As a pediatric sleep consultant many parents contact me to help them through some sort of transition for their child. Now that we are living in a post-pandemic world, I’m finding that more and more families are transitioning their young children out of the home and into a childcare setting for the first time ever. This transition can be challenging for any family, but especially for children who have only known their parents as caregivers and have never really been away from their family.
I’ve put together some tips to help families navigate this difficult transition for the first time.
1) Find a daycare that can accommodate your child’s schedule
Chances are you have spent the last several months or years establishing daily routines for your child. Keeping these routines consistent will only make the transition to daycare easier for your child. This is especially true when it comes to sleep. If you are looking for a daycare for a baby under 1 year of age, try to find a facility that can work with your child’s current schedule. Infants are far more susceptible to over-tiredness, so you want to be able to dictate your baby’s nap schedule rather than putting all the babies down for naps at the same time. This flexibility tends to be easier to find in an in-home daycare setting or a facility that has a separate napping room for infants. For toddlers over 1 year of age, a set nap time for all kids is typically ok, but make sure it is an age-appropriate nap time. For children taking one nap a day, the nap should start between 12:00 – 1:30 p.m. for most children. Napping too early or too late in the day can have a negative impact on your child’s nighttime sleep. Remember that you are hiring these caregivers, therefore they should be willing to follow your instructions on how to best meet your child’s needs. A well-rested child is going to transition much better than an over-tired child. If the daycare is completely inflexible, then you might want to look for a different facility.
For more tips on what to look for when choosing a childcare facility, check out these tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
2) Be consistent during the transition
Many families want to ease their child into the transition to daycare by only sending their child one or two days a week. Children and infants learn with repetition and consistency, so dabbling in daycare here and there may make it even more difficult for your child to get used to the new setting. If you are only going to send your child a few days a week, it’s best to send them consecutive days such as Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday rather than Monday-Wednesday-Friday. Your young child has a short memory. Alternating days can be confusing to them, whereas going to daycare consecutive days helps them recognize the new environment and become more comfortable there quicker.
3) Lead with confidence
Be confident in your child’s ability to learn new things. Even newborns are learning new things every single day. While change is difficult at any age, be confident that with time and consistency your child can and will adjust. When a child is uncertain about something new, you are likely to see some protesting at first. This is perfectly normal. Trust that you have chosen the right caregivers for your child and that over time your child will form an attachment to these new caregivers. As that attachment to the new caregivers builds, it will get easier and easier for your child to go to daycare each day. You want this for your child, so you need to get out of the way to allow the new caregivers to start building trust with your child. Let your child know they are in good hands and that you’ll be back to get them in a few hours. When you consistently come back to pick them up, they’ll know you meant what you said and that you won’t be gone forever. If you are anxious and fearful about the transition, your child will pick up on those emotions and will be less willing to go along with the transition. If you are confident in your messaging to your child, they will be more confident as well.
4) Expect some challenging days ahead
With any transitional period, things may get worse before they get better, so be prepared and don’t panic! The first couple weeks of transitioning to daycare you may see more tantrums from your toddler, or your baby may seem more clingy than usual. You may even see some sleep disruptions or protesting at bedtime. These responses to change are all normal and will pass, as long as you stay consistent with how you handle them. Keep your boundaries firm in the midst of the storm. That means if you don’t normally allow your child to sleep in your bed at night, then don’t allow them to just because they had a difficult day at daycare. Your child may be craving more time with you after daycare, so the first few weeks make it a practice to build in some one-on-one time when you get home. Some afternoon snuggles while reading a book or getting down on the floor and playing with them for just 20 – 30 minutes can be enough to fill their little love tank after a difficult day. Handle any tantrums or protesting the exact same way you would have handled them before starting daycare. This consistency in your response will bring a sense of comfort and security to your child. They will recognize your familiar responses and that will help them realize that things at home have remained consistent. Consistency and predictability are comforting to babies and children of all ages.
Change is hard, especially for children. But, with your love and guidance your child can do hard things. Give them the opportunity to adjust. Some will adapt quickly while others will adapt more slowly. Stick with it! Depending on how frequently your child is going to daycare, it should feel like things are getting easier within a month or so.
Not sure what supplies to send to daycare? Use this helpful packing list so you don’t forget the essentials!
If you want to avoid sleep regressions after starting daycare, or are currently navigating a sleep regression, book a call with one of our pediatric sleep consultants for one-on-one help!