Gabriel is a bright, adorable 5-year-old. He runs around the park, playing on the equipment, occasionally checking in with his mom, even trying, when...
You’ve moved across country — or even just across town — or changed jobs, and now the childcare program your kid’s been enjoying (practically since birth) has become inconvenient or just plain impossible.
Maybe you’re just not happy with the care your child’s getting, and it’s time to make a change.
No matter why you’re making the switch, your child is in for a huge life change. It can often take a few weeks for a child to get into a comfortable rhythm at a new daycare, especially if he or she is attending childcare for the first time ever.
How can you ease the transition? Check out some of these strategies and tips.
Talk it up
One of the most important steps parents can take is to talk to their children about the new daycare well in advance of their arrival.
Discuss the new daycare’s toys, play spaces, teachers, storage cubbies, special activities and more to help your child visualize his or her new environment.
Don’t assume the new daycare will be just like the old one. If things will change, even in small ways, talk about those differences.
Circle time may be a staple at the old daycare but pretty much unheard of the new place. Birthday cupcakes may be de rigueur at one daycare, while goody bags are preferred at another.
Naptimes and “lovey” or comfort-object policies can vary, too.
Of course, you’ll have to study up on the new daycare — by asking lots of questions — so you can pass the new information along.
Your efforts, however, will be worthwhile, saidfamily childcare provider Diane Natrop of St. Paul.
“Every program has different rules,” Natrop said. “Don’t make promises you can’t keep, like, ‘You won’t have to nap,’ unless you know that’s the case.”
In fact, you may want to adjust your child’s home naptimes to coincide with the new daycare’s schedule.
Visit early and often
Just as important is visiting the new daycare in small bursts before your child starts attending regularly for long stretches.
Beth Jackson of Kids on the Korner Daycare of St. Paul feels so strongly about the importance of a gradual transition that she builds it into her fees.
If a child starts on a Monday, he or she is invited to come in the week before for a half-day on Wednesday, followed by a half day around lunch time on Thursday and a full day (or second half of the day) on Friday.
By breaking up the day, Jackson helps her young charges sample what happens throughout the day.
“Kids are creatures of habit,” Jackson said.
Children, just like adults, appreciate predictable routines.
“They like to know: ‘Who comes at the same time as me? Who am I going to see?’” Jackson said.
Karen Fogolin, associate director of Child Care Aware of Minnesota, agrees with Jackson.
“Take it slowly,” Fogolin said. “Go to visit. See how the children interact. Gradually build it up.”
Fogolin said it can be really useful for a child to see the provider’s routines before plunging into the mix.
Other ways to boost a child’s comfort level include reading picture books about characters starting new daycares, drawing pictures of daycare or acting out daycare activities with stuffed animals or dolls.
If you know other children at the center, you might also set up play dates with those kids’ families.
One change at a time
Jackson urges parents to avoid consecutive transitions during daycare changes: Don’t buy a new house, have a baby and switch your child to a new daycare simultaneously, if you can help it.
Even the most resilient child may feel her world is being rocked if too many changes occur at once.
“Transitions suck and they are hard on kids,” Jackson said.
Also, if your family is going through a challenging time — such as parents separating or grandma moving in — be sure to let your childcare provider know.
You don’t have to provide full details, but a heads-up can help a daycare better support your child during rocky times.
Don’t stay with your child
Daycare providers understand why you want to stay with your child — but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.
“I have rules in my house and they are different than the rules you have in your house,” Jackson said. “[Having a parent there] sets up a weird dichotomy because if I’m telling a child to do something, the child looks at Mom — because she’s Mom and maybe she will say something different.
“And it throws all the other kids off: ‘Johnny’s mom’s here; my mom’s not.’”
Jackson’s kids attended daycare for 11 years, so she gets it.
“I understand how parents feel,” she said. “But I have to keep 12 kids safe.”
Leave with confidence
When it’s time to drop off your child, it’s important to model confidence and calm — even if you don’t feel it.
“Kids pick up on their parents’ emotions,” Jackson said. “If we feed into their fear and anxiety, it’s 20 times worse.”
She recommends parents model a positive attitude as well as curiosity about the other kids at the daycare.
“‘Lydia’s a big girl. Don’t you want to go play with her?’” Jackson said. “Kids will take their cues from their parents.”
Let’s face it: Some days, it can be heartbreaking to leave your child and head off to work for eight to 10 hours a day.
But you’ll help your child more by making drop-off — and pickup times — fun.
Instead of sneaking out — which experts don’t recommend because it violates a child’s trust — create a goodbye ritual, such as a certain number of kisses, hugs, high-fives or waves.
And try to drop off and pick up at the same time every day (at least during the transition) to reinforce your child’s sense of routine.
Give yourself enough time to come and go, especially in the morning, so you don’t feel rushed or anxious.
Comforts of home
What are your child’s favorite things?
Let the new provider know, Jackson said.
It’s important for a child to have a comfort object from home, she said.
“Loveys are the only thing a child doesn’t have to share,” Jackson said of her house rules. “Most of the children keep their lovey in their cubby. If they’re having a bad day, it’s really nice for them to have that object with an attachment to home — a blankie, a bear, something that smells like Mommy.”
Natrop agrees about lovies being important — within reason.
“No one wants to have a kid pulling a queen-sized comforter around behind him all day long,” Natrop said.
Jackson suggested to one mother that she give her child a lovey to bring to daycare. The child, however, invented her own.
“One day, the mom dropped her off with a bag of pretzels — and her daughter carried that bag around with her all day,” Jackson said.
Keep in mind that kids are resilient, Fogolin said, adding, “We underestimate them.”
Michele St. Martin is a freelance writer who lives in St. Paul.
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