Many families begin to worry about daycare from the moment they learn they are having a baby. When the time comes to navigate the big transition, a baby’s first day at daycare is undoubtedly nerve-wracking for mom and our little ones too! Fortunately, preparing for the upcoming change can support a seamless adjustment for parents and kids alike.
Create a sense of excitement for the big day!
Replace nervousness with excited anticipation by celebrating the huge milestone that lies ahead. There are a variety of ways in which you can excite your child for what’s to come. Describe daycare as a new world full of many new friends, toys, and activities. Pick out a special outfit, incorporate daycare into pretend play schemes, or have a “going to daycare” party; whatever it takes to make daycare sound like the best place ever. Create a sense that daycare is something to look forward to, as opposed to something to be afraid of, in both the way you speak and how you act.
Develop pre- and post-daycare routines.
By the time your child is ready to transition to daycare, you will likely have created a variety of routines that govern your family’s day-to-day life. With new schedules comes the need for new routines as well. Morning routines can set your child up for success with the day ahead. Start by waking your child early enough to allow ample time to get ready. You might consider shifting waking times several weeks in advance so your child has enough time to adjust their sleep patterns accordingly.
Upon waking up, create a routine that includes getting dressed, eating breakfast, and completing other “not so favorite” tasks. End the routine with a preferred activity, such as watching television or having a morning dance party, motivating your child to get through the first few tasks as efficiently as possible. You might consider using a visual schedule to help your child progress through the routine each morning. Stick with your daily routine, creating a sense of normalcy and predictability as you get ready together.
For children who have never been separated from their parents in the past, drop-off can quickly turn into a family’s worst nightmare. Transitioning away from mom and dad to a novel caregiver can be made much easier for all parties involved with some practice. Create opportunities to practice similar transitions with babysitters, grandparents, etc. By exposing your child to the separation process in advance while they are still in the comfort of their home, you can teach them that when mom and dad leave, they always come back, and they might have some fun with their other caregivers too!
Bring familiar items for mealtime and naptime.
Often, children experience regressions related to mealtimes and naptimes when transitioning to the daycare setting, as even the smallest deviation in routine can be disruptive. Minimize the likelihood of a backslide by packing familiar items critical to these routines. For example, you might pack the same snack cups, sippy cups, utensils, and bibs your child uses at home in their lunch box. Be sure to provide preferred, familiar foods and avoid trying new foods or packaging in the initial transition phases. Similarly, for naptime, provide your child’s blanket, sleep sack, and any other items your child associates with sleep. It can also be helpful to provide a detailed account of your child’s sleep and feeding routines, so your daycare provider can do their best to emulate these experiences accordingly.
Pack a security item in your child’s daycare bag.
Bringing a piece of home to daycare can provide an extra sense of comfort for your child as they transition to the daycare setting. Please support your child in selecting a transitional object, such as a particular blanket or stuffed animal, to help them feel more relaxed as they navigate this major life change. Check in with your daycare regarding their policies on bringing in transition items from home and ask for flexibility with these rules in your child’s initial days away from home, if needed.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, be strong. Separation anxiety is real, and the feelings can be overwhelming. Please take a deep breath and hold those tears in until your little one has successfully transitioned into the loving arms of their daycare provider. Until now, you have been your child’s entire world, so they will look directly towards you for cues to help them decide whether daycare is somewhere they want to be. Exude confidence and positivity, and your little one will too.
Meghan Perazella M.Ed. BCBA LBA (CT) brings passion and over fourteen years of experience to The Hangout Spot and The Play Space. She has provided special education and behavior analytic services throughout Fairfield County in both home- and public-school settings. Meghan earned her Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction for Students with Severe Special Needs and her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Human Development from Boston College. She later completed her Post-Master BCBA Certificate at Endicott College.