There are more than 95,000 children aged birth to 4 in Hillsborough County. The majority of these children spend time in some sort of care outside their home on a daily basis. Choosing that care situation is one of the most important decisions parents will make in their young child’s life. It can also be one of the most emotional and stressful for both the child and parents.
Moving your child to a childcare center or family childcare home presents a set of potential adjustment challenges. Not only is your child going to be with a new care giver, but he or she is in an entirely new environment. There are some things parents can do to minimize the anxiety and tears of the first day in child care:
1. Visit the childcare facility with your child. The Coalition customarily encourages parents to visit potential care facilities, which is great. But once a parent has decided on a facility, they should take their child there to visit show them the toys and introduce them a few times to their teacher. Do at least a couple of these “trial runs.”
2. Talk about school at home before the transition, no matter what the age of your child. Read books about children who are starting preschool. Some of our favorites are: “The Kissing Hand” by Audrey Penn, “I Love You All Day Long” by Francesca Rusackas, “Llama Llama Misses Mama” by Anna Dewdney. Talk about how much fun school is and the wonderful things that will happen at school, and even play “pretend school.”
3. Discuss your child care’s routines for transitioning children with the child’s new teachers and director. Child care centers may have very different philosophies about how to handle the first weeks. Some may prefer that parents spend the first days with their child, others may ask that parents give a quick kiss and leave immediately, letting the teachers handle settling in for the day. Be sure that your philosophies align with the child care facility that you have chosen for your child and family.
4. Give your child experiences with caretakers outside the family and outside your home long before thinking about childcare. For instance, if your child has loved being with babysitters or their grandparents, but only at home, you may have some issues. Your child’s enthusiasm for new people may not necessarily transfer to a childcare setting, and they may be overwhelmed by a totally new environment.
5. Expect some changes in your child. While they are getting used to their new routine and schedule, your child may be clingy, sad or out of sorts. Research shows that this is normal for many children because kids’ stress hormones actually elevate during this transition period, although it leaves no lasting damage.
6. Confront your own feelings about your child’s starting childcare. It’s normal for parents to feel guilty and anxious, but it’s important not to communicate this to your child. Talk about how you’re feeling with your partner, spouse or a friend, and expect that you’ll even have an emotional reaction when your child starts to like child care and forms attachments to their caregivers.
Be very patient with yourself and your child and start the process as early as possible before you need to start work or other commitments. Depending on the child, the transition process may take a couple of months before a child feels comfortable in a childcare setting.
The Early Learning Coalition of Hillsborough County (ELCHC) is a non-profit organization that serves approximately 20,000 families each month regarding a range of early childhood issues and services. Families seeking information and resources about early childhood programs, services and events in Hillsborough County should call (813) 906-5041 or go to www.elchc.org.