, you should start preparing a few weeks in advance by reading children's books that are about the birth of a new baby. Maintain the toddler's regular schedule in order to make the adjustment go more smoothly and make the initial introduction highly focused on the toddler in his or her new role as an older brother or sister. But be careful not to overwhelm him with too much information that can't be absorbed; you want to send the impression that his opinions and feelings are important.

    Monitor TV Exposure

    Take note of the content of the programmes that your youngster is watching. Children who are present in the same room as their parents when they watch the news are at risk of being exposed to various forms of aggression. You might want to save certain TV shows for after the kids have gone to bed, or you might want to cut down on how long you spend watching the evening news. Because exposure is not often intentional, it is a good idea to set separate viewing times for children of different ages or to make certain that all of the programming is oriented for a younger child when she is in a room with other children. You can get reviews and ratings of different programmes by going online to websites such as and This will allow you to make educated judgments about the shows you watch on television.

    Give Extra Hugs and Kisses

    Extra one-on-one attention and a few additional daily cuddles and kisses can provide exactly what a child needs to feel comfortable and settle into new patterns when adjusting to change. The additional affection can assist enhance the child's confidence and self-regulation skills, which will enable her to be more adaptable and resilient to change. This is true regardless of the nature of the stressor that she is experiencing.

    The presence of stress is inescapable and may be found in every aspect of our lives. The provision of child care is not an exception. There are both positive and negative aspects to stress. Stress has the ability to inspire us to get things done, but an excessive amount of stress can make our lives appear to be too chaotic and overwhelming. Keep in mind that children experience stress in the same way that adults do. Kid care providers should be aware of the stressors that each child is experiencing and should be engaged in helping children in their child care programmes manage and cope with stress. They should also be aware of the stressors that their own children are experiencing.

    FAQs About Daycare

    Numerous studies report a link between daycare centers and stress. The more time young children spend in childcare facilities, the more likely they are to develop abnormal stress hormone profiles. What's normal? Typically, the body produces high levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the early morning.

    Regarding cognitive development, studies have found negative effects, no significant links, and positive daycare effects. Research has shown that daycare hinders the quality of parent-child relations, does not hinder it, that the adverse effects are small and transitory, or intermittent.

    A new study published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health concludes that "high-quality centre-based childcare may be linked to lower levels of emotional symptoms." Basically, being around children their age, under the supervision of professionals is really good for kids' emotional and prosocial ...

    Signs Your Child Isn't Getting Enough Attention at Daycare

    • Sudden Change in Behavior. A sudden change in your child's behaviour could indicate stress in their daycare situation. 
    • Regression in Behavior. 
    • Increase in Evening Tantrums. 
    • Lack of Open Communication. 
    • Care Providers Seem Disengaged.

    First off, yes, it's normal. It's normal for your young child to cry at daycare or school, particularly when you drop them off. Children go through predictable phases of separation anxiety.

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