This is a huge transition for the whole family and is usually met with many emotions for both you and baby.
Childcare can be a very daunting thought initially. The concept felt very foreign to me and I took a long time to come to terms with the fact that I was leaving my baby with complete strangers!
So, what can you do to help this transition go as smoothly as possible???
Give yourself plenty of time
I encourage parents to start looking at childcare centres or daycare options early. This helps you to make decisions around which service is best for you without feeling rushed. You don’t need to make a decision straight away, but if you start researching early you allow yourself more time to come away and think of additional questions. You may also find you want to go for a second tour…I did!
I found I got ‘better’ with every tour I did. This is because you hear the different strategies centres set up for everyday things such as sleep settling, menu prep, play / activities, communication with families, etc. This helps you to recognise what best matches your routines at home, and what aligns with your parenting values and beliefs.
Each time you connect with a center (via phone, email, in person) you have a new opportunity to chat with staff. This helps you to get a sense of whether they are the right ‘fit’ for you and your family.
Take someone with you
There is no denying this process is daunting! I had no experiences with childcare growing up, so I had no clue what to focus on: cleanliness, range of activities, staff interaction, food options?!
Having someone attend tours with you can be really helpful. Even if they just hold and occupy to your little one so you can concentrate on taking in information and asking questions.
It’s also helpful to debrief afterwards as you will likely see and hear different things. I took my Mum with me and I found she often picked up on things that I had missed. Having her to soundboard ideas also helped me to recognise what was important to us.
Which brings me to my next tip…
What are your ‘make or breaks’
When you do a few tours, you see or hear different processes for a range of day to day things: communication, routines within the rooms, interactions between staff and children, outside / inside play, nutrition, nappies or toileting, etc.
Whilst it can be very overwhelming initially, if you give yourself time, you will be able to figure out what is important to you. Then you can rank these things (either in your mind or on paper). This will highlight your ‘make or breaks’. These are the areas you want to focus on when you approach centres and complete tours. For example, we use cloth nappies, so any centres who couldn’t support this were out for us. I was also passionate about outside play, so looking for large outdoor areas and opportunities to get outside during the day. Communication and approachability were also very high on my list.
Don’t be afraid to ask as many questions as you need to, or attend a centre more than once. It’s important you have all the information you need to help you make the right decision for your family.
Talk to friends and family (but form your own opinions)
It’s great to hear different perspectives from family and friends. They can help identify both positive and negative factors. They may have personal experiences with a particular centre you are looking at and that is great.
But I would encourage you to still go out and do your own research and book a tour of each centre. We know all families are unique, so you might find that your ‘make or breaks’ are different to your family or friends.
Once you have made your decision on what service your little one will attend, how can you ease into the transition?
All centres will support you in completing an orientation. This looks different at every centre but generally you will be offered a few hours to help your little one settle in. These visits will slowly increase over a few days as your little one settles into the routine.
Kids are hugely resilient and generally settle in well. But there can be some tears during the drop offs and pick ups which is difficult for all involved! Some things you can do to help with the transition into care…
Communicate your routines
It’s really important that you run through your routines with your centre, particularly with the individual staff in your little one’s room. This will help them to understand your individual child, their likes/dislikes/needs/etc. You might write out your naptime routine so they can mimic this as closely as possible. You may also write down your little one’s tired signs and sleep schedule.
It’s important to also discuss when you offer bottles (if applicable) and meals throughout the day. This helps to ensure routines look as similar as possible. It also helps to stop sleep associations (like feeding to sleep) from creeping back in if you have worked hard to move on from these.
Whilst centers can’t offer individual meal times to all the children they have in the room (or they would be feeding round the clock!), they can likely offer something similar to what you have set up at home. They can look at where you fit bottles into your daily routine and offer something similar.
Pack the essentials
Make sure you pack all the things your little one uses when settling to sleep at home. This includes sleeping bags, comforters, or security toys. This helps them to feel secure and also recognise the cues you use at various points throughout the day. It’s helpful to have backups of these comfort items in case one gets wet / messy. You can then always have one at home and one in the childcare bag.
