You think you have found the right care for your child. You are organized. You are ready to go back to work or start that new job. Then the time comes to drop off your child and suddenly you are filled with mixed emotions. This is normal, understandable, and okay.
Here are some common reactions to the first days at a new child care:
- Tears: You and your child may unexpectedly begin to cry. It is normal to feel sad when separating from each other. Know that nearly all parents experience sadness in leaving their child at child care.
- Stress and anxiety: Although you may feel confident about your provider, there is always some level of stress regarding the type of care your child will receive. You may wonder about your job or what your first day back will be like. There are many factors that may increase your level of stress for the first few weeks.
- Joy or relief: For many parents, going back to work gives welcome relief from day-to-day parenting. Some parents may feel guilty that they feel happy to head into the work force and interact with other adults. Know that in order for your child to be happy, you need to be happy.
Although you may be sad and anxious regarding the first day, there are benefits for children in child care and for parents who work.
Planning ahead is the secret to avoiding the morning rush hour. Gather toys, clothes, food, and your work items the night before so that you feel prepared for the next day. Check on the current public transportation schedule and what the weather may be like the next day. This helps with some of the early morning unknowns. Keep items, such as the umbrella, sunscreen, diaper bags or backpacks, and a warm hat, together so that you can find these essentials easily in case you need them.
Try these separation strategies
- Start leaving before you have to go. Prepare. Don’t leave it all to the last minute when you are rushed. Let your child bring a favorite toy, blanket, or something special from home.
- Set up a “going out” place in your home close to your front door. Make sure your child’s belongings are ready to go the night before.
- When leaving your child at child care, say good-bye clearly and when you know you have your child’s attention. Never leave without saying good-bye.
- Leave immediately. Don’t hesitate as if something were wrong with your leaving.
- Give your child a reference point for your return that is familiar. Say “I will pick you up after snack time” or refer to another time your child clearly recognizes.
- Always, always return at the time you have given your child for pickup. If you cannot make that time, call and make certain your child is told when you will be there.
Adjustments to care often depend on the age of the child. Each child will vary in the time it takes to adapt to a new caregiving situation. We call this the “trial period.” During the first few days, your child needs time to settle into a routine. Don’t read too much into how she acts. Your child is learning to separate from you and learning that you will come back. Sometimes the relief of seeing you again can overwhelm your little one. Take your cues from your child as to whether he is ready for a quiet-cuddly hello or a noisy-joyful one.
Knowing what kind of day your child has experienced can relieve your anxiety. If your provider does not already keep written or mental notes on the children in care, you can ask her to do so. The record can be simple—just a few notes on what your child does and learns during the day.
Talking with the caregiver about the transition before care begins may help smooth the process. A gradual separation and entry into child care will ease your child over the adjustment bumps.
Remember that even families that make easy adjustments need to be prepared for separation anxiety to recur. Children often regress after being taken out of care when they are ill or on vacation. Changes at home—a visit from grandma, potty training, a new baby, a divorce, or remarriage—may cause a child to suffer separation anxiety all over again. Changing to a new child care program may also trigger the separation blues. When this happens, look back on your past successes and reassure yourself that they can happen again.