Settling Your Child into a new child care centre

Starting childcare can be an anxious and exciting time. Be reassured there are many strategies to help during this adjustment period. Different centres will have different processes and routines. Hopefully you have chosen a quality centre such as Mission Australia Early Learning that prioritises your child and family, who have a deep understanding of how attachment works and provide the time, space, environments and programs that foster trusting relationships.

Preparation

Obviously, there are variances to this settling period that will influence your approach such as

  • Your child’s age
  • How often you and your child have been separated?
  • Has your child been in group care before?
  • Has your child been exposed to unfamiliar adults and children?
  • How comfortable are you with using day care? Remember your child will get ‘vibes’ from you. Try to avoid speaking about the new arrangement in front of your child if you are unsure or anxious. Believe me, children hear everything even if it looks like they aren’t listening.
  • The amount of time you have available to devote to this transition stage? Even though you may be busy if the centre orientation visits take priority in the beginning it will give you a better chance of sticking to your plans down the track like your agreed return to work date, morning start times, and/or avoiding too much time away from your commitments in the long run.
  • Your child’s temperament. You know your child better than anyone. Prior to introducing your child to the centre, observe how your child responds to new environments and new people.

Orientation/ induction

  • Listen to the expert advice from staff. At Mission Australia Early Learning we facilitate excellent orientation and induction processes. We have an open-door policy. We encourage families to visit as many times as possible prior to the commencement of enrolment. We will introduce centre routines gradually to your child and invite your child to participate in parts of the day that are likely to be the most foreign with you by their side, someone they love and trust. You may be invited to take part in a meal time, the hand washing routine, the rest and relaxation routine and some toileting/ nappy changes. Your child will begin to follow these routines quickly if they have a chance to enjoy them in a fun and unhurried way to begin with.
  • Take your time. Try not to rush this settling process. If rushed it will potentially take longer and consume more energy in the long run. In my experience, the families that have skimmed on the orientation visits because they are ‘too busy’ at the beginning have regretted it later and have ended up experiencing more anxiety later. The families who have had a gentle gradual approach to orientation have experienced the most successful transition.
    Work in partnership. Begin to develop a relationship with the centre as quickly as possible. Try to coordinate your very first orientation visit (your very first arrival at the centre) at a time that you think will best suit your child’s temperament for example if your child is happier in a calm peaceful environment then try to time your arrival when there are less children in attendance or when it is ‘quiet time’.
  • Get involved. Ask the service if there are upcoming events that you could attend such as family morning teas or information sessions or weekend gatherings.

Develop a drop off routine quickly.

  • Talk openly with your child about all the things you will both need to do to ensure an enjoyable morning. Try to develop a morning routine at home and at the centre that will allow you to get to your future commitments on time. Try to get organised so you are not rushing, this will cause stress in both of you.
  • Talk to the educators in the room about your morning ritual and seek their input. It is much easier to develop positive habits from the beginning than it is to re-organise and change unpleasant habits down the track. For example, consider how much time you are going to have when you are dropping off in the mornings – be realistic. My advice is to follow the same pattern as soon as you arrive at the centre as best you can. For example – enter the centre, wash your hands, apply sunscreen, place bag into locker, put hat/ nappies in place, greet the educators and other children.
  • If an educator is available have a little chat about how the child has been while away from the centre, include your child in the conversation, keep it positive. Recall for the educator some of the fun things your child has been experiencing so the educator can use this information to develop a relationship with your child.
  • Then find an experience that your child enjoys. I suggest a closed experience that has an ending such as reading a book together or doing a puzzle. Let your child know at the beginning and gently remind them during the activity that you will be saying goodbye and leaving when the story/ puzzle ends. Reassure them that you will be coming back in the afternoon to collect them. When you finish the activity, let the educator in the room know. Ideally, they will be available to come to you to support the separation otherwise lead your child and help them join the other children where the educator is positioned. Give your child a cuddle, and a kiss, say good-bye and leave. Try to send the message that you are confident that they are in good hands. Hesitating can send mixed messages to your child that you are unsure and anxious.
  • If you find it hard to leave, step out of the room and wait. Ask an educator that is passing-by to go inside and check on your child to see if they are settling. Obviously if they are hysterical you will naturally want to go back inside. My advice is to sit it out for at least 10 minutes to allow the educators time to find a strategy to support your child. The sooner the educators learn how your child responds to settling techniques the better for everyone. Try not to go back into the room after leaving. A good centre will phone you if your child is very unsettled and alternatively they should also call to reassure you that your child has stopped crying and to let you know how they are progressing with their day.

