Your baby is ready to leave the nest… well, sort of. Maybe you have to return to work or maybe you simply want your child to have the opportunity to play with other children in a preschool setting. Either way, you’ve done your homework by visiting a few places and talking with friends and neighbours. Now the time has come to let go of your little one.
Having been involved for 25 years as a coordinator and educator in both preschools and daycares, I have some advice that will make this milestone a smoother transition for both parents and children.
A preschool aged child only needs to be prepped about one month prior to starting daycare. Any earlier can create anxiety as too much information can be stressful for children. With minimal life experience, children often let their imaginations run wild when anticipating a new situation.
1. Expect tears from your child… and yourself. Don’t underestimate how difficult it will be for you to make this transition. Actually, it’s usually harder on the parent than the child. You have to keep in mind that those tears rarely last. Once you leave there are new people (teachers) to fall in love with, children to befriend and all kinds of new toys to discover. And if they don’t cry, don’t worry! Sometimes children are more ready to explore and move forward than their parents. Other times a child will adapt smoothly, even immediately, and then a week or two later the realization that they are at daycare every day might cause the tears to suddenly spill. Rest assured, they won’t last. It’s all about getting used to new routines.
2. Leave. Spend your five minutes settling your child and then say goodbye. The longer you stay, the higher the level of anxiety. Countless times I’ve watched a child wringing his hands and pacing, becoming more and more emotional as he anticipates when his parent is going to actually leave the premises. Pretend you’re a band-aid. Give those hugs and kisses goodbye, and then – rip off the band-aid and leave. Yes, we may have to pry him/her off your leg but, once in our arms, the bonding begins — and that is precisely what you want to happen. It is good for children to bond with educators because they will learn that there are other people in the world who they can trust to love and look after them. You are instilling a sense of confidence that is necessary for success in future life transitions.
3. Leave a short set of instructions. Yes, your child has his/her personal needs, but don’t go overboard (unless your child has a serious allergy). You are not at home and this is not a one-on-one nanny situation. At daycare, there are many children’s personal needs to consider, so keep that in mind, and remember: your child will learn to adapt. Give him/her the opportunity to adjust.
4. Pick them up happy. Know their limits. In those first, early days, you don’t want them to be exhausted and tearful upon your return. Picking them up early will teach them that you do indeed come back each day. Also, if you arrive while they’re still having fun, they will be more likely to look forward to coming back to daycare.
5. Be Prepared. Leave your child fully prepared. That means that his/her locker or cubby is efficiently stocked with a favourite bedtime buddy for nap time, appropriate clothing (sun hats, sunscreen, bathing suit/towel, or in winter, snow pants, hats/mitts, etc.) and both diapers/wipes plus a complete change of clothing. A plastic bag (for wet/soiled clothing) is a nice touch too, as they are hard to come by these days.
6. Respect. This goes for the rules and policies of your daycare and also for your educators. Remember to say please and thank you. Doing so encourages your child to be gracious and appreciative by example.