Happy New Year! The start of new beginnings, and often the month when many families are thinking about or have just started childcare for the younger members of their family.
This can be an exciting but also daunting time. A good way to prepare yourself is to make sure things will be as familiar as possible for your child. For babies and toddlers this means bringing the same bedding as you use at home. I have explained this further below along with some helpful information so you are prepared for this next step.
Starting out at childcare
The first and most important tip is to make sure you show your child how excited you are about them starting childcare. Reinforce and talk to your child about how much fun they will have meeting new friends and learning new games. Reassure them that after meeting and playing with their new friends that Mummy or Daddy will come to pick them up.
It is important that your child sees you being positive about childcare and not worrying.
Secondly, I believe it is important to start with a short orientation period. The majority of nurseries I have come across and heard about from clients also advocate this. I believe it is important that you visit the nursery alone before making the final decision, if you are happy for your child to attend that nursery. I also believe it is important that you discuss with the director your parenting philosophies and ensure they will do their best to match these as best as they can in the childcare environment.
When you take your child for their first visit I believe it is important that you stay at the nursery the whole time. You may like to encourage your child to go off and join in the activities with the other children but try to always stay in sight. It is also important to help encourage the initial meeting with the people who will be your child’s new carers and allow those carers to introduce themselves to your child.
The second time you visit the nursery I encourage you to stay with your child for a short time and then aim to leave your child at the nursery for an hour or two and then collect them.
A very important tip I believe is to never sneak off without saying goodbye to your child. While it may seem like the easy option to sneak out the door while your child is involved happily in an activity your child will eventually look up to see if you are watching. If you have disappeared your child may spend the next hour upset and looking for you. It is better to have a few tears when saying goodbye than for your child to get upset when they realise you are missing.
Depending on how your child is coping you may continue with these short visits for the first 3 or 4 times you leave your child at childcare before attempting a full day. However if your child is coping well then you may only need to do 1 or 2 of the short stays.
Other than the initial settling in process the other worry I hear from parents is ‘will all my hard work in establishing a feeding and self settling routine be ruined by childcare’. Generally I say that it won’t be ruined BUT your child will need to learn that there will be one set of rules for childcare and one set for home.
Often parents find that their child actually eats better at childcare than they do at home and I put this down to the fact that they are all seated down together and children learn from watching other children. So if they see the other children eating, they will eat too. In regards to food I do suggest you check the menu with the centres and make sure custard is not offered to your child if your child is under 3 years old. Similarly grapes, even grapes cut in half or quarters should not be offered to any child under the age of 5 years.
Settling and sleep at childcare
When it comes to sleeping you may find your chosen childcare nursery has a different routine to what you do at home. Where possible you could ask that the nursery follow your child’s normal home time sleep routine but this is not always possible. Please try not to worry too much as over the years I have found that children adapt to having two routines quite well. Often at childcare the time of your little one’s sleep in the day might be earlier than you do this sleep at home, this is fine unless you notice your child early rising. If this happens I suggest you ask your child’s carer to make the day sleep closer to the time at home but generally children are so stimulated at childcare that an earlier sleep time on childcare days does not effect them.
If your child has been well established on my particular routines at home for a long time it may take a little while for them to adjust to child care but please be patient. The sleeping environment is often quite different, especially for toddlers as most centres move toddlers to stretcher-type beds at two or even one year old. While this is not ideal, generally it is unavoidable but what you can do is try to replicate your child’s sleeping environment at home as closely as possible.
The way you can do this is by sending to child care with your child the same mattress protector, sheet, the same blankets, the same comforters that your child would use at home. This is why I recommend having a second set of everything so it can either travel to and from child care with your child or your nursery may be prepared to keep it at the centre and use it only for your child. I believe this is one of the most important things you can do to help your child in their transition to childcare.
Keep in mind, just because your little one may settle in well to sleeping on a stretcher bed at child care this does NOT mean that you should transition to a big bed at home as moving to a bed too early can lead to settling and sleep problems.
Please remember your child may happily be having one long day sleep at home, but may have two shorter sleeps at childcare. Children are easily distracted by all the activity at childcare and want to be involved and this can lead to the shorter sleeps. Whilst this may not be ideal, I have found these children adapt well to having two routines. If you find yourself in this situation with your child you can always aim to pop your child to bed at 6.30pm on childcare days to help them catch up on lost sleep.
The childcare routine will not affect your home time routine as long as your keep your home boundaries strong and your bedtime rituals consistent, your child will still sleep when they are with you.
Good luck and be kind to yourself! It can often be more stressful for parents than it is for the little one.