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How to Help a Toddler Adjust to Daycare: 8 Tips for Parents & Teachers
Transitioning a toddler into child care or daycare is tough — not only for the child but also for the parents. For a preschooler, child care means a change in routine, a step into the unknown, and time away from parents or caregivers. For parents, it’s questioning a decision, being calm during a meltdown, and trying not to cry during drop off. With a little planning, taking your toddler to child care can be a positive and rewarding experience. Here are a few tips on how to help a toddler adjust to daycare.
Prepare Yourself for Preschool
Understanding how to help a toddler adjust to daycare starts with you. Children sense your moods. They know when you’re anxious or uncomfortable. If you are uncertain about your decision, your child may be more hesitant about preschool. Be calm and confident when talking about transitioning to child care. You’ve got this!
You wouldn’t be a parent if you didn’t worry about what’s best for your child. It’s natural to talk through your concerns with friends and family. Just remember, preschool opens your child’s eyes to a beautiful world.
Involve the Teacher
Teachers have seen it all. If you’re worried about how your child will adjust to preschool, talk to your child’s teacher. Let a teacher or caregiver know if your child has separation anxiety or is reluctant to try new things. A teacher may offer to have a special activity or toy set aside. Child care facilities may have an arrival ritual that makes drop-off less stressful for your child.
Teachers may have a “script” to help parents get past the tears. For example, a teacher might suggest to acknowledge the child’s tears, say “I love you”, pass your child to a teacher or aide, say goodbye, and leave.
Try a Phased Transition
If the child care allows, try a phased transition, where the time your child spends at the facility increases gradually. Transition plans may look like the following:
- Day 1. Parents and their child spend one hour at the facility.
- Day 2. Parents drop off the child for one to two hours.
- Day 3. Parents drop off their child, who stays for three to four hours, including lunch.
- Day 4. Parents drop off the child who stays through nap time.
- Day 5. Parents drop off their child who stays a full day.
Teachers can modify a transition plan based on the parents and their children. Transition plans benefit teachers, parents, and children. No family is the same, so modifications should be expected and adjustments made as the plan unfolds.
Schedule a Visit
Introducing your child to a new environment without other children present can help ease anxiety. If allowed, schedule a time when you and your child can visit classrooms and see the playground. It’s an opportunity for you to tell your child what to expect. Knowing what is coming lessens the stress of the unknown for your child.
To ease children’s fears of attending child care, parents tend to hype the experience. Telling your child it will be the most fun ever can backfire. What happens when it isn’t fun? Your child may begin to wonder if you can be trusted.
Instead of hyping the experience, talk about the daily schedule. For example, outline the program by saying, “When you arrive in the classroom, you’ll put your things away. Then, you’ll work inside until snack time. After a snack, you’ll go outside if the weather is nice.” Knowing what to expect can help your child feel more comfortable in a new environment. It is also a way to build trust. When the day progresses, your child will see that what you said happened, and you can be trusted.
For teachers, building trust begins on day one. Consistent application of rules and consequences is a good place to start. It not only brings order to the classroom, but it also tells children that you can be trusted to apply the rules. As you know, toddlers can be very concerned with what is “fair.”
Create a Routine
Children need routine. Knowing what to expect gives your child a feeling of control. To get your child off to a good start, find a morning routine that works for you and your child — and stick to it. Maybe you eat breakfast together or pack lunches. Or maybe, you and your child have a checklist to make sure everything is in that backpack before you head out the door.
Clear Your Schedule
It’s tempting to pick up your child from child care and head to the grocery store or run a few errands. Whether your child loves or hates child care, it requires mental and emotional energy, especially in the beginning. Instead of trying to “get things done,” give your child a chance to relax and work through everything that happened while at child care. Going to child care for your toddler is the same as going to work is for you. A little downtime is needed.
Leaving a screaming child at child care may be a parent’s worst nightmare. There’s a rush of emotions ranging from embarrassment to guilt. You don’t need to be embarrassed or guilty. Most parents and all teachers have experienced a nightmare drop off (or two, or five, or sometimes even more – children take their own time to adapt and this is perfectly normal!).
In the middle of the crying chaos, don’t even think about sneaking out! It only worsens the separation. Your child may feel abandoned or even tricked into staying. It is a sure way to lose trust.
When saying goodbye, be calm and confident. If you feel comfortable leaving, your child will become comfortable staying. Most children stop crying after their parents leave. If you are concerned, you can ask the teacher to have someone call if your child is still crying after 30 minutes.
When children cling to you, it’s best to hug them, acknowledge their feelings, and leave promptly. The longer you stay, the more likely your child is to continue crying and screaming. Staying gives your child hope that you will remain.
Learning how to help a toddler adjust to daycare has its challenges. With patience, consistency, and reassurance, you can help your child embrace this new rewarding and enriching experience.