Starting Childcare: Tips to Make it Easier
Transitioning your child into daycare, whether you do it at 12 weeks, 12 months, or 3 years, is hard. I’ve done it twice, and will be doing it with my third child shortly. Even though I’ve been down this path before, it doesn’t make it any easier.
For those of you about to put your little one in childcare for the first time, I thought I’d share some tips that we’ve picked up along the way. I’m in Canada, where 12 month maternity leaves are the norm, so these tips are primarily applicable for children entering structured childcare around the one year mark. However, much of the advice will apply regardless of the age of your child.
Before diving in, I want to emphasize that I’m not an expert in child development, and I’m not an early childhood educator. My advice is based solely on my experience and on advice that was given to me. You know your child best. Try the tips that make sense to you and your child’s situation, and ignore the ones that don’t.
Before They Start
First and foremost, choose a childcare setting that suits you and your child. For some people, that’s a daycare centre, for others that’s an in-home daycare or a nanny. Picking a childcare provider can be overwhelming – trust your gut.
Once you’ve settled on a childcare provider, find out their daily schedule. Work towards getting your child on a similar schedule, but do not force it, especially if that schedule is not yet developmentally appropriate for your child. For example, at our daycare, most of the children in the infant/toddler room nap once per day, at the same time. In the weeks leading up to starting daycare, we will try to move our child’s afternoon nap to align with the daycare nap time, and to do so will often shorten their morning nap. However, I won’t try to get them to drop their morning nap if they aren’t ready.
Let your childcare provider know your child’s likes and dislikes, favourite activities and foods, and their eating and sleeping routine. This will help significantly while they get to know your child.
If you’re breastfeeding, this can be a huge source of stress (or at least it was for me!). You may choose to wean altogether, or try to continue breastfeeding – there is no right or wrong answer. I knew that I didn’t want to wean my kids right away, so before they started daycare I tried to space out their nursing sessions during the day, and encouraged them to eat more solid food and milk or formula. We stopped nursing before naps, as this wouldn’t be an option at daycare. There were a few hiccups at the beginning, but we were able to successfully transition to nursing in the morning and evening, and continued that way until each child was ready to wean. If continuing to breastfeed is important to you, rest assured that starting daycare doesn’t have to mean the end of nursing your little one.
You may be anxious or sad about returning to work and leaving your child at daycare. Try not to let your child pick up on any negative feelings. They take their emotional cues from us, so focus on the exciting things they are going to do at daycare, and the new friends they are going to make.
Lastly, some practical advice. Label everything. Lunch box, containers, sippy cups, bottles, ice packs, bedding, loveys, clothes, jackets, mittens, hats, etc. Things will be misplaced or sent home with the wrong child – if it’s labelled you have a much better chance of it eventually coming back! We use (and love!) Mabel’s Labels.
Transition Period – Ease Your Child Into Childcare
If at all possible, I’d highly recommend building in a transition period, so that you’re not going back to work and starting your child in daycare on the same day. Your childcare provider will likely have suggestions on how they’d like to handle this. In general, you want to start with a short visit, and gradually work up to longer days.
Consider sending your child with their favourite food and a comfort item, such as a lovey or family picture. One of our sons spent months carrying around our family (photo) Christmas card at daycare. It was a significant source of comfort for him during a major transition period.
Prepare everything you can the night before. Pack their bag, prepare their food, and lay out their clothes and outerwear.
Build way more time into your schedule than you think you need. Inevitably your little one will poop, spit up, or comb their breakfast through their hair, and you’ll be glad you did.
When you drop your child off at daycare, help them settle in, then make your goodbye quick. Our children’s teachers have repeatedly assured us that any tears disappear quickly, and a quick goodbye is better for everyone than a prolonged one.
Try to start a goodbye routine. It could be as simple as something that you say every time, giving them a hug and a kiss, then waving at the window when you leave. The key is to make it predictable and similar every day.
Your First Day of Work
If you can, on your first day of work have your spouse drop your child off at daycare. Going back to work is hard enough, and it’s nice to focus just on that for your first day. If you are dropping your little one off, leave yourself way more time than you think you need.
Do something nice for yourself that first day. Stop for a fancy coffee on the way in, or treat yourself to lunch at one of your favourite places. It can be difficult to jump back into work after maternity leave, so it’s nice to have a little something to look forward to.
Related: The Reality of Being a Working Mom
It’s ok to be sad! Each time I’ve started a child in daycare I’ve had grandiose plans of enjoying a latte at the coffee shop next door, and every time I’ve ended up taking my coffee to go because I was fighting back tears. It is a huge transition – for both of you – to go from being together 24/7 to spending a significant portion of the day apart.
Don’t be afraid to check in with your child’s teachers. They’re used to dealing with parents who are new to childcare, and sometimes a quick check in midday can alleviate a lot of worry. At the same time, however, trust that they have done this before, and are trained and prepared to handle whatever may arise. Build your relationship by checking in at drop off and pick up. It’s helpful for you to know about your child’s day and it’s also a good idea to give them a heads up if there’s anything going on with your child they should know about, like poor sleep or teething.
This is a personal preference, but consider whether or not you want your child’s teachers to tell you about any milestones that occur at daycare. Neither of my boys had taken their first steps before they started daycare, so I asked their teachers not to tell us if it happened on their watch. For me, I knew that no good would come from knowing that our child took his first steps at daycare.
Expect it to be hard. Your child is probably going to get sick, a lot. They’re going to be really tired when you pick them up, and you may feel like you only see them for the worst part of their day. It will get better, and you will all adjust to your new normal.
Finally, although the beginning can be tough, try to focus on the positive things your child will gain. They will form new relationships, and learn things they wouldn’t have otherwise. Those teachers, who were strangers a short time ago, will become a crucial and cherished part of your “village”. You will get to interact with adults and continue the career you worked so hard for, and there’s nothing like the smiles and hugs and kisses that greet you at the end of the day!
Do you have a child in childcare? Do you have any tips to ease the transition?