How Long Does It Take Toddlers to Adjust to Daycare?

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    Children develop at different rates depending on a number of both genetic and environmental factors. Their physical development is often what parents record in milestones, but social development is just as important. 

    If you've spent day after day at home with your child for the first few years of their life, the transitioning social process could be a little more difficult than a child who has already adapted to external childcare

    However, it's important to understand that even though it might take some kids a little longer than others, eventually, they'll come to understand and accept the change of pace. In this article, we'll explore how long it takes for a child to transition into daycare and how best to prepare them for this change in their routine.

    Transitioning to Out-of-Home Care

    Depending upon your family situation, your child may have no trouble at all getting used to a new childcare situation. But, on the other hand—particularly if they are a certain age and has been home with you as the primary caregiver for the past few years—going to a new location or having a new caregiver in the home all day may prove to be a difficult transition.

    The good news is that most children do eventually make peace with the new order. However, if you did not ask the childcare provider how she handles children with separation anxiety during your interview, be sure to do so before the first day your child is in daycare. In addition, there are steps that you can take to facilitate the change in routine and ensure your child is comfortable with the different settings.

    What to Do When Your Child Isn't Settling Into Daycare

    Create a Picture Routine

    Knowing what to expect and when to expect it can help to reduce your child's anxiety. Children find comfort in routine and structure. It's no different for children with a new school routine. With the help of your child's teacher, snap pictures of your child's daily schedule and create a mini-picture album.

    Your child will be able to flip through the book to see what the structure of their day looks like. You can also include pictures of your toddler's morning routine at home to help him overcome the anxiety that builds before you leave the house.

    Something That Smells Like Home

    Many caregivers, including myself, have found it very helpful for the child to have one of Mom's or Dad's tee shirts to carry and cuddle. A favourite blankie or stuffed animal that smells like home can do the same. When the child is settling in the first few days, they can have their special item as often as they want or need it. Then, as they settle and gain confidence in their new surroundings, their need for the item gradually decreases, and they may want it at nap time.

    Have a Family Board

    If your daycare doesn't have a Family Board, ask if you can start one. Use a small bulletin board and staple pictures of students' families to it. Hang the bulletin board at children's eye level and place it in a special classroom section.

    Some comfortable seating and a cozy rug make this a comforting space for little ones to visit when they're feeling particularly sad about missing their families. If your daycare can't accommodate a Family Board, ask if your child can keep a picture of his family in his cubby.

    Avoid Big Changes at Home

    Big changes at home can add to your child's stress levels, so it's important, if possible, to keep your child's routine at home as normal and consistent as possible while they're settling into daycare.

    While some changes, like moving to a new house, can be inevitable (perhaps this is even the reason for the new daycare), try not to add more stressors to your child's life while they're adjusting to their new routine at daycare.

    Wait to start potty training, moving from a toddler bed or redecorating their room until they're content and confident with their new care provider. Avoid pacifier weaning, getting a new pet, having a lot of company or going on a trip during this transition stage, as well.

    Always Let Your Child Know What's Next

    When you are on your way to daycare, be sure to give your child the plan for the day: "I'm going to work, so you get to play with your friends today! You have chicken nuggets for lunch, so that's going to be yummy! I bet you will sing the ABC song, too. Then, when I pick you up later, I will take you home, and we will play on the swing set before dinner."

    Always say goodbye to your child (never sneak away) and let them know you'll be back. Don't make a BIG deal about leaving. Keep it light, and keep it quick. The longer you linger, the more upset your child will get. A quick hug and kiss and "Have a great day! Love you. See you in a few hours." is perfect. Being cheerful and happy as you say goodbye will help your child understand that everything is okay.

    The Kissing Hand Technique

    This idea is based on the book "The Kissing Hand" by Audrey Penn, which is a terrific book to read to your child if they're experiencing separation ideas. You can kiss your child's hand or draw a heart or a smiley face on it, and when the child misses you, they can look at their hand or hold it against their cheek.

