The first day of childcare can be pretty stressful all around but there are ways to minimise the stress and increase the excitement for your toddler.
Obviously it all depends on how much time you have to commit to this – and if you’re already holding down a job or have other commitments you may find it hard to do all of these things. But try not to stress out; whatever you can manage will be fine.
Preparation – before the big day!
Talk to your toddler about what to expect when they start daycare
Toddlers will be able to pick up on the broad themes so talk to them often and in language they understand.
- Discuss where they will be going, what they will do there, how much fun it will be.
- Learn and discuss the routines so they know what to expect.
- Reassure them that you’ll be there to pick them up. Obviously they won’t understand time so put it in language they can understand. e.g. ‘I’ll pick you up after you’ve had a sleep’, or ‘I’ll be here when it’s time to go home for dinner.’
Read to them about what happens at childcare
- There are several good books about starting childcare or school. Chat to your library to see if they have some you can borrow.
Visit the childcare centre as often as you can beforehand
- If your childcare centre won’t let you visit with your child, that’s a red flag and you may want to consider going elsewhere, however 99% of places don’t have a problem with it and you or another carer (grandparent, partner, nanny etc) should aim to go at least 2 or 3 times beforehand (for about an hour) with your child so they get used to the surroundings.
- Chat to the carers about the centre’s routine and also that of your child. While the centre may have a slightly different routine, there’s still no reason your child can’t have their usual toy or cues (e.g. rub their back or read a story) especially in the early days until they adjust to the new environment. Kids quickly learn that there are different routines with mum or dad and elsewhere but initially it should be as consistent as possible.
- Aim to leave your child there for a short time e.g. half an hour without you during this orientation period and if you can, in your first full days/weeks, aim to pick up a little bit earlier (e.g. after nap rather than at 6pm).
Find a friend whose child already goes to the childcare centre
- If you know of another child who is already going to the same childcare centre, aim to get the kids together a few times beforehand so they have a friend when they start. This is obviously easier if they a) get on well and b) are in the same age group so will be in the same room.
On the first day of childcare
- Be organised. Ensure that the night before you’ve packed the bag (ensuring you know what the centre requires from you e.g. drink bottle, lunch bag, sheets etc). This means you won’t be rushing on the morning and can take your time and remain calm.
- Don’t forget to pack a favourite toy or blanket so they have something familiar with them. They’ll especially want this at naptime.
- Arrive at the centre early so you can spend some time helping your child settle into an activity before you go. Chat to the staff as it also helps your child recognise the staff as ‘friends’.
- When it’s time for you to leave, make sure you let your child know when you’re going and assure them that you’ll be back later. Don’t sneak out! While you may feel better because they didn’t cry when you left, you can pretty much guarantee the tears will come when they can’t find you. And it can cause them to be anxious about you leaving in the future.
- Once you decide to leave, commit to leaving. Coming back may unsettle the child again.
- Try to stay positive and cheery in front of your child even if you’re nervous. They’ll pick up on whatever you’re feeling and it can set their mood for the day.
- Ring as often as you want to! The centre will be able to give you updates on your child – who is probably fine by the way. This rule doesn’t just apply to the first day; you should always feel that you could call them at any time to check on your child.
After the first day
- Aim to keep the rest of your child’s life as calm and consistent as it was so they aren’t unsettled in other areas of their life. Toddlers thrive on routine and consistency and dealing with childcare is a big enough adjustment without adding anything else on.
- For example resist the temptation to start toilet training, or transitioning to a new room or bed. And if you’ve started them in childcare because you’ll soon have a newborn in the house, it would be worth starting them a few months before the new baby arrives rather than just a week or two.
- Aim for the same drop off and pick up time every day so they understand the cues. This helps them feel a sense of security, as they know what to expect.
- Understand that it can take time before your child is settled in and happy. Some kids are fine within a few days, others need more time.
If your child isn’t settling or gets very distressed during drop off, try the following:
- Ask your partner or another carer (e.g. grandparent or babysitter) to do the drop off. You may find your child isn’t as bothered to be left by someone else.
- Talk to the centre staff or manager to see if there’s something you could do, or if there’s something that’s upsetting your child when you leave. See what they suggest to try, they’ll have seen this before and will have ideas.
- Talk to your child about what’s upsetting them. Just listening and demonstrating understanding is enough. Don’t make false promises.
Do you have any tips or tricks to share when dropping a child to childcare? Please share in the comments below.