Helping Your Child with the Daycare Transition

Make the daycare experience a positive one!
kids at a daycare
Olesia Bilkei/

The thought of going back to work can be quite a difficult process for some parents. Throughout your little one’s life there will be many changes. For some, a child's first daycare is the first major change that they will be going through. Whether it is a childcare centre, a home daycare, a nanny or with family, there is still an adjustment process that you and your little one will have to go through. How can you help them make a smoother daycare transition? From all of our years of daycare experience in the childcare field and integrating many children into our own home daycares, we have put together some tips to help make the transition a little bit easier for everyone.

Adjust to the schedule ahead of time

It is beneficial to find out what the daycare schedule is and try to work towards getting your child’s system adjusted to that schedule before they begin. They will already be going through some changes, so adding a new schedule to the mix last minute can make it a little more difficult for some of them. Most providers and centres have a set meal and nap schedule that they work with.

Teach them self-reliance skills

These are the skills that will allow them to make the daycare transition a little easier--this can apply to kindergarten too. Self-reliance skills in children are a big first step towards independence and confidence, and will help them feel less anxious when mom or dad can't automatically jump in as usual. Depending on their age, teaching skills from dressing themselves to self-care activities like feeding and tooth-brushing will reduce the opportunities for frustration and upset while they adjust to daycare.

Become comfortable in the space

Helping your child adjust to a new environment is easiest when they are already familiar with the space and the provider(s). If possible, meet with the new daycare provider or arrange a visit with your child at the centre a few times before they begin.

If you choose a home care program, you could spend some time with the provider at the park or meet for other activities before you begin. The more time your child spends with the new provider and the other children in care, the more comfortable they will be with them. If your child will be in a centre, having a few visits with and then without parents will also be key. If your child has minimal challenges adjusting to new people and environments you may not need to do this portion, however, if you have a sensitive child, becoming comfortable with their new provider will be essential in a smooth transition.

Integrate slowly

A slower integration into childcare may not always be feasible, however, if you do have the opportunity, it really helps with the transition. If possible, arrange at least 2 weeks prior to the start date to get your child well acclimated to their new environment and people by slowly spending more time with them. Again, this is especially for a child who may have a difficult time warming up to new situations. 

  • Begin with a couple of visits with parents present
  • For one or two visits, leave your child for a couple of hours to play without you.
  • Move up to a half day with lunch for a couple of days.
  • Next, allow them to have a full day in care, with nap(s) and early pick up (ideally right after nap) for a couple of days.
  • Once you have done this, your child will be better prepared for regular days!

Tip: Go with the flow of your child. If you see that they are adjusting very quickly, you may not need the full period of integration and they may be ready to jump in full time sooner.

Bring familiar items from home

To help your child feel comfortable while you are away, have duplicate comfort items that can stay in care such as a special blanket, a special cuddly, their soother etc. There is nothing worse than getting ready for bed at home after a long day and realizing that they have forgotten their one and only item of comfort. It may take a short while for them to bond with it however, they should take a liking to it fairly quickly.

If your child is experiencing a difficult time at drop off, leave something behind with them so that they can “keep it safe” for you. Some ideas of items to leave with them are:

  • Mom’s scarf
  • Mom’s bracelet
  • Dad’s hat
  • Picture of mom, dad, family
  • Special notes that you have written for them (for the older child)

Be prepared and put on a little something extra that you won’t miss all day if you leave it behind.

Always say goodbye

You are trying to build your child’s confidence in the fact that when you leave, you always come back so saying goodbye is imperative to a successful transition.

During drop off, when you have a child stuck to your legs crying, it may seem easier to sneak away once they are occupied, especially if they are calm. This, however, will make it harder on your child and raise their level of anxiety during drop off. When they realize that you are gone and did not say goodbye, it does not allow them to have the closure they need to get through the morning in care. It may also add to their separation anxiety as they may feel that the moment they go off to play or explore on their own, you will sneak away.

Don’t linger

When your child is having a difficult time with the adjustment, it may feel like the right thing to do is to stay and play with your child until they settle. In reality, the longer you stay with your child, the more the anxiety builds up for them. It is okay to stay for a few minutes to get them settled and interested in a toy but we recommend not staying much longer than that. The quicker the drop off, the less room for anxiety to build.

Tip: Think about how anxious you are when you have an important test. The anxiety builds and does not let up until you have finished the exam!

Ask questions about their day

Ask the daycare provider questions about your child’s day so that you can have conversations about what they did, who their friends are, and what the highlight of their day was. Even if they do not understand what you are saying repeating familiar names and showing them pictures will help them become more comfortable with their new friends and providers. 

It is common for children to be perfectly content being dropped off in the morning for the first two weeks and then start to show upset around week 3. This is because the novelty of going to a new place has worn off and they are realizing that this is their new everyday. If your child happens to go through this temporary upset, stay calm and understanding with a nice quick drop off, and they will be back to their happy selves in no time!

*Originally published August 8, 2016