Sending your precious little one to child care for the first time can be one of the hardest things you ever have to do as a parent. Parents with adult children will often recall how hard it was to send their child to care for the first time. This is a natural feeling because, really, children are meant to be with their primary caregiver. This concern about adjustment, sometimes seems to be even more so for responsive parents, who fear the child care centre will not be able to provide the same type of attuned and responsive care that their child is accustomed to, and then how will they cope? Sleep seems to be especially a concern as we think to ourselves, “somedays I can hardly handle my one baby, how on earth are they going to handle multiple babies, all wanting something at the same time? They must have to neglect their needs sometimes! How else would they do it?”
Do not worry about us and how we’re going to cope. We actually do know how to care for that many screaming babies at once, you figure it out. Usually a few are tired, a few want a diaper, a few are willing to play, a few just want snuggles and there are always babies up for eating. It’s not CIO if people are present and tending to the child. The first three hours of child care is usually all tears and meltdowns. It’s actually way easier than being a parent so don’t worry about us. We also have each other and the support of a supervisor, students and volunteers. Remember these people usually don’t show up until after you drop-off. In an infant room, especially, an extra person to play with a couple easy tempered babies, can make a big difference.
COMMUNICATION is the most important thing with your child’s caregiver. It is their job to accommodate to the needs of your family, not the other way around. We also just met you so we do not know what those needs are, unless you tell us. We also forget sometimes because, yes, we do have our hands full. Remind us again, if it’s important to you, it’s important to us. Our job is to support and care for children, but also their families. Chances are the room has a “book,” ask them to write your request in the “book.” That way everyone should see it upon entering the classroom.
NURSING TO SLEEP seems to be a common concern. I have heard many parents contemplating weaning their child from nursing to sleep and even night nursing all together, in an effort to aid in the transition to child care. I get where the idea comes from, but it really is misguided. Not nursing on demand, and especially before sleep, can be difficult, for a child who is used to that. What happens is, you end up with two major transitions at the same time. Weaning against the child’s natural rhythm really isn’t easy or healthy for anyone. Sometimes it needs to be done for other reasons, worrying about them napping at child care is not a necessary reason. After 18 months, weaning tends to be a lot less difficult for the child, because the peak of attachment has hit. They are now reaching a new phase of attachment where they realize you exist, even when you aren’t there (object permanence). Nursing and sleep go together for children. Stopping nursing for sleep in an effort to transition to child care, is kind of like saying “since I can’t have broccoli for every meal, I will not eat any broccoli.” No! You eat broccoli when you can because a bit of broccoli is always better than no broccoli. Not to mention that, every nursing session you take away, you run the risk of lowering your supply and possibly weaning, before you want to. It’s important to know what can happen if you choose to try and reduce nursing sessions before your child goes to child care.
ATTACHMENT is actually built on the recovery portion of the interaction. So attachment is built when you are around each other but it is solidified when you are apart and then reunite. I think this may be surprising but, when a child is struggling emotionally at child care (nap and drop-off are most common times for meltdowns) the time that the caregiver is spending with your child, supporting them as they process their feelings, that builds attachment. You may say, “well I don’t want my child to be attached to someone else.” Don’t worry, every attachment relationship for your child, is an extension of your own relationship with them. They see a trusted caregiver as someone that you provided for them, to keep them safe, until you return. When you return, your own attachment relationship strengthens as you and your child reunite.
HOME CARE is not better, generally speaking. I hear people contemplating that home care may be better equipped to handle a child who needs support to fall sleep. I would tend to disagree with that logic and would be very wary of putting my own children in home care. One person taking care of five kids, in their home, has much less freedom and flexibility than a centre. In a centre, children are NEVER left alone. If we have to go to the bathroom, someone covers us. In home care, the children are left alone while the child care provider uses the washroom. So then, what happens when the children need to sleep? Who knows! There are no regulations and even in licensed home care, there is no monitoring. In licensed care, we have each other and that makes it a lot easier to provide one-on-one care, when necessary. My son used to take three hours (sometimes more) to fall asleep at child care (FYI this is extremely a-typical). They would take shifts, walking around with him, singing to him, walking with him in the stroller. Yeah it was hard but they never just left him to cry, then all the other children would be woken up.
FAMILIAR ENVIRONMENT So what can you do? Try to create familiarity. Instead of changing your home routine to be more like child care, work with the child care providers to make their routine more like yours at home. Make the child care sleep space similar to the one at home with a favourite blanket and/or snuggly toy. My son loved to hold this picture of me and my husband from our wedding. It was on the wall from our wedding announcement and he asked for it one day. Having a small photo album can help some children, once they have settled in. If your child listens to music or has a sound machine SOME centres may be able to do this for you. It is at least worth mentioning. You could provide a CD, a USB with music on it, or a sound machine like the one at home. My youngest cannot go to sleep without his music, so I would really want his centre to know how important that is to him at home. If you sing them a certain song(s) or read a certain book, teach the song to your child’s caregiver and give them a copy of the book. You can provide a baby carrier as well, if that is something you use for naps. I recommend doubles of these things (if at all possible) because trying to make sure you have all the important stuff every day, can be a challenge.
VISITATION is important. Visit as much and as early as they let you, prior to starting care. You can try putting your child down for naps at the school yourself, if you think they may do this easily. If your child is not that easy going, I would wait and just try to make your visitation times always positive. For an easy tempered baby with secure attachment they may find practicing napping at the school, with mom, helpful, thinking; “I remember being here with my mom. I had a good rest here. My mom left me with this nice person, maybe I’ll just have another nice rest here again, it seems safe.” While a child who still has secure attachment but a much higher needs temperament may think; “WHERE IS MY MOM!!! Last time I was here, my mom was here. Who is this person, they look nice but they are not my mom? This is not relaxing, I would rather play or eat.” In this case, the caregiver may need to find their own routine with the child. Maybe a walk or rocking them while singing in the common room, will be better, until your child feels more comfortable. Like I said, we figure it out, just like you did, we do too.
THE BOTTLE SITUATION If your child does not take a bottle normally, it is OK to try a bottle before you start (not necessary). I would NOT recommend doing this at nap time. You can try yourself, if they won’t take the bottle from you, try with someone they trust, while you are NOT HOME. If that does not go well just stop trying because you could cause them to have a negative association with the bottle. Just wait for child care to start. We have experience with trying to gently encourage children to take a bottle. We are also a lot less stressed about the situation. Parents and other caregivers seem to have a tendency to panic a little when the baby won’t take the bottle. The baby may sense the stress and pressure, making them more resistant.
Remember that no matter how much you try to prepare, there will be an adjustment period. Having difficult emotions about such a big change is natural and we should try to let our children go through their own process of adjustment. That’s what we as educators and caregivers do. We support the children while they go through the natural emotions that are a bi-product of processing this big change. We just wait it out. The transition to child care is a huge one for the whole family, especially when the parent is returning to work around the same time. We are there to support you, don’t worry about us.
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Read more about what attachment looks like here
Read more about how to support your child’s transition to child care here: To Say Goodbye or Not to Say Goodbye