Maternity leave is over, you’re going back to work, and your child is starting daycare. Your precious heart will be thrust into the arms of strangers while you head off to get that paper (and also feel a little bit of your old life).
When you’re a working parent, deciding to leave your baby in the trust of daycare provider near you can feel overwhelming.
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Hopefully, you’ve taken steps to meet with several different daycares or daycare preschools near you and found one that makes you feel confident that your baby will be loved and cared for just as you would.
As a working mom who has put both babies in daycare from the jump (one at seven months, one at three months) I’ve experienced and seen first hand the effect starting daycare can have on you and your child.
Here are some tips to help you and your baby get ready for starting daycare.
Talk About the the First Day of Daycare Ahead of Time
Yes, even with your baby.
While they may not understand precisely what you’re saying, your tone and your demeanor are cues to how they should feel. And they know far more than you think they do.
If you have an older child, start talking about it with them early and often and answer any questions they may have.
It’s essential that you set the tone: Daycare is a great place to meet new friends and learn lots of new things!
If you’re able to take your baby/child on a tour of the facility ahead of time, meet their teachers, or provide them anything that can help them picture their new adventure, this can allow them to solidify the idea in their mind.
Be sure to explain that while they are in school, you will be at work, but that every day you or your partner will be picking them up to have dinner together (or whatever your routine dictates).
My youngest was only 12 weeks old when he started daycare, and because he’d spent his entire life coming with me to drop off his brother, he was familiar with the building and the routine already.
Expose Your Child to Other Kids/Babies/Adults
If you can attend playgroups, local mommy and me classes, or anything that provides exposure to other adults and children, your child will become more comfortable with the sensation of new experiences and new people.
While it’s likely you’ll want to get out of the house anyway at some point postpartum, doing so with other kids allows your child the exposure to practice socialization.
Even if you haven’t done a single thing but hang out at home, try to schedule something a few weeks or so before your child begins daycare. You could attend a local library story time, or even the playground and encourage socialization with other kids while you’re there.
Explain that when they start daycare they will get to meet all kinds of new friends and it can be enjoyable to do so.
Match Your Daily Routine to That of the Daycare Facility
Most daycares have set times for snacks, lunch, and nap time (and often it is published on a website or readily available with a quick phone call to the school).
If your child isn’t already on this schedule start adjusting so that they’re familiar with that routine.
Encourage Your Child’s Independence
Our boys go to a Montessori school which has a motto “teach me to do it myself.”
While not all daycares follow this mantra, it’s a good idea to encourage your child’s exploration and solo play.
If they are a bit older, be sure you are practicing using utensils such as a fork, spoon, or cup.
Try to remember that when your child starts a daycare they are one of several children and while daycare providers tend to give extra love and attention to new friends at the beginning of their transition, they will also need to attend to the needs of the other children.
The more independence your child can show, the better their self-esteem will be and their confidence and feelings of comfort for their first day of daycare.
Prepare Your Child for Sleeping in a Room of Strangers
All daycares are required to provide safe napping cots, cribs, or mats.
If your baby has slept in nothing but a crib, it’s possible they will start in a daycare room that only has floor mats.
Surprisingly this transition can go more smoothly than you think. My youngest didn’t even have any transition time at all. One day he was sleeping in a crib at daycare, the next on a mat on the floor.
On the other hand if your child has never slept on a mat before asking your daycare provider if you can let them lay down on one ahead of time, or at least introduce it to them at drop off, so they know what to expect when it comes time to sleep.
There is something about the group mind though that helps encourage young children.
When your child sees the others laying down on the mats, they’ll likely follow suit and hopefully fall asleep without any issue.
Also, daycare professionals are deft at helping children, and babies fall asleep and have an assortment of tips and tricks to get even the most resistant napper to snooze away.
Go on a Date Night (Yep)
If you haven’t spent a lot of time away from your kid, allowing them to be in the care of someone else can be excellent practice.
Plus this is an excellent excuse to schedule some alone time with your spouse before the chaos of going back to work commences.
Check out This Post for Some Ideas: Easy Date Night Ideas to Keep The Spark Alive
Get All The Gear Packed Up
All daycares may be slightly different in what they recommend you bring, but this is a good guideline:
For babies still sleeping in cribs:
At least two changes of sheets, and sleep sack or light blanket (depending on how old they are) both labeled with the child’s name
All bottles needed for the day, clearly marked as formula or breastmilk with the baby’s name and date.
Any additional snacks (if they are eating solid food) clearly labeled as what it is, babies name, and date.
Sippy cup (if they also drink water) clearly labeled as H20, along with baby’s name, date.
At least three changes of clothes (they store extras in cubbies or drawers typically). Clearly label with baby’s name.
Diapers, wipes, any creams or powders. Do note that most daycares will make you sign a medical release form for using any creams or powders and some daycares will not allow powder at all (especially if it is a talc powder).
A lovey labeled with baby’s name.
