Changing daycares

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  March 29, 2010 06:00 AM

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Dear Barbara,

Our family regrettably has to change daycares from a small, in-home day care provider with two to four kids to a more traditional, preschool type daycare with more kids and more care providers.  We have been with this wonderful lady from the ages of 2 months to 20 months but she has decided to close due to the economy.  I’m wondering what I can do to ease the transition.  At this age (about 1.5 years), it’s hard to know exactly what he understands and how he processes things; it’s not like we can reason with him or give a whole lot of verbal explanation.  This woman has been a big part of his life everyday for 8 hours and I don’t want him to feel like we’ve ripped him from one loving home without any sort of prep but I’m at a loss as to how to smooth the way.  What do you recommend?

From: Sarah, Acton


Hi Sarah,

At this young age, this is more likely harder on you than on him. The most important thing is to find a place that you feel good about, and it sounds like you've already made a choice for a new center. Go visit there a few times without him so that when you talk about it to him, you will be able to do so with enthusiasm and confidence.I realize that at this age, a child may not seem to understand much, but do this all anyway. It helps you, too.

Here are some suggestions for the transition.

!. He doesn't need much notice, three or four days at most; even a preschooler does not need more than a week's notice. If it's likely he has heard you talking about the "new daycare," tell him, "You may have heard us talking about a new day care. I'll tell you about it when it's time."

2. He needs closure. Saying goodbye to the old caregiver is really important; many parents give this short shrift but kids of all ages have a hard time looking forward to the next step if they haven't done a good job of saying goodbye to the old. Take pictures of him with the caregiver, frame one for him and one for her, even if she already has a picture of them. Remind him three days, two days, one day before the last. Ask him, how would you like to say goodbye to Mrs. X? Do you want to draw her a picture for a present? (Encourage that.) If he has a favorite book he likes to read with her, encourage her to read it the last day (and maybe give it to him as a gift.) If you  and the other parents have a goodbye ritual, keep it simple. On the last day, go around with him and say goodbye to his favorite things: "Goodbye to the kitchen. Goodbye to your favorite stuffed animal; goodbye to your favorite blocks...."

3. . Predictability is what makes young children feel safe & secure, so the more everything else in his life can stay the same, the better. This is not the time for a parent to start a new routine, for mom to use a new perfume or even to get a haircut! Kids are very sensitive to sensory stimuli; little things like that upset their equilibrium.

4. Once it's time to say goodbye, you can start to say hello. Drive by the new school and casually say, "There's your new daycace!." With an older child, visit the playground when it's empty. Too overwhelming otherwise.

5. Ask the new caregivers what suggestions they have for easing his transition. I suspect they will ask about his routines, his likes and dislikes. For instance, about his favorite book, toys or games.

6. When he says he misses the old daycare, repeat the thought back to him: "Oh, you miss Anna and Mary and Mrs X and blahblah." In other words, don't dismiss the feelings or brush them aside. Tell him, "I miss them, too!" Avoid saying, "but you'll love this new place!" He'll move on much faster if you simply acknowledge the feelings.

7. Expect it to take some time before he settles into the new center. There may well be a few bumpy days where he is clingy, doesn't want to go, or regresses. All of this is to be expected. The best you can do is to tolerate it, to a point. If he's clingy at drop off, establish a new routine, enlist the help of the teacher and always say goodbye to him before you leave. This is true for any age child; never sneak off! If he regresses, it will pass faster if you don't make a big deal out of it.

8. Some parents think they shouldn't talk about the former setting or caregiver, that it just makes the child miss him/her more. Not true! There's a life-lesson in this event, even for a child this young: Just because we don't see someone we love as much as we used to, or even at all, doesn't mean we stop thinking about that person or stop loving them.

For more suggestions, the advice in this column, on what to do when a caregiver leaves, works in reverse when it's the child who is leaving, and it also covers older ages more specifically than I have here.

I answer a question from a reader every weekday. If you want help with some aspect of child-rearing, just write to me here.




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3 comments so far...
  1. "Some parents think they shouldn't talk about the former setting or caregiver, that it just makes the child miss him/her more. Not true! There's a life-lesson in this event, even for a child this young: Just because we don't see someone we love as much as we used to, or even at all, doesn't mean we stop thinking about that person or stop loving them."

    I learned this a bit of the hard way when we moved some miles from our hometown - far enough away that even a weekly trip was considered along. Now, I let her grieve all she wants, and I grieve with her. I thought not talking about it would help with the transition. It didn't. She's a middle-schooler. When she left day care, two things were happening: her day-care provider, whom she loved and had bonded with since age 10 months, was retiring. But she was retiring as my daughter was aging out of day-care. So it was a bit smoother, but, still, sad. All these years later, we exchange holiday cards and still run into the provider's son in the supermarket from time to time. This has helped with my daughter remembering those early years.

