For parents and children starting child care for the first time separation anxiety is common.
For many children, child care is their first experience of extended separation from their parents and for many parents the guilt they have about leaving their child can make the first few days of child care an emotional time.
A little preparation can go a long way towards decreasing the anxiety felt by both children and parents as your family becomes accustomed to the new arrangement.
The best way to prepare yourself and your child is to start an ‘acclimatisation' program as early as you can:
Before Starting Care
- When you have secured a place in the centre of your choice take your child in for a visit as soon as you can.
- If possible ask the director of the centre to give you a tour and encourage your child to play with the other children.
- Most centres will let you bring your child in for supervised visits in the weeks leading up to the start date, take them up on the offer! Your child will be a lot happier once they are familiar with the new environment and you will feel more comfortable once you know the carers and some of the other children.
- On one of these visits make sure you ask the carer to show your child where they will sleep, eat and go to the toilet and where the inside and outside play areas are.
- Introduce your child to the carers and tell them when your child is starting.
- During the preliminary visits, as your child becomes familiar with the child care environment try and stay out of sight and encourage your child to interact with the other children.
- Make sure you provide the carers with any information about your child which will help them settle in, for example sleeping/eating habits, likes/dislikes and favourite toys/comforters.
- Go to the library and borrow some books about child care and read them to your child in the days leading up to care.
- Engage in lots of positive conversation about starting child care and try and maintain an upbeat attitude. Your child will gain confidence from your confidence.
The First Few Days
- Remember, it is perfectly normal for children to be teary and emotional on the first few drop-offs.
- Try and adopt a calm, positive attitude. Children have a remarkable ability for sensing the mood of their parents and ensuring you maintain a façade of confidence will instill confidence in your child.
- Say a quick goodbye. Give your child a kiss and cuddle and then leave, prolonged farewells will simply draw out the tears.
- Whatever you do don't sneak out as this will make the child mistrustful and more clingy the next day.
- Once you have left the carer will scoop your child up and engage them in an interesting activity, so try not to worry!
- Remember you can call at any time during the day if you feel concerned, so feel free to pick up the phone if you need some reassurance.
- If possible, pick your child up early for the first few days. For children new to group care it can be extremely tiring and shorter days will help your child adjust more quickly.
- On pick up ask the carer for a debrief on how the day went, discuss any concerns you had, how your child managed, what they enjoyed and so on. Learning about your child's day will help you feel involved, even if you can't be around to participate.
- Maintain the positive chats and stories with your child at home so child care becomes something to look forward to and enjoy rather than something to dread.
- If your child continues to be teary and emotional, encourage them to talk about their feelings, validate those feelings, then positively reiterate why care is necessary.
Remember, some children adapt more quickly to child care than others and the transition period you and your child go through will depend on factors such as your child's age, stage of development, previous experiences with other carers and the child care environment.