Settling your child into childcare smoothly
Author :Jo Whitfield , for ‘Spot A Childcare’
Starting your child in a new childcare setting for the first time can be a daunting prospect, for both parent and child. Parents can feel a painful mixture of anxiety and guilt at leaving their child, especially if the child protests.
Walking away from your screaming child whilst they wrestle in the arms of a stranger is not an experience any parent relishes. However, with a little planning and thought, it doesn’t have to be this way. Hopefully you will have already chosen the right childcare setting, so now all you need to do is settle your child in with patience, understanding, and sensitivity.
Allow sufficient settling in time
Whatever you do, don’t rush things. Time invested at this stage could save a lot of tears in the long run and make your child’s experience so much more positive. Let your child become familiar with the setting, whilst feeling safe in your presence. Allow them to explore, to get used to the different sounds and smells, to see where they will eat their food, have their nap and so on. Good childcare providers should always have some settling in arrangements whereby the parent will visit with the child a few times. Some children will need more time than others, so don’t let your childcare provider pressure you into leaving your child too soon. This will be counterproductive; if your child is left feeling too unsafe and upset this will only increase their fear and anxiety the next time. When you do leave, do so only for a short time initially, and gradually build up to the full time needed.
Allow your child to develop a bond with their new carer
This is particularly important for children under 3. If your child is going to a setting with more than one carer, make sure one of them is designated as your child’s primary carer. Children under 3 need the presence of an attachment figure in order to feel safe. Allow the carer to start to take over some of your duties and give as much attention to your child as possible. Make sure your child is with their carer at the point of your leaving.
Don’t sneak away when your child isn’t looking, however settled and happy they may appear. This can be very unsettling for a child when they realise you’ve gone, and make them cling to you more on future occasions. Always tell them you’re going, and when you’ll be back.
Use a transitional object
Does your child have a favorite teddy or other toy? Perhaps they have something they use to go to sleep, or something they like to take everywhere? If so, let them take this to their childcare setting with them. The smell and feel of it will comfort them and remind them of home. Let their carer know about this – they can help keep an eye on it. My son’s nursery worker kept his comforter, a small cloth penguin, in her pocket so he didn’t lose it, and gave it to him if he got upset, or if he asked for it.
Alternatively, try leaving your child with something of your own, perhaps a scarf or other small item of clothing. Something that will smell of you.
Ask your child, “Could you take care of this for me until I come back?”
Transitional objects are very important to children and thus can be very useful for settling into new surroundings or situations. Don’t worry that your child will never grow out of it. Let them keep it for as long as they need.
Validate your child’s feelings
Children are entitled to their feelings, so don’t try to belittle them or talk them out of them. This won’t help. If your child expresses fear or anxiety about going to childcare, sympathise with them, show you understand, and that it’s OK to feel this way. At the same time, make it clear that this is something that still has to happen. Talk about how you will be thinking about them during your day, and particularly about when you will come back for them, and what you will then do together for the remainder of the day.