Switching daycare is never fun

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  September 1, 2010 06:00 AM

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Barbara,

My husband and I are buying a home soon and we will have to switch our daughter's daycare. She is 2 1/2 and doesn't always handle change well. I have been researching daycares for the past few days and scheduling tours. One of the owners told me it would be easier to transition her if I just did it cold turkey. Just bring her there one Monday for a full day and she'll be fine in a week or so. My heart tells me this is cruel and she would need time to adjust slowly. Maybe a half day and then slowly increase. Any advice on which way would be easier for her?


From: Jenna, St. Louis

Hi Jenna,

I'm not prepared to say it's cruel, but I will go so far as to say that this woman wouldn't be the person I'd choose for my daycare provider.

There are several pieces to making the transition from one provider to another, and the bottom line is that you need to be prepared to put some time into each one.

The first step is where you are now: choosing the new setting. Once you've done some preliminary phone work, choose a few settings to visit. Go without your baby. Be prepared to spend an hour or so. Visit the room where your child will first be, but also the room to which she would graduate. How bright and clean and welcoming it is tends to be what parents look for, but also watch the interactions between the care givers and the kids. How do they handle it when a child grabs a toy from another child's hand? How do they help children transition from one activity to the next? What's the child/teacher ratio? What about teacher turn-over? Here are other questions to consider. It's a red flag to me if a center does not want you to observe a classroom, even if it's under the guise of "It's upsetting to the children."

The next step is saying goodbye to the existing daycare. It's a step that often gets over-looked but it's really important: young children have a harder time moving on to something new if they have not appropriately said goodbye to what's old. They don't need a lot of notice that they are leaving, a few days is plenty, but they need the opportunity to say goodbye to teachers, favorite toys, favorite places (her napping mat, the sand table) and playmates. This doesn't need to be melodramatic; it just needs to happen: "Oh, let's say goodbye to your favorite sleeping mat. 'Goodbye, mat!'" On the last day, take some pictures of her with the teachers and even of some of these objects. Do this even if you don't think she gets the concept of what goodbye means, and even if you never look at the pictures once they are taken.

As far as the transition into the new setting, I would start ease your daughter into it; making a transition is emotionally exhausting even for a child. The literal drop-off can be heart-wrenching so you need to decide what you can handle. (Is it possible that what this woman means by "cold turkey" is that it's not helpful to drag out the goodbye? Because that is certainly true.) The best drop-offs involve a ritual. The worst ones go like this: you tell her, "I'll read you a story and then I'm going to leave," but when she cries at the end of the story you say, "OK, one more story." That encourages her to carry on even more because she doesn't know when you will actually set the limit. Instead, announce ahead of time what the limit will be -- "We'll do one puzzle/read one book, and then we'll say goodbye and mama will leave." -- and follow through. It's OK to have a two-pronged ritual, a puzzle AND a book, but only if that is the plan you announce. Make sure that the caregiver knows your plan and is there for the hand-off. It's even better if its the same caregiver each day, because a good caregiver will establish a ritual of her own for that moment once you've left. Don't drag it out. Say goodbye even if it means the caregiver peels her out of your arms.

I hope this helps -- and congrats on your new home. That's a big deal, especially these days!

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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4 comments so far...
  1. Hi Boston.com Moms community - I wanted to point out this discussion forum about questions to ask when choosing a daycare. I found it extremely helpful and hope others have, too.

    Posted by Angela Nelson, Boston.com Staff September 1, 10 10:29 AM
  1. One other suggestion for getting her ready for a new day care - on one of your visits without her, take some pictures of key areas and make a little photo book. When you start telling her about the new daycare, show her pictures explaining what each area is (snack area, outside space, even the daycare providers if they'll let you). Then when she arrives, it will be somewhat familiar.

    Posted by poppy609 September 1, 10 10:31 AM
  1. I just recently transitioned my newly turned 3 year old son from the daycare he's been attending since he was 3 months old (a small, in-home daycare), to a slightly larger nursery school type environment (18 months and older, circle time, lessons, etc.). It is still an in-home environment, but there's a few more kids than he's used to. I was very nervous as well because my son is very sensitive and does not like change either. The first couple of weeks went as expected, he sobbed both when we dropped him off and picked him up every day for about 2 weeks. Our caregiver told us that he usually didn't cry for very long after we left, which made me feel better. Then it got better and better, the sobbing turned into just clinging when dropping him off, and after about 5 weeks, he didn't cry at all.

    The caregiver is key - his new caregiver is very aware of his needs, and always comes up to us when we drop him off. She gives us a moment to kiss him good-bye, but then picks him up and distracts him while we leave - she's been great and we couldn't be happier.

    Good luck - I know how tough it is!

    Posted by north shore mama September 1, 10 10:34 AM
  1. Hi Jenna, I would agree with everything that Barbara says. As a preschool teacher I have a few suggestions to add. Your thoughts on a gradual increase in staying at the daycare is great; in addition I would take those pictures of the old place (happy faces), add pictures of you and your family and paste them labeled with names on an 8by10 sheet of construction paper. Have your child bring this with her; ask if you can hang it at her eye level somewhere so that she can go see it and comfort herself. A good daycare will work with you to make sure that your child will acclimate as easily as possible.

    Posted by ms presch September 1, 10 10:36 AM
 
4 comments so far...
  1. Hi Boston.com Moms community - I wanted to point out this discussion forum about questions to ask when choosing a daycare. I found it extremely helpful and hope others have, too.

    Posted by Angela Nelson, Boston.com Staff September 1, 10 10:29 AM
  1. One other suggestion for getting her ready for a new day care - on one of your visits without her, take some pictures of key areas and make a little photo book. When you start telling her about the new daycare, show her pictures explaining what each area is (snack area, outside space, even the daycare providers if they'll let you). Then when she arrives, it will be somewhat familiar.

    Posted by poppy609 September 1, 10 10:31 AM
  1. I just recently transitioned my newly turned 3 year old son from the daycare he's been attending since he was 3 months old (a small, in-home daycare), to a slightly larger nursery school type environment (18 months and older, circle time, lessons, etc.). It is still an in-home environment, but there's a few more kids than he's used to. I was very nervous as well because my son is very sensitive and does not like change either. The first couple of weeks went as expected, he sobbed both when we dropped him off and picked him up every day for about 2 weeks. Our caregiver told us that he usually didn't cry for very long after we left, which made me feel better. Then it got better and better, the sobbing turned into just clinging when dropping him off, and after about 5 weeks, he didn't cry at all.

    The caregiver is key - his new caregiver is very aware of his needs, and always comes up to us when we drop him off. She gives us a moment to kiss him good-bye, but then picks him up and distracts him while we leave - she's been great and we couldn't be happier.

    Good luck - I know how tough it is!

    Posted by north shore mama September 1, 10 10:34 AM
  1. Hi Jenna, I would agree with everything that Barbara says. As a preschool teacher I have a few suggestions to add. Your thoughts on a gradual increase in staying at the daycare is great; in addition I would take those pictures of the old place (happy faces), add pictures of you and your family and paste them labeled with names on an 8by10 sheet of construction paper. Have your child bring this with her; ask if you can hang it at her eye level somewhere so that she can go see it and comfort herself. A good daycare will work with you to make sure that your child will acclimate as easily as possible.

    Posted by ms presch September 1, 10 10:36 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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