    OK, off to celebrate Pesach. Happy Passover, to all those who celebrate it. Next year, in Jerusalem!

    Posted by reindeergirl March 29, 10 06:31 PM
  1. I would also encourage you to allow your child a slow transition into the new center - remember how stressful the first day of work is? You don't know where anything is, which coffee pot always has coffee, where the lunchroom is, etc.? Well, it's the same for children in their classroom - they don't know the name of the teachers, children, etc. And they can't ask questions and don't have lots of experiences under their belt. So I truly believe that you should, if you can, have your toddler go a few 1/2 days and stay for a full day only on the 3rd or 4th day. This way s/he'll be able to develop trust and a relationship with the other children and teachers slowly, without having too much the first day.
    I know it's hard to have a few 1/2 days at work, but if you can do it then I think it makes a HUGE difference for children - they tend to get used to child care faster if they don't have such a stressful and long first day.

    Posted by CT.DC March 29, 10 10:31 PM
  1. We made similar transitions with our boys - one at 15 mos from family care to preschool-type, and one at 17 mos from nanny to family care. I think the most important things to my boys were that his parents were positive about the change and that each got to visit the new place several times, with emphasis on how fun it would be. My kids are probably on the mellow side of the spectrum about change, but it went very smoothly - a few weeks of shaky dropoffs, but we kept them fairly brief and encouraged them to rely on their new care providers, whom they quickly grew to love. Both thrived in their new settings. Pictures are a great help - they loved looking back at them and seeing themselves with the other special people in their lives.

    Also, be prepared for exhaustion in that first week - my 15mo fell asleep eating lunch his first few days, since the "preschool" had only an afternoon nap and he was running around so much in the mornings. Check ahead on whether there will be any changes to nap schedules, and try to transition to something similar. Special blankets, books, lovies - all can be helpful depending on the child.

    Posted by jsa March 30, 10 10:26 AM
 
3 comments so far...
  1. "Some parents think they shouldn't talk about the former setting or caregiver, that it just makes the child miss him/her more. Not true! There's a life-lesson in this event, even for a child this young: Just because we don't see someone we love as much as we used to, or even at all, doesn't mean we stop thinking about that person or stop loving them."

    I learned this a bit of the hard way when we moved some miles from our hometown - far enough away that even a weekly trip was considered along. Now, I let her grieve all she wants, and I grieve with her. I thought not talking about it would help with the transition. It didn't. She's a middle-schooler. When she left day care, two things were happening: her day-care provider, whom she loved and had bonded with since age 10 months, was retiring. But she was retiring as my daughter was aging out of day-care. So it was a bit smoother, but, still, sad. All these years later, we exchange holiday cards and still run into the provider's son in the supermarket from time to time. This has helped with my daughter remembering those early years.

    OK, off to celebrate Pesach. Happy Passover, to all those who celebrate it. Next year, in Jerusalem!

    Posted by reindeergirl March 29, 10 06:31 PM
  1. I would also encourage you to allow your child a slow transition into the new center - remember how stressful the first day of work is? You don't know where anything is, which coffee pot always has coffee, where the lunchroom is, etc.? Well, it's the same for children in their classroom - they don't know the name of the teachers, children, etc. And they can't ask questions and don't have lots of experiences under their belt. So I truly believe that you should, if you can, have your toddler go a few 1/2 days and stay for a full day only on the 3rd or 4th day. This way s/he'll be able to develop trust and a relationship with the other children and teachers slowly, without having too much the first day.
    I know it's hard to have a few 1/2 days at work, but if you can do it then I think it makes a HUGE difference for children - they tend to get used to child care faster if they don't have such a stressful and long first day.

    Posted by CT.DC March 29, 10 10:31 PM
  1. We made similar transitions with our boys - one at 15 mos from family care to preschool-type, and one at 17 mos from nanny to family care. I think the most important things to my boys were that his parents were positive about the change and that each got to visit the new place several times, with emphasis on how fun it would be. My kids are probably on the mellow side of the spectrum about change, but it went very smoothly - a few weeks of shaky dropoffs, but we kept them fairly brief and encouraged them to rely on their new care providers, whom they quickly grew to love. Both thrived in their new settings. Pictures are a great help - they loved looking back at them and seeing themselves with the other special people in their lives.

    Also, be prepared for exhaustion in that first week - my 15mo fell asleep eating lunch his first few days, since the "preschool" had only an afternoon nap and he was running around so much in the mornings. Check ahead on whether there will be any changes to nap schedules, and try to transition to something similar. Special blankets, books, lovies - all can be helpful depending on the child.

    Posted by jsa March 30, 10 10:26 AM
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About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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