How to ensure a smooth transition to child care

How to ensure a smooth transition to child care

How to ensure a smooth transition to child care

The start of a new year is coming and for many families, this means a big change in child care arrangements.  The key to a smooth adjustment is organisation and not leaving things until the last minute. Uncertainty often leads to anxiety and it can be very helpful for parents to have as much in place as possible. Getting ready for child care ahead of time helps with the transition process, for both children and their parents.

It’s important to decide what type of child care is right for you and your little one. Every family is unique and what works for some may not for others. You need to feel confident in the quality of care your child will receive, whether this will be in a child care centre, or with an individual child care provider.

Start early when doing your research into child care and consider booking your child into a couple of places.  Waiting lists can be long, particularly for babies and very young children.

10 top tips to help with child care adjustment

  1. Start slowly by arranging short days at child care with a gradual build up towards a whole day. This will help both you and your child to build confidence in being away from each other.
  2. Talk with your child about where they will be and who will be looking after them. Meet their carer/s and know their names. Even if your child is too young to understand or recite the name back, this shows courtesy and respect.
  3. Help your child to be orientated to their new child care environment. Take your time doing this and be prepared to show them a few times. This is especially important when pointing out areas where they will sleep and eat.
  4. Speak with the educators about ways to help your child transition. Most have a lot of experience and know first hand what can help children settle in.
  5. Be clear about how you can communicate with the person or people who will be caring for your child. Ensure they have your current contact details and (alternative) emergency contact numbers. 
  6. Be organised with the practical aspects of child care. A bag which can hold all that your child could need, spare (labelled) clothing, a water bottle, a comforting toy and sheets are common requirements. If your child is old enough, go shopping together and involve them in choosing the items they’ll need.
  7. Be clear about mealtime arrangements. Most centres provide snacks and lunches, though it’s important to be understand what is provided. Share any information about your child’s food allergies or intolerances with the carer/centre.
  8. Be clear and gentle when you say goodbye to your child and tell them you’ll be back to pick them up. Young children don’t have a good concept of time. Saying “I’ll pick you up when you wake up from your sleep” is easier for them to understand.
  9. Be positive and confident when you leave, even if you don’t feel it! Stay for a few minutes to help them settle in and then go. You can always ring and check in with the staff after you’ve left.
  10. Be patient in your expectations around how you and your child are going to adjust. There is no one perfect timeframe to expect child care transition to be over. You may find your child adjusts more quickly than you do and it’s your own feelings of separation which are challenging.

Other ideas to help with child care transition

It can be helpful to take another trusted adult for the first few drop-offs.  If you feel you’re likely to become upset yourself, or are anxious about the situation, having a support person could be very useful.  You and your partner may decide that you both want to be involved, or just one of you does the drop offs and the other the picking up. You decide what’s right for you and your child.

It can help to greet the carer with enthusiasm and genuine happiness. This is a good way to boost confidence in children that they are with someone who is trustworthy.

If you’re still breastfeeding, make sure your child will accept a bottle and/or cup with expressed breast milk and/or formula.  Label breast milk very clearly with your child’s name and the date you expressed.

Think about what your child needs from you to fall asleep. If they’ve always needed to be breastfed, rocked or co-slept with you, it will be helpful if you support them to learn not to need so much help to settle. Child care staff are used to settling babies and young children and tend to be very skillful in patting and soothing. However, your child may be one of a few in the group so they won’t have the same one on one settling attention as when they’re with you.  

Many children go through changes in their night time sleep when they start child care. Often, this is based around separation anxiety and a need for emotional reassurance.  Extra cuddles and quiet time are often very helpful.

Try not to take on too much yourself in the early weeks while you’re all adjusting to the child care arrangements. If you’re returning to work, you’re bound to be tired and settling back into your new routine yourself.

Have some frozen meals on standby which are easy to prepare and serve. Consider getting every labour saving device you can to help minimise the time you’re spending on household chores. There’s a reason why air-fryers, robot vacuums and dryers are so popular for working parents especially.

A final word on child care transition

It’s okay to feel sad if your child adjusts more quickly than you do to their new child care arrangements.  This is not a sign that they have emotionally separated from you, but perhaps reassuring that you’ve done a good job preparing them and choosing child care which is right for them. 

Written for Tooshies by Jane Barry, Midwife and Child Health Nurse, December 2023.