It’s your child’s first day at child care. You’re dropping them off, overwhelmed with emotions and not ready to trust someone else with the safety of your child.
This experience is all too familiar. Starting at a child care centre for the first time can be an emotional experience for many families. Children will make their first move away from the comforts of home to embark on their learning journey, while parents have to trust other people to look after their precious babies for the first time in their lives.
All children are different when it comes to settling in care. Some love it from the first day, while others are still unsure after a few weeks. While no amount of planning and organising can fully prepare you for the mixture of emotions associated with the first day of child care, there are a few things you can do to make the settling-in period easier for yourself and your child.
1. Start early, but ease into it
If this is the first time your child leaves home, try to allow time for a gradual transition. If you are on parental leave, do your best to transition your child into child care before you go back to work.
If it’s possible, start with just a few days a week rather than a full week. This can help your child slowly adapt before progressing to full-time care. Start the selection process and get on the waitlists early so you have more flexibility to choose the days that work better for you.
In the first few days, if possible, pick them up a little earlier to ease the transition.
2. Ask the right questions during the tour
Going on a centre tour before enrolling your child gives you the best indication and feel for a centre. Our centre managers are always happy to show you around, introduce you to the team members, walk you through the process of enrolment and explain the orientation steps.
Before you go on a self-scheduled tour, it helps to prepare some questions in advance. You might want to know what you need to bring, how the educators will follow your child’s routine, what programs are in place at the centre, what the daily schedule looks like, how food is served, as well as any other relevant policies and procedures.
You can book a tour online to visit the centre you’re interested in here.
3. Join a local playgroup
It takes a village to raise a child. You don’t have to take it all on your own. For many first-time mums with new babies, it may be challenging to take the time to go out and meet people. However, bringing your baby to more social occasions and outings before starting child care has many benefits. It offers an opportunity for children to be exposed to new environments, so they gradually get used to being around other adults and children of different age groups.
Playgroup Australia is a great place to start if you want to find your local village. This can be a great resource for parents feeling a bit overwhelmed by their experiences as new parents. There’s beauty in leaning on the support of others, because chances are – they’re going through exactly the same thing!
4. Participate in orientation sessions
There’s no better way to get familiar with your centre and all it has to offer than with a “stay and play” session. The orientation sessions offered at our centres can give your child a chance to explore their new environment and interact with other children while having their parents around. Spending some time with the educators at the centre allows you to see how your child interacts with them.
Some practice of arriving and leaving the centre together can make that first experience much easier, and some familiarity will help assist with a smoother transition.
5. Adjust to a new routine
Your child’s educator will try their best to cater to the individual routine and needs of your child, but it doesn’t hurt to start slowly transitioning to the routine you want for your child a few weeks before the start date. Think of starting child care as an opportunity to (slowly) reset the routine into something you think will work better.
For example, you can try to set up a routine of them going to sleep on their own, or slowly push back their lunchtime until after a morning nap. Implementing some centre routines at home like morning tea time or outside time sometimes works wonders too.
It may also help your little one to be looked after by a grandparent or other relative a few times before starting child care. This will get them used to being away from you, and they’ll learn that you will always come back for them.
It can take some time for young babies to gradually adjust to a new routine, so this is an important chance for you to start planning how you want your child’s days to be structured.
6. Write down detailed notes for educators
Try to write down a detailed routine of your child’s day before their first day, including their sleep/feed times, likes and dislikes, or any other notes. Remember to pack all the necessary items the night before to reduce the hassle in the morning. You should also label everything – write your child’s name or put name stickers on their items so they don’t get mixed up.
We understand that being away from your child for the first time can be nerve-wracking, so in the first few days, we welcome you to call the centre to check in on your child as many times as you want. No question is a stupid question!
Our educators will keep you informed about your child’s settling and actively seek ongoing information from you about your child’s needs and interests. You can also communicate with the educators during the day through our family communication app.
7. Bring a favourite comforter
Familiarity leads to a sense of ease – and that’s no different for young children. In the initial days, replicating certain home routines can be the easiest way to give them a sense of familiarity. It helps to bring one of your children’s favourite items from home, whether this is a dummy, a comforter blanket, or a favourite toy from home.
If you use a sleeping bag, it’s also recommended that you bring it to the childcare centre.
8. Spend time with them during drop-offs
A proper goodbye is important. It’s all about creating a positive experience – children pick up on your mood and anxiety. If you are stressed when you drop off your child, they will be stressed as well. You may want to shed a few tears – this is normal, but try to hold them until you step out the door.
On subsequent days, even if you’re rushing in the morning and everything has been disrupted, try to have a smile on your face during the drop-off. Children will eventually learn that you always come back and will fret less when you leave.
During drop-offs, spend a bit of time with your child at the centre, get down to their level and play a bit. Try to interact with other children there as well. When it’s time to say goodbye, trust they are in the good hands of our experienced educators, and you will be back later today to see they are being cared for and to enjoy all the cuddles you’ve missed all day.
9. From guilty to guilt-free
A lot of parents feel guilty about leaving their children in child care – but attending a centre-based early learning environment has many benefits. Learning to socialise with other children in their early years is crucial for a child’s development. It’s important for children to get that first taste of independence away from their parents in a safe, social, nurturing environment.
Most parents are aware of this, but it can still be difficult to kick that guilty feeling when dropping children off at child care. Try to be kind to yourself – you’re doing this for them, and you feeling guilty and stressed about it doesn’t help your child or you.
10.Be patient – it takes time
It can take a few weeks for your child to fully settle in a care environment. They might cry a bit more, sleep or eat a bit less but it will pass. They will thrive eventually, and the time you spend together will be even more special. Before you know it, they will be making new friends and looking forward to being dropped off!
Our team is here to support you and your child during their settling-in process. Read about how to prepare your child’s first day or give us a call to find out how we can better help you.