What to expect
3 things to expect when your child starts daycare
1. Frustration: Starting daycare is a big transition and it is normal for children to express many emotions as a result. Depending on the age of your child, you may see him or her get frustrated at the thought of separating from you and being in a different environment full of new faces. In this context of change and learning, with the limited emotional resources young children have, crying is expected and normal, although it can be heartbreaking for parents.
When going through transitions, children usually need some time to figure out their new setting and learn from their new experiences. In this case, when leaving their home or other familiar environment to start a new routine (at a new place), it will take some time to learn that caregivers will come back for them, that they can count on other grownups for love and support, and that they can play and share with other children.
Keep in mind that your child’s developmental level at the time of the transition to daycare may have to do with the amount of frustration or crying the child exhibits. For example, when children are between 7 months and 2 years old, they are increasingly understanding — sometimes grudgingly — that they are individuals and that they can be separated from their caregivers. As a result, children between these ages may experience separation anxiety, which tends to peak around 9 months and 18 months. In general, children with a more sensitive temperament may be slower to warm up to their new setting and could exhibit additional frustration, anxiety, or fear as a result – this is normal and it is especially important for caregivers and daycare professionals to support children with empathy and acceptance.
2. Parental stress/anxiety: Leaving one’s child at daycare for the first time can conjure many emotions for parents and caregivers. They may experience grief due to the separation, stress from changing the family’s routines, or negative emotions such as fear and worry that could be triggered by past experiences of separation. As much as parents want their child to transition to daycare successfully, it is important to give time to acknowledge the change and prepare for the possibility that it may take longer for the child and the parent/caregiver to settle into the new routine than anticipated. If possible, parents might consider taking some time off from work and other responsibilities to visit and tour the daycare with the child, meet with the daycare staff, and even volunteer for a morning or afternoon (if permitted) to get a feel for the environment.
3. Emotional safety at the daycare: Because children often express frustration and crying when starting daycare, it is especially important for caregivers to expect the daycare to provide an environment of emotional comfort and protection. In such environment, kids feel loved, accepted for who they are, respected, appreciated, heard, and safe. Beyond socializing children to the moral values of these qualities, having this environment is also crucial to children’s neurological, cognitive, and emotional development. Parents and caregivers are advised to look for daycares and schools where teachers and guardians provide comfort and above all emotional and physical safety. Additionally, parents may also have varying preferences for the way in which daycare professionals interact with their children – some may emphasize emotional expression, helping children name their emotions. At the minimum, it is reasonable for parents to expect daycare staff and teachers to express love and never use negative labels for children due to their behavior.
How can this transition be easier for the family?
The emotions and new stimulation resulting from the transition to daycare may cause some children to experience sleep regressions, throw more tantrums, and/or have changes in their eating habits. Here are some tips on how to make things a little more manageable during this time:
- Expect things to be a bit bumpy for a few days and try to avoid making too many other changes to your family’s routine at the same time.
- Daycare can initially be emotionally and physically tiring for your child. You might try letting your child nap longer, put them to bed early, and/or spend more time cuddling and playing with your child. Providing snacks that are high in protein and low in sugar will help them make it through the day with greater success.
- Physical expressions of love and speaking about the experience help to soothe your child’s nervous system and will allow them to better integrate and understand the change.
- For parents, seeking support from friends and family members who understand what you are going through can be especially useful. It may be also be helpful to establish a way to check-in regularly with the child’s new setting and teacher to receive updates on how the day is going. Building in self-care activities to one’s routine can also calm nerves and promote emotional well-being, which will ultimately strengthen the parent-child relationship.
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