As your parental leave draws to an end, so does the routine both you and your baby have been following for some time. Maybe you realize how much you’ve cherished this time and are dreading the fact that it is about to end. Or perhaps, while you’ve enjoyed the quality time with the baby, you are eagerly looking forward to getting back to your professional life.
Whatever the case, your daily routine is about to drastically change . . . for the both of you. This disruption can wreak havoc on your baby and their transition period as they become accustomed to a new daily routine and possibly a new environment where they will spend the better part of their days. And as long as your baby remains unsettled, it will be hard for you to relax and adapt to your new way of life.
So, whether you are excitedly counting down the days until you get back to work or view them as the lead up to D-Day, there will probably be some bumps and hiccups experienced by both of you along the way. As you formulate a daycare plan that will work best for you and your baby, here are 14 tips to help keep daycare jitters at bay.
The last thing you want to do when introducing some sort of change into your child’s established routine is rush the process. As you probably know by now, most kids need time and patience in order to get used to any sort of change. So when planning on returning to work and getting your child familiarized with a daycare routine, make sure you plan ahead and take the time necessary to ease into the process. You and your child will be glad you did!
Start planning for your baby’s daycare well in advance. That way you won’t be rushed into choosing a place you don’t have great vibes about. And a lot of good daycares have long waiting lists, so the sooner you begin planning, the sooner you can get your baby's name on the list at your top choices.
While it can prove a greater expense than daycare, hiring a nanny or family member to watch your baby at home has an upside. You will not have to disrupt your child’s sleep in the morning, there will be no juggling of pick-ups and drop-offs and hopefully not as much rushing around for the two of you. And your baby will have the comfort and familiarity of being in their own home throughout the day.
Being able to linger over a leisurely breakfast and lunch as well as being able to nap in their own bed can make all the difference in the world to your child adjusting to a new schedule or routine in their life.
If the extra expense is too difficult to justify, it may be worth considering for a limited time. Having your baby cared for at home is a great way to ease them (and you) into the process of being apart. It will get them used to the idea of being cared for by someone else. And as is often the case, once your baby hits the magic age of 18 months, there tends to be less wait-time for a placement within daycare facilities.
Take time to visit various daycares, talk to staff and ask questions and even talk to other parents whose children attend. Stop in during the day to watch the routines and see how responsive the attending children are. Do they seem happy? Are they enjoying themselves? Ask the daycare staff to provide you with a list of references. Put together a question sheet before you make any calls. That way you get answers to all your questions. Talk to any parents you see picking up or dropping off their children at the daycare you are considering.
Become actively involved with the facility. Find out if there are volunteer opportunities for parent involvement or any social functions to attend. Get to know the staff and take advantage of any peace-of-mind extras they may offer for parents such as a daily Twitter feed with photographs or online webcams. And of course, go with your gut. There’s no sense in choosing a daycare that seems great if for some reason it just doesn’t sit right with you.
Once you have decided what option you are going with, talk about the new, exciting plan with the baby. Keep it positive and encouraging by discussing how big they are getting and how much fun they will have to learn and make friends. Try and bring the baby for a few visits to the facility beforehand. This way, they can familiarize themselves with the environment and even get to know some of the staff that will be taking care of them.
Have your child attend the daycare a few weeks before you actually go back to work--maybe on a part-time basis. This will get them somewhat accustomed to and settled into the new routine before you actually have to rely on the care.
Babies benefit from structure and thrive on routine. Chances are the most difficult part of starting the daycare process will be the disruption of their normal routine. If you are aware of this at the get-go, then you are already well on your way to helping your child adapt to a new schedule.
As soon as you have your new daycare plans in place, begin creating a new routine and start to follow it as soon as possible. Even if daycare does not officially start for a few more weeks, try getting the baby up and fed at the time required once they do start.
The importance of a routine, as opposed to a schedule, is the repetitive order of events that take place. Keep the order of your morning events the same every day--wake up, get dressed, brush teeth, have breakfast and so on. Keeping the order the same each day provides your baby with something to anticipate and look forward to while also helping them develop trust and emotional stability. And by following the same order of events, your baby will know what to expect and will be less apt to struggle.
It’s also important for you to be extra vigilant in keeping all other aspects of your child’s life stable and stress-free when they first start daycare. Things will run smoother if your baby only needs to deal with one major adjustment at a time. So, if you were planning on moving your child to a bed, weaning them from a pacifier, starting the toilet-training process, going on vacation or buying a family pet, it may make sense to hold off until they become used to their new daycare routine.
