Starting child care? Your child will probably need a little while to get used to the new routine – and you might too! You can take the stress out of things by planning ahead, preparing your child and settling your child in over a few weeks.
Starting child care: planning ahead
Preparing children for their first day in child care will help them settle more easily. It’s a good idea to start several weeks before the big day.
Getting your child used to the child care daily routine is a good first step. To do this, you can ask the child care setting for a copy of its daily schedule and make this part of your child’s routine at home. If you try to follow the setting’s lunch, play and nap times, your child might take less time to adjust when care starts.
Young babies will usually follow their personal routines in child care settings.
If your child knows who will be looking after her, it might make things easier. In the weeks before starting, you can find out who your child’s main carer will be. If you can get a photo of this person and talk about the person by name, this person will be more familiar to your child.
You and your child can also get to know the new child care setting and carers by making short visits together to the setting. Your child will get used to the new smells, toys, sounds, faces and voices. You can gently encourage your child to play with the toys and do some activities while you’re there.
Reading or telling stories can be a safe way to explore strong emotions and help your child understand new events. You could try picture books about starting child care or making new friends. Your local library might have some suggestions. Or you could make up stories to share with your child about the experience. It’s good to include all the feelings and experiences your child might go through – for example, happiness, fun, friendship, sadness, anxiety, apprehension and tiredness.
And talking positively with your child about the new environment, friends, carers and activities will help both you and your child feel positive too.
Preparing for child care: the night before
Organising practical things the night before can save you from a last-minute rush in the morning. This can help take the stress out of the first few days and weeks at child care.
Here are some tips for the night before starting child care:
- Try to ensure your child eats a healthy dinner.
- Get your child into bed at the normal time to make sure he gets a good night’s sleep.
- Pack all the things your child needs, including bottles, formula, nappies, hat, spare clothes, food (unless provided by the centre), medicines and medical record. Packing special comfort items if the setting allows them – such as cuddly toys, blankets or books, or a family picture – is also a good idea.
- Make sure all items that your child will take to the setting – including bottles, comfort items and clothing – are labelled with your child’s name.
- Let the carers know if your child doesn’t sleep well the night before starting child care (or for the first few nights), because this can impact on your child’s day at the setting.
The first few weeks at child care
If you can, it’s good to ease your child into the new care program.
You can do this by staying with your child for a while for the first few days. You could spend this time reading a book together, playing peekaboo or watching your child do activities or play with new friends.
Gradually increasing the time you spend away from your child – whether in another room or outside the setting – will help you build up to taking your child in and then leaving straight away.
Your child is more likely to feel safe and secure in the new child care setting if she sees that you have a good relationship with the carers, especially her main carer. And a good relationship with carers will make things easier for you too, whenever you need to talk about your child’s care.
You can build relationships with carers by finding your child’s carer when you arrive and greeting the carer by name. Spend a little time talking together so your child can see you have a good relationship. Depending on the carer’s time, it can be a good idea for the three of you to start an activity together.
This means your child is busy when it’s time for you to leave. You can let your child know you’re going and when you’ll be back. Give your child a hug and a kiss, say goodbye to the carer and leave. If your child can see you trust the carer, he’s more likely to trust the carer too.
Once your child is settled and happy in the setting, you can talk with your main carer about building relationships with other carers. Strong relationships with several different carers means your child has a ‘safety net’ when her main carer isn’t there.
You can help your child get to know other carers by introducing him to one new carer every time you visit the setting. And the carers can make sure your child’s program has times when your child interacts with and gets to know other carers.
If your child is still breastfeeding, and if it’s possible for you, you might want to think about visiting the setting during the day to give your child a feed. Many centres encourage breastfeeding mothers to visit, and it might help your child settle into care.
If your child is generally happy to go to her child care setting, shows you things she has made there and talks excitedly about her day (if she’s talking), chances are she has settled in well and is enjoying her new environment. Your next challenge might be getting her to come home!
Settling a child with disability
Children with developmental delay or disability attach to their parents just as other children do. But some can find it more difficult to express their feelings.
If you have a child with disability, these ideas might help your child settle more easily:
- Tell the child care setting about your child’s disability or special needs when you fill out the waiting list form.
- If you get a diagnosis later, let the setting know when they offer your child a place. Make time to talk with staff so they know what your child’s needs are. This gives them time to prepare for your child – for example, by getting specialist equipment or training staff.
- Spend time with your child’s new carer and your child in the setting, so you can show the carer how to look after your child’s special needs. You might need to support the carer to learn new skills – for example, if your child is tube fed.
- Use a detailed communication book to share information between your home and the care setting.
- Talk with your child’s carer about how you expect your child to behave.
The National Quality Framework (NQF) requires that early childhood services are inclusive – that all children can go to and take part in a service’s regular activities and routines.
You might need to look at a few different child care settings to find one that meets your child’s needs. If things aren’t working out well in one service, you can try another service.