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Starting your baby or toddler at a childcare centre could be one of the most challenging transitions you’ve had to face since becoming a parent. How will they cope? How will you cope? How do you answer all their questions? What if they cry when you leave them?

We know it can be tough, from choosing the right childcare centre to drop-off anxiety. That’s why we’ve put together our top tips to help you (and your child) get through this often-emotional turning point.

What to do before your child starts

You’ve invested a lot of time selecting an early childcare centre for your child. Other than labelling your child’s clothes and completing the paperwork, you can get set for their first official day with these ready-prep tips.

Tell your child why

Many parents feel guilty about enrolling them into daycare, naturally shying away from a tricky conversation. But, starting back at work, needing some time to yourself or knowing that your baby or child is ready are all legitimate reasons for getting started. That’s why it’s important to talk to your child about the transition openly and honestly – no matter how old they are. It’s normal for children to worry about big changes so acknowledging up front that it might take them some time to settle in will help reassure them.

Visit as much as you like

All great child care centres will welcome as many visits as you need. This early experience is crucial and can’t be rushed. Get to know the spaces, the teachers and even the other children. Become part of the furniture if need be, so you and your child feel really comfortable. During this time, share as much information with your child’s teacher as possible, to foster their relationship early on.

What to expect on their first day and beyond

It’s time to mentally prepare yourself – it’s not easy to predict how long it will take for your child to settle into care. For some it’s quick and easy, for others it’s a slower burn until one day they surprise you by running off to play, with barely a “bye Mum!”. While your child’s settling in, try and keep life low key. Any big changes at home, such as the arrival of a new sibling or moving house, can really rock their world. As we all know, life doesn’t always pan out the way we need it to, so if your family is undergoing some changes, let your teacher know and they’ll be able to more acutely support your little one.

Plan your goodbye

Before their first day, give some thought to how you will farewell your child. Some parents like to read a story together before they leave or take their child over to their teacher as they head off. Once you have a plan, remember to share this with your child and their teacher in advance.

Don’t skip saying goodbye because you think your child looks settled, always follow your routine and let your child know when you’ll collect them again.

Expect tears at drop off

When children are settling in they’ll go through a range of emotions, not all of them pretty. This is the toughest part, leaving your child when they’re upset feels counter-intuitive. Remain as calm and collected as you can, acknowledge their feelings, explain what you’ll be doing while they’re in care and remind them when you’ll be back. Don’t linger around or drag things out, it’ll only increase anxiety.

These times, although really hard for both of you, will provide an opportunity for your child and their teacher to deepen their relationship. The National Research Council and Institute of Medicine (2006) notes that if a child develops a strong and sustaining attachment to an adult, they are less nervous, less fearful, have a greater self-efficacy, and are more competent.

Managing your own emotions

Keeping cool, calm and confident at drop off will signal to your child that all is ok. You might not feel a box of birds on the inside but it won’t be the first or last time as a parent you’ll have to put on your acting pants! It’s normal to feel a range of emotions when your child starts in a childcare centre. Guilt, fear, anxiety and grief are all to be expected, after all it might be the first time you’ve been away from your child since they were born. If you’re feeling concerned, call your childcare centre to check how your child settled after you left – keeping those lines of communication open will help all of you adjust.

Bring a treasure from home

If you think it will help, encourage your child to bring a transitional object (such as a favourite toy, a small photo album) to the centre. Having something familiar from their home environment will provide comfort and gives teachers another way to connect with your child.

Be ready to hear your child’s thoughts

Set aside some time after each pick up to reconnect with your child. Use this opportunity to ask open-ended questions about their day. If your child isn’t forth-coming, be patient, they will give you insights into how they’re doing but it might not be on your timetable. Sometimes talking about your day or running through the family’s highs and lows at dinner can start the ball rolling.

Keep in touch with your teacher

Chatting with your child and their teacher individually as well as together will help while you’re settling. The more your child’s teacher is aware of, the more they can tailor their support to your family. Face-to-face is always the best means of communication but most centres are also happy to chat via email and text.

Help! My child was settled and now they’re suddenly miserable at drop off.

You thought you were through the worst, when all of a sudden your darling is begging you not to leave? It might be that there’s been a change at home or the reality of their new routine has hit home. We understand how distressing this is for parents. It’s really normal and lots of children go through an unsettled period.

This is a good time to reconnect with your early childcare centre. Getting along to any centre events or organising playdates will strengthen your child’s connections with other children and their new environment. Chat to your teacher about life at home, any changes that might have affected your child and ask them for more support during drop off. Finding ways that your child’s teacher can more deeply connect with your child will also ease their discomfort.

You can do it!

We know it can be overwhelming, settling (or resettling) your child into an early childcare centre. We hope that by using the techniques above and regularly talking to your child’s dedicated teacher, your little one will be thriving in no time.

Like to find out more about how things work at Kumeu Childcare? Our website is a great place to start. You can:

· Find the centre nearest you

· Contact us to organise a visit

· Discover our curriculum, vision and foundation principles

· Read more about our sustainable practices.

We love what we do, and we look forward to welcoming you into our community!