Remember those days of trying to rock a distraught baby to sleep? It never worked if you were stressed or rushed, and that’s because these little munchkins are extremely perceptive to our mood and emotional state. The same goes when starting daycare. If you are ambivalent and stressed about the whole process, your child will pick up on this and not be as receptive to the new environment as they otherwise may be.
Just as your baby will require some time to get used to the new routine, you will as well. Get a good night’s sleep, enjoy the quality time you have with your baby, and don’t set deadlines for yourself. Be good to yourself. As difficult as it may feel at first, it’s important for you to set time aside for yourself. Go out with friends, head to the movies, get a massage. Don’t let guilt override your enjoyment of life.
Does your child have a special blankie or doll? Is there a toy they are attached to? If so, encourage them to bring this comfort item along with them in order to provide that extra bit of security when they are anxious being away from you. Have some fun and enroll the comfort item into daycare as well; your child may get a kick out of this.
If your child doesn’t have any special comfort items, consider making a special craft together that the two of you can keep with you when you are separated for the day. Or give them an item of yours that will remind them of you such as a piece of jewelry or a scarf. Put together a special little photo album they can keep with them and flip through when they feel especially homesick.
When it comes to dropping your child off at the daycare in the morning, you want to do what you can for a smooth transition. After all, the way the morning begins can set the stage for the rest of the day. Give yourself lots of time so you don’t have to rush. Be positive when you talk to your child about the day’s plans so that they can be excited about what will be in store for them. Ensure your child is changed and fed beforehand so that they arrive in a content mood.
Keep goodbyes short and sweet and as much as you may be tempted, don’t linger (at least not where your child can see you.) If it helps get your day off to a good start by sticking around until your child is engaged in an activity, then do so surreptitiously.
Create a special goodbye routine just for the two of you. It can involve a series of hugs and kisses in a specific order or a secret handshake and signal. Then make sure you follow this special routine every morning no matter how late you are running. Whatever you do, don’t pull a vanishing act. When your child eventually notices you are gone, they may become panicked. They need to know that when you leave them, they can trust you to return.
In the beginning, a bit of waterworks is normal--for you and your baby. So, don’t waste time stressing about tears and thinking that you are doing something wrong. Do not take your child’s tears personally. Just because they become upset when you drop them off at daycare, doesn’t mean that you are a bad parent or that their daycare experience is horrible. Some kids cry. It’s not the end of the world.
If you do leave your child crying at morning drop off, don’t hesitate to phone the daycare later in the day to ensure that everything has been resolved. There’s no sense in carrying around this worry and concern when it can all be cleared away with one quick call.
Keep in mind that your home routine can affect your baby’s new daycare routine. Too much change at one time can be overwhelming for anyone, let alone a child attempting to adjust to a new daycare. Do what you can to keep your child’s home life exactly the same while they undergo this adjustment.
You may notice that many daycares take steps to foster independence. Even toddlers are encouraged to put on their own shoes and coats and to blow their own noses. It may help with the adjustment process if you follow suit at home as well. Have your child get themselves dressed in the morning, brush their own teeth, and help you out in the kitchen. If they feel good about the new skills they are learning, they will have less trouble adjusting to the new expectations at daycare.
A consistent, solid bedtime routine is important so that your child gets a full night’s sleep each evening. If your child is well-rested, they will be in a better mood to handle the day in care and all the challenges that go along with it.
Do what you can to ensure you and your child spend some quality time together each evening and on the weekends. The more time you have together enjoying each other’s company, the better each of you will feel about spending a portion of the day apart.
Going back to work and finding someone to care for your child will be an adjustment no matter what so give yourself and your child time to adjust. Don’t rush yourself or place the adjustment period on a strict deadline. Take each day as it comes, allow your instincts to guide you and make the necessary tweaks needed in order to figure out the most suitable child care arrangement for you and your child.
Whatever you do, refrain from comparing your situation to your friends, to the other kids at your child’s daycare facility, and even to your older children who went through a similar process before. Every child is a unique individual with a distinct personality and varying emotions. While most children settle into a new routine within a few weeks, don’t be surprised if takes longer. Some children require a few months before they actually get used to attending daycare and start to enjoy themselves. Let your child settle in and adjust on their own terms. In the meantime, don’t stress or beat yourself up. These situations often have a way of working themselves out.
That said, there is only so long that any person can suffer through the process of “fake it ’til you make it.” If after six months, you and/or your child are still unhappy with the new routine, it may be time to re-evaluate the situation and make some changes.