If you’re a parent returning to work, chances are you’ve thought a lot about your childcare options, and how you can settle your baby into childcare in a way that’s as stress-free as possible – for both of you! While it’s a a change that can be challenging for some children, here are our tips on how to make it an easier process.
Change routines gradually
Any parent will know that most babies and children thrive on routine – and switching it up, especially on a very young child, can be unsettling. So if you’re transitioning from being a stay-at-home parent to sending your baby to childcare, it’s a good idea to start the separation process gradually and gently. If you’re not already, start leaving your baby or toddler with a friend or family member for short periods. Explain what’s happening and always reassure your baby that you’ll return. Slowly extend these periods so they’re a little longer each time so your child gets used to it and also becomes used to the idea that you will always return to pick them up. That way, when you do start childcare, it won’t be such a sudden change for your baby.
Arrange to visit the Centre a few times with your baby
You’ve chosen a childcare facility you love – that’s great! If the Centre allows it, see if you can visit a few times with your child and just stay and have a play for a little while to familiarise themselves with the new surroundings, the toys and activities and the other kids – or even the area where your child might be napping. All of this will help significantly when you do have to leave your child on that first day.
Help educators get to know your child
If you’ve been breastfeeding and co-sleeping or contact-napping, it’s natural that you might worry how your child will cope in a childcare environment. Will your baby actually nap around other kids? How will the educators handle feeding and helping your baby sleep? It’s a great idea to have these conversations with the educators before you sign up to ensure the Centre is a good fit for your child and to help them learn about your child’s likes and dislikes, what works and what doesn’t. It might be that your child’s routine changes quite a bit and they nap more or less than they do at home – especially if they don’t want to miss out on all the fun.
Handling that first day
Talk to your baby or toddler about how they’re going to have an exciting day, and pack a special toy or comforter if your baby is very young. If your baby is very upset when you arrive at childcare, take a moment to sit down and have a cuddle, a play or read a book as a distraction and to help help him or her settle into the new environment. When it’s time to go, say goodbye clearly and gently to your little one and if they start to cry again, give your baby to an educator and leave. It’s best not to return even if they’re very distressed as this can be confusing for your baby and might make any separation anxiety worse. It’s always a good idea to phone the Centre a little later and put your mind at ease – most times, babies get distracted by all the fun activities and things to do and settle very quickly when the parent goes.
When pick-ups are tricky
If your baby cries when you arrive, don’t worry – it’s probably just because he or she has had a big day with lots of stimulation and is feeling a bit overwhelmed and relieved about seeing you. Comfort your baby with lots of cuddles and positive language about whether they had a good day and make a point of saying goodbye to their educators to give your baby the feeling that this is a safe place for them and that they’re amongst caring people. Use the car ride home to chat to your child about their day, any new friends they made, or sing songs to connect with them.
Give your baby extra quality time with you
If your baby is used to being with you, childcare can be an adjustment – so it’s a good idea to maximise the time you do have with your child in the morning or at night. This might mean being organized with your outfits and packing what you’ll need for the day the night before to make the mornings less of a rush. And having pre-prepared dinners or a meal in the crockpot or pressure cooker when you arrive home can leave you free to focus on your baby and ensure the nighttime bath and bedtime routine is as relaxing as possible.
What are your top tips for settling babies and toddlers into childcare? Is there any advice you wish you were given as a parent before this transition?