It is natural for your child to get upset. Your child may seem to be loving the new arrangement for the first week or two, we call this the honeymoon period. Then all of a sudden, they may become clingy and unsettled. This is common. This is when reality sets in and the honeymoon period ends. They begin to display signs ofseparation anxiety, their development may regress, and they may become clingy even at home. It is important that you remain positive and discuss the changes in your child’s behaviour and mood with the educators as soon as you can in private. You need to eliminate that anything has happened to your child at the centre which isn’t usually the case, it is typically when the honeymoon period is over. Young children usually respond well when things are new and novel and they have limited capacity to understand the concept of time and permanency. When a child begins to realise that this arrangement is ongoing they can begin to test the boundaries such as attempting to opt-out of attending. Of course, they would rather spend every waking moment with their family or at home, so it’s important to remain consistent and positive in your approach. The more consistent you remain, particularly in the morning ritual, the quicker they will realise that the arrangement is permanent and they will find comfort in the familiarity. Continue to highlight the positives with your child and continue conversations with the educators. Work together in partnership by helping the educators identify experiences that your child enjoys and ask the educators to incorporate these activities into their program. One thing to remember is that it usually gets worse before it gets better. So, persist. Obviously if it becomes unbearable you may need to reconsider whether this centre is the right fit or whether group care now in your child’s life is appropriate.

If things aren’t going well continue to talk to the centre staff about strategies to reduce separation anxiety;

  • Maybe your child needs shorter days in the beginning particularly if they are not eating or sleeping well. Try to exit the centre with your child when they are happy so that their last memory is a positive one. Children develop associations and connections very quickly, we want your child to have fond memories when they think about their new centre.
  • Use photos. Create a photo album of images taken at the centre and at home that your child can carry with them. This can also help you both learn names of people and spaces. Provide an article of clothing to the centre that has mums and/ or dads smell on it. It can be particularly comforting especially for a younger child. A worn shirt or slept-on pillow case works well. The educators can offer it to your child at sleep time or drape it over their shoulder when they are comforting your child.
  • If you have concerns, talk to staff. Find the appropriate person (educator, room leader, centre manager, etc.) and make a time to discuss in private away from the children as quickly as possible. Avoid expressing your concerns in front of your child unless you can do so in a way that includes your child in the conversation.
  • It is almost inevitable that your child will get sick when starting group care. They will be near many children and sharing equipment. High quality centres will have strict policies regarding health, hygiene and exclusion periods for children when they are unwell. Keep an eye out on communication tools (such as Storypark) or in the rooms for notices about sicknesses other children are experiencing so you can keep your eye out for signs and symptoms. If your child does become ill and needs time away from the centre, try to continue to talk positively with your child about the centre and when your child is well and able to attend stick to your morning routine and your child should resettle.

My last most important tip is to always say a goodbye. Sneaking away while your child is engaged will only pass on feelings of mistrust to your child. Your child may become clingy and less secure even when at home. The educators are extremely experienced in supporting children’s separation anxieties, so work together with the educators to develop a smooth daily settling-in process.

The beginning may seem bumpy but within a couple of months most families settle into the new routine and setting. To be honest, most of the time it is the parent that requires more of the emotional support, children usually adjust well. Belonging to a fabulous early childhood centre presents many benefits and rewards for the entire family. If you can develop trusting relationships with the centre staff and you are all willing to work in partnership you are almost guaranteed a positive smooth transition.