The first day of daycare is a huge step for everyone in the family, whether your child is an infant or a preschooler. You might be going back to work after several weeks’ maternity/paternity leave or returning to the workplace after years as a stay-at-home parent. Either way, you’re wondering, “how do I make this as easy as possible?” We’ve been there, so we put together some tried-and-true tips to help you and your little one make a smooth transition.
Home Away from Home
The most important thing you can do is find quality care for your child. The peace of mind that comes from accomplishing this step is amazing! Some parents prefer in-home daycares while others choose corporate or church daycare centers. You might interview and tour different types of providers to help decide which works best for your child. Before finalizing your selection, check with the state child care licensing department in your area to verify any daycare you’re considering is registered and has not had any major violations.
Many daycares offer a “discovery day” or a day where your child can visit before he is enrolled. This is an excellent way to find out how he clicks with the caregiver, how he functions in the environment and gets along with the other children. It also serves as a way to get him acclimated to the new place and create fond memories, which will help when the drop-off day arrives.
Prepare for Paperwork
Some daycares require a stack of paperwork to be completed for enrollment, including documents from your child’s pediatrician. Give yourself plenty of time to prepare these forms and collect accompanying documentation. Immunization records are almost always a must, for example. Don’t wait until the last minute to fill out the paperwork, which will only add to your mounting stress. Get it done early and spend the rest of the time you have with your little one having fun!
If at all possible, consider starting your child in daycare before you return to work. This will allow both parents and children to adjust to the change before you actually have to go into the office. If your little one has trouble with separation anxiety, this gives you the option to start out with half days and gradually transition to full days at daycare. (But, you will probably find you have more separation anxiety than he does!) The first time I took my son for a visit to his daycare, he didn’t want to leave!
Establish a Routine
Whether you’re getting him started early or not, it’s paramount to establish and stick to a routine. It may take a little adjusting in the beginning, but once you figure out what works, don’t change it. For example, if dad is going to drop him off and mom is going to pick him up, do that every day and at the same time. Doing the same things at the same time every day will reduce uncertainty, which goes a long way in reducing anxiety for everyone. Plus, it just makes your day run smoother – and we all need that.
If you can, get everything ready the night before the first day. Get all of your enrollment paperwork in order (if you haven’t turned it in early), prepare the daycare bag (more below), set out the clothes he will wear, and anything else you might have to do in the morning. There is nothing worse than having to rush in the morning, and especially on a big day like the first day of daycare. Prepare the night before so you can leisurely get ready and head out in the morning in a pleasant mood.
Every daycare has their own list of required items to bring, as well as things that aren’t recommended or even allowed. Check with your child’s daycare beforehand, but generally, you can plan on at least one change of clothes, a blanket if he will have nap time, diapers and wipes if he isn’t using the potty, formula or breast milk for babies, and his special toy or pacifier for naps. If your child has food allergies, be sure to discuss that with the director and his teacher. You may need to bring his food or milk alternative from home in that case, and you might need a doctor’s note.
A Special Prize
Get your child excited about starting daycare not only by telling him about all the fun things he will get to do, but also buy something new for the occasion. A new backpack or pair of shoes will give him something to look forward to using and make him feel special. It doesn’t need to be an arbitrary prize like a toy, get something useful that he actually needs and save it for the first day. A “big boy backpack” is a great incentive, relatively inexpensive and he will definitely use it bringing supplies back and forth.
The Big Day
When the time comes to say good-bye to your little one for the first time, you might be feeling emotional and anxious. Try to hold it together while you’re with him – if you seem upset, he will think there is something wrong and feel upset too. Stay positive while you spend a few minutes in the classroom showing him all of the friends and toys he has to play with. Encourage bonding with the teacher by having a pleasant conversation with him or her while you hold your child. Then…
Keep your goodbye short and sweet. Tell him that you are going now, but you (or dad) will be there to get him at the end of the day. Give him a big hug, say goodbye – and actually leave. This is the hard part, especially if he starts to cry. But, coming back will only confuse him and encourage more crying. This is a great opportunity for him to bond with his caregiver, and chances are he will settle down quickly once you’re out of sight. Try to maintain the same goodbye ritual every day, and before you know it, it will be easy as pie for both of you.