Let’s be honest: the first day of childcare will be tough for both you and your child.
It could be the longest time you have ever been away from your child. For the same reason, it will be hard for your child too. More than that, he or she will have to face a new environment and get used to being in a setting that is vastly different from home.
Expect some chaos, mixed emotions and lots of crying from your child (and perhaps yourself too). That, along with a plethora of feelings like fear, anxiety and stress mixed with excitement and curiosity. We assure you that this is absolutely normal.
The good news is, preparing your child to expect what goes on in preschool can fortunately manage big feelings that your little one may feel during the transition.
To help you out, we would like to share some tips on how you can take little steps to help your child adjust to a new environment on their first day.
1. Practise being apart
Separation anxiety is a common stage of development for infants and toddlers, as they attach themselves to a trusted adult to feel secure. When infants are separated from their primary caregiver, they do not understand that the caregiver will return. As they mature and develop, they master the concept of permanence. While most children outgrow separation anxiety, this may be dependent on many factors such as their age and how safe they feel without their parents around.
To encourage your child to develop independence, consider practising being apart from him or her even before the preschool term starts. Start with short periods of separation and work up to slightly longer ones to slowly reduce or eliminate your child’s separation anxiety.
Consider allowing your child to be with a dependable friend or family member on weekends. Be present, calm and reassuring and allow them to interact and feel safe with others. Over time, he or she gets to familiarise with different environments and be with other people. The duration and intensity of stranger anxiety can vary greatly among children. So even if it is only for a short while, treat it as a practice session. To further ease anxiety, you may want to establish routines at separations (see next point).
Practising being apart for short periods of time prior to school enables your child to gradually adjust to being apart from you while gaining more confidence to explore their surroundings independently. The goal is for them to enjoy being cared for in school and play with peers!
2. Establish a goodbye ritual
Start a goodbye ritual with your child whenever and wherever you have to part ways with him or her. Use it often and ensure your child is aware of this routine before commencing child care.
When you leave without saying goodbye, your child might panic and start crying in distress. Children often react this way because they think they’re being abandoned. This undermines the child’s trust and confidence in you, the caregiver. Therefore, to build trust, never just disappear. Always say goodbye before you go.
Having such a ritual also makes saying goodbye easier for both you and your child. Try inventing a special gesture with your child — it could be something as simple as a hug, a peck on the forehead or, to make it more fun, a handshake or high-five!
Always provide assurance of your return. If your child can tell the time, let him or her know the exact hour. Be sure you stand by these promises. Otherwise, your words could lose credibility and the last thing we want is development of separation anxiety over time. It would be beneficial if you arrive earlier than promised as it will greatly help ease their anxiety and reassures your child of your dependability.
3. Get them in front of crowds
Simply put, this means ensuring your child has sufficient experience and exposure with bigger groups of people to keep them calm and composed in preschool.
Anxiety usually arises when children are faced with unfamiliar settings. If large groups are unfamiliar to your little one, it can be challenging for him or her to settle down in preschool.
Before starting child care, try to involve your child in small group activities. Bring your child to a variety of community spaces so he or she can learn and observe by engaging with people of different ages and backgrounds.
You can also give your child a head start in communication and social skills by exposing them to social activities and encouraging them to make new friends. This can allow your child to feel more at ease with strangers and better prepare them to interact with other people. While you may be tempted to step in every time they interact with new people, know that it is important to give them some time to engage and experience the world without your presence. You can gradually put more distance between yourself and your child, so as to encourage them to explore independently.
4. Spark excitement where possible
Change can be exciting yet scary, especially for little ones. It is crucial to talk children through the new routines that are to come. Tell them all about their new child care, what their day will be like and all the fun things that await them.
If possible, familiarise them with the route you will be taking to the child care centre, take a peek at the physical environment and find ways to show how the other children are enjoying themselves in school.
Highlight interesting activities they will get to do at the childcare — anything that can pique their curiosity and excite them. Talk to them about playing games, toys, meeting new children and attending childcare with their favourite playmate, if applicable. If your child is old enough to understand, describe in detail a fun and positive child care experience.
One of the best ways to get children excited about attending childcare is to visit the centre at least once before their first day of formal enrolment. This gives them the opportunity to get to know their teachers, see the fun activities they’ll get to take part in and familiarise with the new environment. If you took a tour of the daycare before choosing it, you can use the experience as a guide for your child’s own tour.
5. Be patient with your little one
Childcare is a new environment for your child. It involves new people and new routines, and entails a major adjustment for both you and your little one.
Just like you, it takes time for your child to adapt. Be patient and don’t rush things. The preparation and patience can help ease the transition when the day comes.
At Star Learners, we do our best to aid parents and children during this transition. We do our best to show children that their surroundings are safe and the people around them are there to support and care for them. Among other things, we talk to parents about how best to demonstrate their care, verbally or nonverbally, to their little ones. Our team of experienced educators and caregivers will take time to observe every child and find ways to soothe them.
Summary: Preparing Your Child for Daycare or Preschool
To sum up, get your child ready for child care in these few ways:
- Practise being apart
- Establish a goodbye ritual
- Get them in front of crowds
- Spark excitement where possible
- Be patient with your little one
The effort will pay off as your child gains independence. The preparation opens him or her up to different experiences and expansive growth. Remember: the hard and soft skills learned in preschool are foundational and will benefit children as they mature and develop.
If you want to know how our centres can help you and your child navigate this transition, attend one of our school tours! Register your interest at any of our 43 Star Learners centres island-wide now.