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8 Ways to Prepare Your Child for Childcare

Baby Steps

You may be the most important factor in how your little one adapts to childcare.

“Children can tell if a parent is not comfortable leaving. If you’re anxious, they will be too,” explains Stacey Minott of Child Care Aware, an organization dedicated to connecting parents with the local agencies best equipped to serve their needs, based in Washington D.C. “Most important,” she says, “is keeping any new childcare transition positive. No matter what the child’s age, talk about why you’re leaving and when you’ll be back. Even infants internally clock their time apart from parents, so try to be especially consistent with timing at the beginning of the daycare transition.”

Experts agree that children adapt to new childcare situations at different rates. Most children will become comfortable after a few weeks, but age and temperament certainly affect how long it can take. Babies under six months often don’t experience the kind of separation anxiety that can lengthen the transition time for older babies and toddlers.

“Very seldom are children unable to adapt,” says Sherri Sutera, vice president of Child Care Services with the United Way of Connecticut. In cases where they have particular difficulty, the environment may not be a good fit. For example, a child who is easily over-stimulated may have trouble in a daycare, but will do well with fewer children at in-home care.

There are many things that parents can do to ease their children into childcare. Following are a few tips to get you started:

1. Find Playful Ways to Talk about Childcare

You may be the most important factor in how your little one adapts to childcare.

“Children can tell if a parent is not comfortable leaving. If you’re anxious, they will be too,” explains Stacey Minott of Child Care Aware, an organization dedicated to connecting parents with the local agencies best equipped to serve their needs, based in Washington D.C. “Most important,” she says, “is keeping any new childcare transition positive. No matter what the child’s age, talk about why you’re leaving and when you’ll be back. Even infants internally clock their time apart from parents, so try to be especially consistent with timing at the beginning of the daycare transition.”

Experts agree that children adapt to new childcare situations at different rates. Most children will become comfortable after a few weeks, but age and temperament certainly affect how long it can take. Babies under six months often don’t experience the kind of separation anxiety that can lengthen the transition time for older babies and toddlers.

“Very seldom are children unable to adapt,” says Sherri Sutera, vice president of Child Care Services with the United Way of Connecticut. In cases where they have particular difficulty, the environment may not be a good fit. For example, a child who is easily over-stimulated may have trouble in a daycare, but will do well with fewer children at in-home care.

There are many things that parents can do to ease their children into childcare. Following are a few tips to get you started:

“Parents can read stories or draw pictures about daycare with their child,” suggests Minott. Another way to ease into the change is to set up play dates with kids from the center (or in-home location) to get them familiar with their new peers.

2. Visit the Facility First

Going together to the center or home before the first day will help your child get acquainted with the environment and give you a point of reference when you talk about where he or she will be staying. “Infants and toddlers usually do well with a parent bringing them and staying for a couple of hours, for a couple of days,” explains Sutera. “For preschoolers, it can be helpful to have the parent leave for a few hours to ease them into the program.”

3. Explain the Schedule

Making your child aware of his or her schedule during the day is key, says Sutera. “Talk to children about the daily schedule. Tell them what to expect for circle time, snacks, rest and outdoor play. It doesn’t hurt,” she adds, “to create a ritual for good-byes.” Some kids know they get a certain number of hugs and kisses before walking parents to the door, or look forward to waving until parents are out of sight.

4. No Disappearing Acts

The parent who “sneaks” away instead of saying goodbye runs the risk of damaging a child’s sense of trust. It is better to offer the security of an explanation, like “Mommy has to go to work,” and leave with a kiss and a hug.

5. Bring Special Items from Home

Daycare director Tammy Wright finds that having something special from home, such as a blanket or stuffed animal, can help children in a new daycare situation, especially during the “good-bye” transition. “It’s important that the item be something from home—it’s a connection for them.” Studies have shown that babies can be calmed when there are pictures of family members or even parents’ clothing items in their daytime cribs.

6. Make Sure Physicals are Current

Before starting daycare, parents should make sure children’s state-mandated immunizations are up-to-date. Special healthcare conditions or allergies should be discussed with providers beforehand, and procedures and dosages for medication should be put in writing (most providers require that forms be completed).

Learn more about childcare-specific health concerns—and how to protect your child—here.

7. Provide Contact Information

Be sure your childcare provider has list of emergency contacts—people she can call if you’re not available in an emergency. (Most daycare centers also have a form specifically for this purpose.) Your list should include your own work and cell phone numbers as well as three other emergency contacts’ names, addresses, and phone numbers. It’s also a good idea to include names of any person you may NOT want to pick up your child.

8. Bring the Right Gear

Keeping children’s cubbies stocked with essentials helps to keep them comfortable while you’re away. “Most importantly,” stresses Wright, “is labeling everything clearly with the child’s name.” It’s often a good idea to have a special bag for taking items back and forth each day.

Childcare Checklist

What should your child bring to childcare?

    All ages

  • Bedding and blankets for naptime
  • Extra clothes (include extra pants if potty training)
  • Jackets/hats/coats/boots for outdoor play
  • Sunscreen
  • Special toy, picture, or other reminder of home

Babies

  • Diapers, wipes, and diaper ointment
  • Pacifiers
  • Bottles (an insulated bottle holder is good for transporting milk or formula)
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