    Be Patient and Consistent

    The best advice that many of our community members gave was to be patient and consistent. It can take a while for a child to settle into a new situation. "It usually takes about 2 or 3 weeks for a toddler to feel comfortable," said Priscilla S. "Hang in there, because one day you will suddenly notice him happily playing and not crying."

    For mom and dad, that means being consistent with attendance, a positive attitude and loving goodbye.

    Give Yourself Grace

    When your child is not settling into daycare, it can make you question everything from your career to your parenting skills. The good news is that it does get better; patience and consistency really will pay off.

    Hang in there! Before you know it, your child will be happy and tear-free when you drop them off at daycare and hardly look back as they toddle off to play with their friends.

    When to Introduce Your Baby to Childcare


    A common question new parents ask is regarding the timing of childcare. Since it's unlikely that you and your partner will never need to use childcare, introducing your child to the idea as a newborn can help prepare them for more serious transitions in the future. 

    While those first few weeks of your newborn's life should be spent with you, childcare can start as early as six weeks—as long as you and your partner are comfortable with doing so. To ease you both into the change, consider looking at in-home childcare to start by finding a trusted sitter or nanny. This gets your newborn used to new faces. If you opt for childcare services out of your home, make sure that you do your research on the facility and pack enough supplies for a day. After you've packed everything, throw in a few extras to be sure. Always check with your childcare facility about anything that's prohibited, in addition to extra resources they may need (feeding/sleeping schedules, medications, etc.).

    Preparing for and Transitioning into Daycare 

    Suppose you've given your newborn some exposure to childcare, great. If not, that's okay, too. There are still plenty of ways for you to prepare to transition them into daycare. There isn't a definitive age that children should start attending daycare. Instead, you should base it on your child's developmental stage.

    When the time is right, the key to a successful daycare experience is preparation. Make sure that you take the time to prepare with your child before getting into daycare on the first day. If they have an idea of what to expect, it makes the entire concept less frightening and more welcoming. See if you can bring your child to the daycare facility for a few short visits before they start attending. This helps them acclimate to the environment, so it's not as foreign when the big day comes. You can also read a few books about daycare to help introduce the concept to understand it. Make sure that you maintain a positive attitude during these interactions, as children share the same views as their parents.

    Try to adjust your child's sleeping schedule before starting daycare so that they are well-rested and ready to go. Irregular sleeping schedules can create mood swings, irritability and cause more uncertainty—especially when leaving your side.

    The night before daycare begins, let them pick out a special item that's daycare approved. This helps them to maintain a sort of safety blanket. 

    Then, when it comes time for the big day, make sure that you talk to your child about what's happening, when you're going to be back, and try to spark their interest in something at the daycare. Then, as soon as possible, you need to leave. 

    While many parents struggle with this, the longer you wait around and try to comfort them, the longer it will take for them to adapt.

    On average, most children take about three to six months to adapt to a new situation fully. However, the more your child engages in the daycare facility and any activities they offer. They adapt faster. Some children have adjusted to daycare in as quickly as two weeks! 

    To help improve the speed with which your child accepts daycare, create and maintain a consistent goodbye and hello routine for drop-offs and pick-ups. The continuity helps your child build trust and decrease anxiety because they know how the day will end.

    Preparing Your Child: A Few Weeks Out

    Enrolling a child in a daycare centre or family daycare presents a whole set of potential adjustment problems. Not only is the child with a new caregiver, but they are also in an entirely new environment. The more time they have to get used to the idea before going to daycare for the first time, the smoother the transition will be.

    One of the best ways to put your child at ease before starting a daycare is to have them visit the facility or family day care home, preferably more than once, for short visits. Then, they can interact with the primary caregiver at the facility, as well as with the other children that will be in their room, or not interact at all.

    It may take some time before your child is ready to participate with their classmates, and that is all right. Your job is to support your child and not push them into playing with or talking to others if they are not yet comfortable doing so.

    Some experts suggest reading books with your child about going to daycare before the first day arrives. Both before and after reading together, talk about your child's feelings. Always be reassuring, explain why this arrangement will be good for them (they will make friends, get to play, etc.), and above all, remain positive. Your child is likely to adopt your outlook. If you have a bad attitude about the child care situation or your return to work, the chances are good that they will feel the same.