If your younger bub has bottles in their naptime routine, definitely send those in!
Set up your supports
This is a difficult time for you as you figure out the balance between family and work. Some parents return with ease, others need a little more time to find their groove and that’s ok! Make sure you give yourself time and space to process the changes and get into a routine that works for you.
Don’t put too much on your plate during the first couple of weeks. Avoid taking on extravagant meals – unless cooking is an outlet for you, don’t feel the house needs to be absolutely spotless. Also, don’t commit to too many things in your personal / social life as you settle back into work. Lessen the load by doing some batch cooking to stock the freezer with easy dinner options.
Plan ahead as much as you can and set up your supports. Whether this is emotional support from family / friends, or physical assistance to get through the dinner and bedtime rush. It’s helpful to have as much support in place as you can. Better to overprepare and cancel help if it’s not needed, than underprepare and not have the option of last-minute assistance.
Keep your outlets going as much as possible. Whether this is cooking, reading, going for a walk, connecting with friends, it’s important you prioritise these activities for your own mental health.
This year has been difficult, and we have all had to be a little creative with maintaining our outlets during lockdown. It has shown how important continuing these activities or outlets is for our health and wellbeing.
Fill up the love cup
This one is really important. We want to make sure your little one feels supported and secure throughout this transition. When you both get home make sure you have lots of bonding time filled with cuddles, kisses, play, etc. Give your little one your undivided attention – even if it means the dishes get left, or you opt for an easy leftover meal.
15-20minutes of play or cuddle time will help your little one to connect with you and to understand that throughout this transition, you will still respond and support them. If they are old enough to communicate, ask them about their day and what they liked or disliked. Validate their feelings with your own and let them know it’s ok to miss each other during the day. Provide praise and comfort that you will always come back and that they are able to enjoy themselves and have fun while you are gone. No matter their age, tell them you missed them, but you are so proud they managed to play with other children.
It’s common for little one’s to start waking overnight throughout this transition, so make sure you offer comfort if this happens. Give a kiss and cuddle and you might then need to sit with them as they drift back to sleep. Try not to change your responses too much, it will generally settle with time.
Adjust your sleep times at home
Adjusting to the new childcare routines takes time. Initially your little one may not sleep as well as they do at home. They may take longer to settle to sleep or may not nap for as long. This is absolutely fine and will likely settle with time.
You might need to adjust sleep times at home to allow them to catch up and avoid overtiredness. This can mean bringing bedtime forward and/or offering earlier naps the following day. You might find they are showing tired signs up to an hour before their regular bedtime. Act on those tired signs and get them tucked in early.
‘My partner doesn’t get home until 6:30 so an earlier bedtime may mean they don’t get any play time…?’
When my son started childcare, he was generally in bed by the time I made it home which was heart-breaking. I spent all day waiting to see him and could only creepily stare at him while he slept. I made an effort to spend time with him in the mornings instead. It also helped to remind myself this was only temporary. After 2-3 weeks his naps and stamina improved at childcare. This meant he could return to his regular bedtime and we could play after work.
This is a common scenario in families returning to work and introducing childcare. Sometimes it’s about asking the ‘would you rather’ question. Would you rather have playtime after work with your little one where they’re likely overtired and grumpy, leading to lengthy settlings and possible night wakings. OR would you rather have no play after work, no bedtime battles, and a happy family in the morning?
You might also find your little one naps for longer at home following a day at childcare. This is generally just a way of catching up on missed sleep from shorter naps at childcare. Allow them the extra snooze time and see if it settles down within a few weeks.
Don’t introduce any other changes
This transition is big enough! If you can avoid it, don’t throw in any other big changes during this settling in period. Avoid introducing changes in your routine at home like starting a new hobby or group. Also avoid changes to the environment at home such as new bedding, furniture, etc. Keep your home routines fairly consistent and unchanged so your little one has some kind of structure and security.
It will settle
It will take a few weeks but eventually everyone will settle into the childcare and work routine. If you find that a few weeks, or even months pass, and your little one does not return to their normal sleep routine, reach out. I’m more than happy to talk you through my thoughts and strategies.