Sending your child off to childcare for the first time is quite frankly daunting ... especially if you have had 11-12 months of one-on-one time at home with your little one while on maternity leave, being their primary carer. Add Coronavirus into the mix and it is no wonder you may be feeling quite anxious about the process.
Having gone through this transition with my little ones, here are my top tips from a Mama's perspective to ensure a smooth transition to childcare.
1. Put your child's name down early
When you are pregnant visit as many childcare centres as you can to find a childcare centre that you feel comfortable with. Remember childcare centres are in high demand so it’s important that you put your child's name ("baby" with your surname) down at quite a few different centres, as you may not get your first option. Some childcare centres have a two-year wait and siblings of the centre always get first priority, so it can be very hard to get care. Keep ringing up to see if your child can get a place so your name is at the top of the list. Try and find a centre close to home (as every second getting out the door counts).
2. Make sure you are 100% comfortable with the centre and the carers
The centre needs to have high hygiene standards and a program of activities that appeal to your child and your parenting style. Ask as many questions as you can to ensure you feel 100% comfortable with the centre, its carers and the food they provide your child with. Ask to sit in on a session so you can see the carers in action. Ask around to find a centre that you are happy with and make sure you google the centre to read all the reviews available.
You are never going to feel comfortable sending your child if you are not comfortable with the centre. Try and think about whether you would be happy to spend your days there.
3. Start the transition to care early
Try and start your child at the centre at least one month prior to returning to work. Returning to work is already a huge transition for yourself and your child; you don't need to be doing both on the same day. It also allows for a longer orientation time if your child needs it and you can pick them up early if your child needs.
Try and ensure you have a few shorter orientation days prior to sending your child for a full day.
4. Talk to your child about what is going to happen
At least a month prior to your child starting at child care start talking to them about going, and all the fun things they will do there. Talk to them about the fact that mummy always comes back. There is a great book called ‘Owl Babies’ which is all about a Mama Owl who leaves her babies but always comes home. Read this to them and talk about the fact that you always come back.
It can also be great to use a couple of toys to show your child through play. Ie. ‘teddy’ is off to childcare and mummy is going to work today and now she is coming home to pick teddy up.
5. Try to keep their days consistent
Any childcare worker will tell you it is easier for the child if the days are consistent and at least two in a row. This helps the child to know what day it is each week and when Mama or Dada are coming back to pick them up.
6. Expect your child to get sick quite often
Your child will suddenly be introduced to an array of other children and therefore colds and my personal favourite (NOT) diseases like hand-foot-and-mouth and viruses like gastro. Have a plan in place for when your child gets sick. Talk to your boss about changing the days you work if your little one comes down with something, or take it in turns with your partner to take carer's leave or have the grandparents on standby etc.
7. There will be tears
Unfortunately this is part of the process. Your child may cry when you drop them off or when you pick them up. It's a new process for them and they need to learn that you are coming back and that they are safe. The tears may also come from you. Every time I sent one of my cherubs off to childcare I always sat in the car and cried. But I would always ring the centre to check in on my little one and the majority of the time the tears were short and the child was quickly distracted and playing.
The tears can come and go. Sometimes they are happy and then a month later they start crying at drop off again.
Alternatively they may crawl or run in and be happy to play (this can also be strange as it can make you feel like you are not needed. But this just means you have created a strong and independent child).
8. A quick drop off is the best
A quick drop off is best. After putting your child's bag and water bottle away, give them a quick kiss, say goodbye and hand them to a career, then confidently walk out without looking back to show your child that they are in a safe place. A mother's instinct is to stay until you feel your child is comfortable but this often draws out the inevitable goodbye and creates a more tearful child clinging to you as you are trying to exit the door.
9. Be an advocate for your child
I always wrote a big email to the centre with my child's routine and what activities they liked and food that they disliked and liked, to ensure if my child was unhappy they could try one of the tricks ie. eating a banana, singing their favourite song etc. to cheer them up. I always asked the centre to call me if my child got over anxious or upset so I knew my child would not be left distressed which gave me a lot of comfort.
10. A favourite childhood toy/comforter
I would always ensure my child's favourite toy was in their bag so they had comfort from home. I also put a family photo in their bag which they could hold if they were upset. I used to kiss my older children's hands and tell them if they felt sad they could put their hand up to their check and get one of Mama's special kisses. I would also tell them that I would send love hearts over the fence which they needed to look out for during the day and I would ask them if they saw them when I picked them up and what colour they were.
I won't lie, sending your child to childcare for the first time is hard and is filled with so many emotions. Try and think about what the child is gaining while being there and that you are giving them the gift that they will know in their hearts that Mama always comes back. Many studies show that children who go to childcare have greater language and better cognitive development during the first four-and-half years of life. Watching other children play is such a huge benefit to learning new skills for your little one. It's amazing what a little peer pressure does to help your child eat their greens.
Returning to work will give you a break and often more patience when you return. It also helps your own confidence remembering the pre-baby you.
When I first left my little boy for the day, I came home and he was having a bath. I climbed into the bath fully clothed in my work suit to scoop him up while we both burst into tears. This memory is strongly etched into my mind, we missed each other so much, but we got through.
Try and think about that hot cup of coffee which you will get to drink uninterrupted for the first time in a long time and the fact that you will be able to go to the bathroom all by yourself.