    Another way to ease this big change in your child's life is to get them on an adequate sleep schedule at least several days, if not weeks, before the first time at daycare, if they are not already on one. 

    Grade-school-aged children typically need at least 10 or 11 hours of sleep every night; toddlers and preschoolers need even more.

    Determine how much time you and your child will need to unhurriedly prepare to leave each morning, and make that your child's wake-up time. Then count backward from that time, 10, 11 or 12 hours, depending on your child's age and sleep pattern, and make that bedtime. Then keep to that schedule. A regular bedtime every night will help give a sense of security to a child in transition.

    Try to spend a few minutes with your child when putting them to bed. Sing to them, read a book or just talk (or let them talk). Not only will these become cherished moments for both of you, but the dependability of the routine will help them deal with feelings of uncertainty about going to daycare.

    Preparing Your Child: The Night Before

    When packing up for daycare either the night before or the morning of the first day, you could try having them pick out a special item to bring. Be sure to check with the daycare director first to see if they will not allow items. A good facility will have space to store this belonging and should not have a problem bringing a blanket or a toy that does not pose a hazard to others.

    If there is a good reason for not letting them bring an item, let them pick out a picture—or better yet, help them make a small photo album or scrapbook—that they can look at during the day. Your child may even come up with ideas for making the first day more enjoyable.

    The transition to the new childcare setting may go more smoothly if you take it in small steps. If possible, consider bringing your child in for an hour or two the first time. Of course, if you are beginning a new job and cannot take time off, staying in the daycare centre or home with your child will not be an option. One way around this would be to go into the facility or home an hour earlier than you normally would for the first several days to give your child time to become accustomed to the surroundings. If you do this, however, you will want to move bedtime up an hour so that your child still gets the necessary amount of sleep.

    Preparing Your Child: The Big Day and Beyond


    On the big day, when it is time to leave your child with the caregiver and make your way to work, reassure them that you will return at a specific time (such as after lunch, after naptime or some other time that your child will understand). Try, with the caregiver's help, to get them interested in an activity.

    Your child may show some distress, and it is perfectly all right to give them a big hug, but it also may be necessary to be firm in explaining that you have to leave. If they remain resistant to your leaving, the caregiver should take over and allow you to go. Of course, you can and should contact the childcare provider at least once during the day to see how your child is progressing.

    A pattern of separation anxiety may repeat for more than a week or two. It is important not to react strongly to your child's stress by becoming impatient with them or showing that their behaviour is upsetting you. Instead, keep communicating with the childcare provider to see if your child remains agitated for a good part of the day or if the tears dry up shortly after you leave. Suppose the situation does not resolve quickly and the pattern continues for more than a couple of weeks. In that case, it will be necessary to examine the childcare setting to see more than just separation anxiety.

    For most children, starting daycare will be the first experience of being separated from their parents. And for Mum or Dad, it is sometimes the first time too! As a result, most children will experience some anxiety. Both parents and educators must work together to build the special relationship necessary for successful transition and adjustment for all parties involved.

    Our Educators are sensitive and aware of the anxieties and fears children have about starting child care. We understand how distressing it can be to leave your child, especially if they are upset. Be assured that if the educators are unable to settle your child, we will ring you.

    Even if a child has been in care before, they will still need time to adjust to the carers and an exciting new environment. But it always works. The majority of our babies go through this phase. And it takes 6 weeks on average!

    On average, most children take about three to six months to fully adapt to a new situation. The more your child engages in the daycare facility and any activities they offer, the faster they will adapt. In fact, some children have adjusted to daycare in as quickly as two weeks!

    Starting daycare can be a stressful time, for both babies and parents alike. Some babies will adapt quickly, while others will cry every morning for many weeks.

    If your child is unhappy at their daycare, their behaviour can become extreme. You might find they become very clingy, either not wanting you to leave them at the service, or becoming clingier at home. On the other hand, you may find they begin to ignore you.

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