Helping your Child Settle Into Childcare
The first few weeks of childcare is completely new territory for both you and your child, so it is inevitable that there will be a period of adjustment as you both come to grips with a new environment and a new routine.
The good news is that your childcare provider, whether you choose a nanny, registered childminder, day nursery or pre-school, should have plenty of experience helping families in your situation and should have an established procedure in place to help your child settle in. Furthermore, any such procedure will make provision for you too so that you can feel confident about making the transition from full-time carer of your child to leaving them with someone else (yes, this can be emotionally very difficult and yes, childcare professionals understand).
Establish a relationship with your child’s key person
The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) was created by the Department for Education to set standards for the care, development and learning of children up until the age of five. All Ofsted-registered early years care providers, including nurseries, childminders and preschools must adhere to the EYFS.
As well as setting standards for childcare providers, the EYFS framework works to give parents confidence that their child will receive the ongoing care and attention of a key person over the course of their early years childcare journey. This key person is integral to ensuring a smooth and supported settling-in process and allows both children and parents to develop a secure and trusting relationship with a single go-to person.
The role of the key person:
- To help the child become familiar with their care setting
- To ensure care and support that is tailored to the individual child
- To build a relationship with the parents
- To provide a settled relationship for the child
- To observe the child’s developmental progress
- To plan suitable learning opportunities
- To organise a “back-up” key person who is known to the parent and child
- To keep records of the child’s development, activities, routines and accidents, and to ensure that these are shared with parents and other relevant professionals.
Planning for the first day of childcare
It is important that you think about your child’s first day well in advance of it happening and make plans for a smooth transition. For example, it is useful to make positive associations in the immediate build-up to the first day. This can be done by taking your child to the playground or simply spending some quality time together before the first childcare session.
Speak to your child in advance of the big day to explain what will happen. Tell them clearly that they’ll be picked up at the end of the day or session – it can be easier for children to settle in a new environment if they feel completely confident that they will be there for a set period only.
Be sure to say goodbye to your child, even if they look as though they’re happily settled. It can be upsetting and make them feel insecure if they realise you have gone and you haven’t said goodbye.
Be prepared for tears
It is perfectly normal for your child to cry when you say goodbye. Even if it does not happen on the first day in childcare, it will probably happen at some point. This can be really hard, but it is a perfectly normal part of the process. Don’t let the tears delay you for too long as this may only prolong the distress for both of you.
Keep calm and model secure attachment
The calmer you remain and the more you demonstrate that everything is all right, the more likely it is that your child will follow suit. Of course, this can be hard when you’re experiencing a range of complicated emotions, including fear, worry, grief and guilt, but by showing your child your best and most emotionally-secure side, they will more quickly realise that they are safe and the situation is normal. Your modelling is really important.
Engage with your child about the process
You should not only explain what will be happening in advance of starting childcare, you should also ensure that you continue to talk about the adjustment even as your child is experiencing their journey. By spending just a few minutes a day listening to your child, you can ensure that they feel heard and gain confidence about speaking to you about their experience.
If they don’t want to talk directly about what happens while they are in childcare, you might find imaginative ways to get them speaking about their days. For example, try talking about your day to see how you compare, you could try some role-play about certain situations, and always try to ask “open-ended” questions that invite your child to explain something about their day, rather than “closed questions” that require only a “yes” or “no” answer.
Try a transitional object
Many children find the transition into childcare is easier if they are able to bring a loved “transitional” object from home. Whether it is a teddy bear, a small toy or even a favourite book, if they take it with them into childcare, it may help them feel more secure.
By preparing well in advance and establishing a relationship with your child’s key person, you can help ensure that the transition into day nursery, or any sort of childcare where you won’t be present, is as smooth as possible. Although there will inevitably be periods that feel challenging, you will eventually get through the worst and before long may find that a day arrives when your child does not want to leave their childcare session. You might even worry that they perhaps prefer childcare to home, but it’s a good sign that your child has developed secure attachment and has made a successful transition.
Remember, keep engaging with your child’s key person, participating in any events and arranging play-dates with your child’s friends from childcare. These things can mean that the adjustment into childcare will happen more easily.