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Easing the Transition from Home to Child Care

An all-too-typical scene on the first day of a new child care situation is that of a frightened child in tears, clinging to a parent’s leg, and an embarrassed parent unsure about what to do next. Parents might feel a mix of strong emotions, either sympathetic or angry toward the child for this protest, guilt for leaving the child, or questioning what they have done wrong since everyone else’s child seems to be adjusting so easily. This podcast will discuss ways to make this transition easier for both you and your child.

Separation is a developmental challenge, but children can learn ways to cope successfully when adults take children’s feelings seriously, talk to them honestly, and give them lots of understanding support. So, what can you do as a parent?

First, it is important to build trust with your child. Always tell your child the truth – that you are leaving but you will be back. Don’t disappear without notice, as sneaking out does not build trust.

Stay calm and show confidence in your child, but get help if needed. Ask something like, “Can you say goodbye to me by yourself, or do you need the nanny to help you?”

Develop a special goodbye ritual that you and your child share at every separation. It should be short, pleasant, loving, and consistent.

Always talk to your child about the happy experiences to expect in the new situation and help them look forward to a favorite activity or person.

Keep a brief schedule of your child’s activities or discuss your child’s day with the caregiver as time permits. Use that information to reinforce the good times as you talk to your child. One of the least fruitful questions a parent can ask a child is, “What did you do in school today?” because the response is usually “Nothing.” But if you ask, “Who did you sit next to at snack time?” you may open up an entire conversation about your child’s day.

Prepare your child for a new separation by making a short visit to the child care facility prior to the first day. Show him where his belongings will go, where the bathrooms are, and where he will nap.

On that first day, try having them choose a part of home to bring to child care if they want. Often, a blanket or snuggly toy extends the security of home to the unfamiliar setting.

Even if the initial adjustment period seems painless, you should also be prepared for the possibility that separation anxiety could appear a bit later. Many teachers call this response “Second Week-itis,” where your child is not comfortable enough to show her true feelings. Don’t mistake this apparent delayed reaction with indications that something is wrong with the caregiver and withdraw the child needlessly.

It’s important for you to know as a parent that some behaviors are common to certain ages, and recognizing them can help you understand what is happening and why.

From birth to 8 months, infants can easily be comforted by another caregiver as long as their needs are being met. However, a new caregiver may not immediately be able to read a baby’s unique cues for attention, diaper changes, and hunger. Provide information to the caregiver about these cues, and also let them observe you with the baby in order to learn as much as possible about how she communicates.

From 8 months to 2 years, it’s normal for separation anxiety to begin and children to become frightened or upset when their parents leave. Reminding children that mommy or daddy always comes back can help ease fears.

With children from 2 to 5 years, they are usually old enough to handle separation well, but life stresses like a new sibling, family problems, or a new caregiver can trigger anxiety. They may cope by regressing to earlier behaviors like tantrums, thumb sucking, or baby talk. Reading children’s books with separation themes can help your children cope with their feelings.

Consequently, separation is not only difficult for children, but also for parents. When your child’s first day arrives, be prepared for your own separation anxiety. Once you have said goodbye, leave right away, rather than prolonging your goodbye, which only makes things harder. Know that if you are concerned about your child during the day, you can always call your caregiver to check in. Most parents discover that everything went well shortly after their departure. Also, be sure to maintain a positive relationship with the caregiver, as this makes the process of separating easier.

You can print a copy of our “Separation” brochure and find additional brochures and podcasts on important parenting issues by visiting Children’s Home Society of California’s website at www.chs-ca.org.

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