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Child Care: Help Your Child Adjust


Attending day care for the first time can be very upsetting for your child and maybe even for you. The security of familiar surroundings is left behind, and replaced by new faces and new activities. Some children may take longer than others to adjust.

The following tips can help you and your child adapt positively to the child care experience:

Infant/Toddler (0 to 3 years)

  • Let your baby get used to being with other people. Spend time visiting with your friends as well as other places children and adults are likely to be.
  • Get your child used to someone else taking care of him for short periods of time while you are still nearby.
  • Next, leave your home for short periods of time. Gradually build up to the amount of time you will be gone during a typical day.
  • If child care will be provided outside the home, visit ahead of time with your child. Help your child feel comfortable. When your child starts child care, give your little one a familiar toy or object to take along for security. Stay with your child part or all of the first day or so

Preschool age (3 to 6 years)

  • Get to know the facility and caregiver(s) before your child starts the program. This helps you answer your child's questions and lessens last-minute "surprises."
  • Visit the home or center with your child before enrollment. Let your child become acquainted with the new environment by observing and then participating at his or her own pace.
  • You and your child might select a photograph of family members or pets to tuck into a pocket while at child care.
  • Your child may wish to take along a favorite toy or stuffed animal for comfort.
  • Tell your child where you will be and what you will be doing while your child is busy in day care.
  • Let your child know who will pick him up and when. This reduces your child's fears about being abandoned.
  • Act secure and confident even if you feel apprehensive. Your appearance of calm is contagious, and will help reassure your child.
  • At the day care home or center, always say goodbye to your child. Do not try to sneak away while your child is preoccupied. Your child will learn not to trust you if you do. Make your good-byes short, cheerful, and visible.
  • Expect tears initially. It is natural for your child to burst into tears when you leave or return.
  • Talk to your child's caregiver about how you can both help your child adjust.
  • Allow plenty of time for your child to adapt to the new rhythms and routines. If your child continues to be unhappy after a month or so, you may need to consider other child care or job alternatives.
  • Read books together about other children's experiences at child care or nursery school. This can uncover unspoken feelings and expectations and help your child prepare.
  • Each day, ask your child about his day, and talk about high points as well as anxieties.
  • Try not to make too big a fuss over your child's first day. Accept it as a planned, natural part of your family's life.
  • Even after being involved in child care or preschool for a while, children sometimes resist going. A small change in the daily routine may help. For example, in two-parent families have the other parent accompany your child or plan a special treat upon return or at the end of the week. If problems continue, talk to the caregiver(s).
  • Check on the quality of care provided by making unscheduled visits from time to time.

Written by Donna Warner Manczak, PhD, MPH.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2011-01-28
Last reviewed: 2009-05-26

This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a health care professional.

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