Transitioning to Daycare – A Guide for Parents

Making the move from at-home care to daycare is a big step – for both children and parents! Finding the best daycare for your little one may seem like the biggest hurdle, but for many families, adjusting to this new way of life can be even more challenging.

To help ease the transition, we’ve answered some of parents’ most common questions about making the move to daycare:

Infants

When can my baby start going to daycare?

Many childcare providers accept infants as young as six weeks old. Decide what timing works best for you and your family based on length of maternity/paternity leave, work schedules, etc.

What supplies should I send with my baby?

Check with your child’s childcare provider for a list of necessary items to bring. Some childcare providers supply certain items, and some require families to send them in. There may also be local licensing requirements that prevent you from bringing items such as glass, bibs with neck ties, etc. When in doubt, it is best to ask your individual school.

Make a checklist of the essentials: diapers (8-10 per day), wipes, change of clothing, bottles, baby food, and formula/breast milk. Don’t forget to label everything with your child’s name! It can also be helpful to include a feeding and naptime schedule for your child. Check with your daycare center in advance to learn what items are permitted.

Why has my baby stopped sleeping through the night?

As infants adjust to new routines, they may wake up more often. You can help your baby get back on track by maximizing evening quality time and sticking to established bedtime routines and sleep schedules.  

Toddlers/Preschoolers  

When is the right time for my child to begin childcare?

While there’s no official “right” time to make the transition to daycare, remember to take your child’s current developmental stage into consideration so you can provide support where needed. For example, the 18-month mark is a time when toddlers often experience separation anxiety. This may mean adjusting start dates a bit before or after, or establishing a drop off routine that helps your toddler navigate this stage. Your child’s teachers can provide helpful tips to make drop off easier.

How can I prepare my child for the transition?

Visit the center in advance, introduce him to his teacher and let him explore his classroom and play with the toys. Reading books about transitions – like The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn or I Love You All Day Long by Francesca Rusackas – and then talking about how fun school can be is another great way to help him mentally prepare.

Kathy Krohn, curriculum director at Primrose School at Golf Village, offers this advice: “Powerful interactions with children are the key to helping ease anxiety on a child’s first day. Teachers should get down on their level, greet them with a warm smile and show excitement as you say goodbye. Before you leave, ask teachers to offer your child a puppet or favorite toy to hold and reassure them they are going to have a great day.”

What kinds of items should I send with my child?

Bringing a favorite toy or blanket can help some children feel more comfortable in their new environment. Check with your childcare center in advance to see what items are permitted. You can also consider sharing tips and instructions (her typical nap time, a song that calms her down, etc.) with your child’s teacher.

What if my child starts acting differently? Is that normal?

Yes! New routines can make some children feel a bit anxious or “out of sorts,” which may result in them acting out or being sad or clingy. Some children also experience separation anxiety. Parents can take simple steps to help ease the fear.

“Toddler separation anxiety is a normal part of childhood development, and the good news is it is often resolved by the end of Kindergarten,” says Lynn Louise Wonders, early childhood development and parenting expert. “For now, comfort your child and remind her that you love her and will come back to get her.”

Why is keeping a routine so important?

Children thrive on routines, so maintaining a normal drop-off routine, dinnertime and bedtime process will provide a sense of comfort for your child. A little extra bonding time can go a long way, so make sure to factor in time for reading, cuddling or playing together, too.

Parents

As a parent, what can I do to help myself prepare?

Even though you’re busy getting your child ready to take this big step, it’s important to make time to think about yourself, too. Make mornings easier by creating a supply packing checklist and getting everything ready the night before. Set regular check-ins with your child’s teacher and/or find out what parent communication already exists at school so you feel involved in his day-to-day routine. Finally, remember that this is an emotional time for your family, so tears from everyone involved are completely normal!

While transitioning to childcare can be a stressful time for families, it is also an exciting new adventure! Remember to be patient while adjusting to this new routine and take things one day at a time.

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