Toddlers in Daycare: Easing the Transition

Dorothy Simpson and her son Ryan faced a tough transition.

“Ryan had occupied every second of my life. I had even given up my full-time job to stay home with my baby. But then I began to realize that my baby was growing up … it was time to cut the cord,” says Simpson, a registered nurse from Florida.

Simpson and her husband decided to enroll Ryan into a part-time childcare environment. They took painstaking steps to find just the best daycare for them and to ease Ryan into his temporary separations from Mommy and Daddy.

Separation Anxiety

“To help with Ryan’s separation anxiety, we visited the center twice before Ryan’s first day,” Simpson explains. “We let him look around, see his room and meet his teachers and the other children. We made a big deal out of how fun it was going to be.”

While the drop-off on the first day was difficult for both mother and child, Simpson promised Ryan that she would be back in only a short time and left her crying son in the care of the people she had chosen to trust.

Within a couple of days, the transition was complete, and Ryan has since grown to enjoy and benefit from his time away from home.

According to Pam Solis, program coordinator at Children’s Hospital Child Care Center in San Diego, Calif., the Simpsons took all the right steps in preparing their son for daycare.

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“We ask that the parents bring the child along for the initial tour of the facility, so that the child can look at the room,” says Solis. “Then once the parents decide to enroll their child in our center, we suggest that one of the parents come with the child for about an hour, two times in the week.” Solis adds that this will lay the groundwork for a smoother transition. “When the child sees that the parents trust the situation, then the child is more able to trust it, too.”

Next, Solis recommends that the first days at daycare be short days, with the child picked up before naptime.

“Naptime seems to be the roughest time for separation anxiety, so it is best to avoid it in the first days.” Solis explained that the toddler’s time at the center should be increased each day, leading up to, and eventually through, naptime.

The child care facility should warn parents in advance about the busiest drop-off time in the mornings, so that it may be avoided at first. The bustling atmosphere of a busy center might be intimidating for a newcomer.

Once the child is brought to the center, parents should feel comfortable staying as long as they would like, getting their child settled. “However, once the parents decide to leave, they should hand the child to a teacher and give the child a kiss,” Solis says. “They should then tell the child when they will be back, say a quick goodbye and then leave.”

Long, drawn-out goodbyes prolong the separation experience and may push the child into a pattern of if-I-cry-then-mom-or-dad-will-stay.

“In my 12 years working with 2-year-olds, I have noticed that the crying lasts about five to 10 minutes. Then we are on to our activities,” says Solis.

Rebecca Escalante, director of the toddler and preschool program at Hancock Elementary School in San Diego, Calif., agrees with the steps recommended by Solis.

best daycare minionsEscalante adds that a security item might be helpful in easing toddlers’ separation anxiety. “Always pack a special stuffed animal or blanket, and enclose a picture of yourself in your child’s bag.”

Escalante also recommends sticking to a routine when it’s time to go home. “Keeping to the same pick-up time every day makes it easier for your child to soon learn that after a certain activity, Mommy or Daddy will come,” she says.

Deidra Simpson (no relation to the Simpsons discussed earlier) is a magazine publisher in Milton, Fla. who now works from her home office. However, in her past career it was necessary for Simpson to leave her daughter Emily, now 8, and her son Jayse, now 3, in daycare when they were toddlers.

“I found that the best way to make my children comfortable in daycare, and in turn keep myself sane enough to be able to leave them, was to make us all understand that this was a good thing,” she says. “Make it exciting, make it comfortable and always keep your promises.”

Proper Planning

Proper planning and transitional steps will ease toddlers into a daycare setting and through bouts of separation anxiety.

It is difficult for both parents and children to accept this first step of leaving babyhood behind and becoming separate, but before too long, parents and children alike will feel comfortable, happy and relaxed.

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