If your daycare doesn’t have a white noise machine or sound machine in the sleep room, I recommend bringing a labeled portable one to help drown out the noise of the other babies who may not be napping at the same time.
Spare binky’s labeled with baby’s name.
For Older Toddlers:
One sheet and one blanket labeled with the child’s name.
Water cup or sippy with child’s name labeled.
Several changes of clothes (they usually keep spares in a cubby). Clearly labeled with child’s name.
A few things to consider:
For older toddlers - Some schools discourage the use of a lovey during nap time with older children as well as a binky (as it can bring on feelings in other toddlers who may have used one before).
If you can ween your child off of binky’s and lovies during the day nap, this can go a long way to help them adjust to the change in sleeping environments.
On the other hand, if you believe a lovey and/or binky can help them transition at first, it’s worth talking to your caregiver about allowing it for a few weeks while they adjust to their new schedule and routine.
Give Yourself More Time Than You Think You’ll Ever Need
As a new mom, you know how hard it can be to leave the house and make sure you have all the gear.
As a general rule, I try to give myself an extra 5 - 10 minutes every single day to get out of the house, loaded and in the car. This buffer window of time is typically enough to deal with any of the last minute “snack requests” or realizing there’s a chill in the air and a quick run back in to get jackets and hats.
If you live in a colder climate or where there's inclement weather, be sure to plan accordingly and pay attention to your school’s closure notices.
Many will text, email, or post on their website about weather-related closures.
Talk About the Day and Plan it Out With Your Child
Children are remarkably adaptable, and often pick up so much more than we give them credit.
By consistently using encouraging and positive language about what’s expected, what will happen, and when you will see each other again, you may help mitigate any of the fears of the unknown that trigger your child into an emotional meltdown.
Sometimes the simple act of going through the day’s activities puts my kids at ease even if they don’t fully understand everything I’ve said.
If your child does understand what you’re saying, then they can start to build the idea of the new routine into their head in a way that feels manageable.
So for example, if you say, “I'll pick you up after your outside time in the afternoon” then they may start to piece together the routine and think something like Okay!. I take a nap, and I have a snack, I get to learn a few things with my friends, then we go outside, and then I see momma!
Be Patient With Everything
Be patient with yourself. Be patient with your child. Be patient with your caregiver.
All three of you are adjusting to a pretty significant change in routine, in getting to know each other in this new way, and once the excitement wears off a regression of sorts can show up.
By staying consistent in your language, in your expectations, and your routine you help your child work through this adjustment period and get them feeling more confident.
Trust Your Choice in Caregiver
You have chosen a daycare provider based on several factors, and I’m not going to sugar coat this. The first day dropping off is going to SUCK. It just is.
Trust your mommy gut and your initial impression of the school and the teachers.
It’s essential that you show your child that you trust them. Even if they’re crying, give a big hug, a kiss, and tell them that you love them and you’ll see them soon.
When parents linger, it tends to make the separation even harder. (and I’ve totally been guilty of this).
Tips to Help with Separation
The transition from being with you all day every day to being in the care of strangers can be so overwhelming for your little one.
The faster you can help them regulate to their new surroundings, the better. This regulation comes, unfortunately, when you leave.
I can always spot the new children to the class (well, first of all, because I have never seen them before, and secondly because they are almost always crying through varying degrees of hysterics).
Yes, I have even seen new kids at drop off throw up because they’re crying so hard.
Daycare providers are trained in helping your child with this transition and with this emotional response, often giving them as much love and attention as they need to adjust.
But they have other children in the class too, so they can’t be one on one with your precious angel the entire day.
Read more about tips to help your child transition at daycare or preschool here: How to Help Your Child Adjust to Daycare Without Drama but here’s some of the gist of it:
Create a goodbye routine that you and your baby are familiar with. Every night my kids do a routine of “hug, kiss, and a high five” before they go to bed, and before they take a nap. At drop off, we do the same routine, and it’s to signal subconsciously that it’s time to say goodbye to mommy. Even if the surroundings are different, the feeling is the same.
Be sure to get down on their level and look them in the eye and hug and kiss them. Sometimes children just need one last moment of connection to know that they’re going to be okay.
Bring a transitional friend or object or lovey. For both my boys they slept with a blanket/lovey that they slept with at home. To this day my almost 3-year-old brings his favorite “baby” to school every single day and the baby “watches” him from his cubby. It’s also helpful because if my 3-year-old doesn’t want to tell me about his day, I just ask his baby to tell me what he saw and sometimes I can get far more information from baby than from him (lol).
The End of the Day Hugs Are Huge
Every day at pick up, my kids run across the playground to greet me and give me big hugs and its hands down the highlight of my day.
There is something so right about absence making the heart grow fonder. At least in those first moments of being reunited.
There’s also admittedly a feeling of badass gratification in that I’ve done it. I’m gone to work and handled my business like a badass. My kids are happy, healthy, safe, and loved by badasses.
And we get to go home together and talk about all the new adventures we both had.