Easing Your Child into Childcare

Your child's first day at a new child-care arrangement doesn't have to be the stuff of which nightmares are made. (Honestly.) Here are some practical approaches to making the transition as stress-free as possible for the entire family.

Scheduling a dress rehearsal

Arrange for your child to visit the child-care center or family day care before he officially starts so that he can have a chance to meet his child-care provider ahead of time — something that can make that first morning a whole lot less stressful for all concerned.

If you're hiring an in-home child-care provider, you may want to arrange to be at home for her first day on the job so that you can help ease the transition for both her and your child. (Even if they've already met on one or two previous occasions — during the job interview and during a subsequent get-acquainted visit, for example — that first day can still be a bit rough.) If your child takes to the child-care provider immediately, and you start to feel like your presence is no longer required, you can always come up with a list of errands to run that'll get you out of the house for a while.

Prepping your child-care provider

Make your child-care provider's job 100 percent easier by providing her with the inside scoop on your child's likes and dislikes. Include information on daily routines and anything else you think she needs to know in order to provide him with the best possible care (for example, how well he copes with changes to his daily routine, what techniques work best in soothing him, and so on).

If you give her this information ahead of time (ideally in written form, so that she can refer to it later) you save her from having to figure out all this stuff on her own through trial and error.

Enrolling Mr. Bunny in day care, too

Transitional objects — also known as comfort objects — can help ease the transition between home and day care. If your child has a much-loved stuffed bunny or other favorite toy animal, she may find it comforting to have this special friend to hug if she's feeling lonely or scared. If your child's not the stuffed animal type, she may prefer to bring a picture of you or something that belongs to you with her. That way, if she starts missing you, she can go look at the picture or hold on to that plastic Starbucks travel mug that she's come to associate with you.

Even very young babies can take comfort from transitional objects. What works well with newborns is a shirt or other object that carries Mom's unique scent. Breathing in that familiar scent can be tremendously calming and reassuring to a newborn who's feeling a little out of his element.

Leaving the rush hour mentality at the door

Rather than trying to rush through the day-care drop-off, which only tends to heighten your child's anxiety on that all-important first day, build a bit of slack into your schedule. Ideally, you want to have the luxury of spending at least 15 minutes helping your child settle into her new day-care arrangement that first morning and every other morning during the days and weeks ahead.

Fifteen minutes seems to work well. Exiting any sooner may leave your child feeling as though the transition was too abrupt, but lingering too long may only serve to heighten her anxiety.

Remembering to walk the walk and talk the talk

Consider what message your body language and voice tone are sending to your child when you're saying your goodbyes. Your attempts to reassure your child that you're leaving him in good hands will all be in vain if your body language and voice indicate to him that you're feeling ambivalent and anxious yourself. What you want to do instead is give your child the message that you feel thoroughly confident in his new day-care arrangement and that you're looking forward to finding out all about his day when you pick him up after work.

And don't assume that your pre-verbal baby or toddler isn't picking up on these cues: Studies have shown that young children are surprisingly tuned into the emotions of the important people in their lives. So if you're positive and upbeat, your child is likely to pick up on — and possibly even mimic — your mood.

Keeping your goodbyes short

If your goodbyes are starting to resemble a scene from one of the sappier daytime soaps, perhaps the time's come to get on with the show (the day-care show, not the soap opera!). Keep a smile on your face, even if your child is crying, and reassure her that you will be back again at the end of the day. Of course, you also want to validate your child's feelings by letting her know that you understand that it's tough to say goodbye (you'll miss her, too!), but that you'll be back to pick her up at the end of the day.

Trying the old disappearing act — not!

Resist the temptation to sneak out the door the second your child looks the other way. Although you may manage to avoid this rendition of the "I Want My Mommy Blues," you're likely to end up creating an even bigger problem for yourself. Now that you've exited once, your child may rightly conclude that you're likely to sneak out again. This fear can lead your child to become extremely clingy — and not just at day care. That one not-so-great escape from the day-care center could cost you your "going-to-the-bathroom-alone" privileges for many months to come!

Here's something else to think about. According to child development experts, those kind of day-care great escapes can damage your child's trust in you — a pretty hefty price to pay for the sake of avoiding a few early-morning tears.

Minimizing other changes

Avoid making other changes to your child's routine while he's getting used to a new day-care arrangement. That may simply be too overwhelming for him. (How would you feel if someone asked you to adjust to some massive changes at work at the same time that you were trying to cope with a divorce or a death in the family?) So you may want to hold off on moving him from a bed to a crib or adding a new puppy to the family until your child is a little more settled into his new day-care routine and better able to cope with these added changes.

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