by Gina Roberts-Grey
The process of attending or dropping your child off at day care can be an auspicious feat for many families. Wondering if your child is adjusting to the facility’s routine, making friends or coping with the separation of family and home can be quite consuming for parents. Coupled with the financial expense of quality day care and self imposed guilt of entrusting someone to care for your child, the subject of day care generally leads to parents carrying a mixed bag of emotions they struggle to sort through.
Fortunately, today’s families have a myriad of day care options to choose from. From franchised day care centers in-home care-givers, to grandparents, au pairs and nannies, according to information provided by the Internal Revenue Service, nearly forty seven percent of American children attend day care at some point in their life. Separation anxiety, fear for a child’s safe and comfortable well-being, and easing a worried parent’s concerns are just a few of the hurdles typically associated with children attending day care.
Having a few tried and true tips to rely on will help both you and your child successfully transition to the routine of day care. Knowing how to identify what type of day care situation best suits your family’s needs and how to prepare your family for the first day of day care will provide all of you some comfort and confidence to navigate this new adventure.
Do the math – Look for a day care provider whose child to care giver ratio will best suit everyone’s needs and expectations. While some children thrive on frequent interaction and the chance to be independent, others require a more nurturing or calm atmosphere. Visit the day care center at several intervals throughout a day to ascertain if the schedule and interaction is conducive to your child’s personality and needs.
Playing 20 questions – Once you’ve verified the safety and licensing records of your local day care centers, ask for a few referrals from fellow parents whose children attend the center. The ability to chat openly about how other parents view the care and services provided or how other children enjoy the day care facility will help you all overcome some natural anxiety. Enquire about the types and independent play that the day care center offers and how the children are reprimanded, fed, or how special needs are accommodated. Role playing and discussing your fears and potential concerns will show the day care center staff that you’re a caring parent and provide reassuring clarity to help you select the facility that’s best for your family.
Practice makes perfect – You can build your child’s security with attending day care by starting with short time intervals. A few weeks before your child will be at day care all day, schedule short visits that last 10 to 15 minutes long. Gradually increasing the time she spends at the facility will boost her confidence to be away from home and independent. Stick to the scheduled time allotment in order to build your child’s trust in your return.
Familiarity breeds comfort – Schedule or request the same care-giver for your child whenever possible. If you hand your child over to a member of the day care center’s staff, try to establish a connection with one individual your child feels comfortable with. This stability will reduce the stress and ease some immediate separation anxiety when adjusting to a care giver at day care.
Set a routine – Suzie Lux, Site Supervisor of Siskiyou Child Care Center in Mt. Shasta, California, urges parents to limit feeding an emotional or tearful good-bye scene. “A loving hug and kiss combined with ‘I’ll be back at five o’clock’ is easier on you and your child,” she explains, “parents need to realize that a drawn out separation promotes more tears and anxiety.” Child care providers such as Lux reassure parents that often a child stops crying before you’re back in your car on the way to work when an emotional scene is limited.
To set an emotionally stable routine, you can also allot a few quiet moments with your child before you leave the house. Reading a book, rocking, or sitting with her favorite toy will give your child added attention and ease her into the transition of day care. Spend time every day eating breakfast or in the car on the way to day care to talk directly to your child, sing nursery rhymes or sit with your child and her caregiver before you leave.
Don’t look back – In addition to avoiding an emotional good-bye, Registered Nurse and Former director of Child Care for Lifetime Fitness in Algonquin, Illinois, Tonya Shelton advises not ‘popping’ back into your child’s day care center. “After you’ve said good-bye and are on your way, don’t go back into the day care center for one final check or extra hug” says Shelton. Your return and subsequent departure may actually trigger another round of anxiety because your child will have to adjust to your departure all over again. If your curiosity gets the best of you, wait 20 minutes and make a quick call to the day care center to check on your child.
Don’t sneak out – Lux also cautions that trying to avoid a scene will not prevent your child from becoming upset when you drop her off at day care. “When your child realizes you’ve slipped away, she will experience the same emotional response as if she saw you leave,” she adds. A short, loving and consistent good-bye will give your child the chance to face your absence, develop the ability to process her emotions and understand that your absence is not permanent.
Practice what you preach – Give your baby the chance to model your behavior and acceptance of attending day care. Let her watch you chatting with the day care personnel to encourage your child to trust these people. When she sees your smile and hears the calm interaction between you, she will sense your confidence in the day care center’s staff.
The Day Care Diaper Bag – Packing a few ‘special’ items that both lend comfort and support for a child going off to day care. A small backpack, ‘dino diaper bag’ or ‘princess purse’ filled with a combination of items lends security and creates a diversion for separation anxiety. Tuck a copy of a favorite book from home, a few family photos or even one of your old t-shirts that your child can stow in her day care ‘cubby’ or rely on for nap time.
Have a back up plan – Although your ultimate goal is for your entire family to become accustomed to day care, it is wise to expect a few glitches along the way. Bridget Lemazny of Twin Lakes, WI found out that having a family member or trusted friend who is readily available and resides close to your child’s day care center as an emergency contact adds an additional layer of support. “Our son had chronic ear infections and I couldn’t keep taking time off of work. It was such a relief to have a network of backup caregivers,” Lemazny shares. In the event you’re away from your office or trapped in a meeting, you’ll appreciate not having to scramble to find a child care alternative as well as knowing your child is receiving trusted, tender loving care.