One of the hardest things a new parent has to do is drop your child off at childcare for the first time. Your kid may be the one making a bigger scene (usually!) but it’s traumatic for both of you. Unfortunately, it’s also a fact of life for most of us these days.
Of course, if your baby is young enough, they won’t even notice the change in their living arrangements – or they’ll notice, but they won’t be upset by it. But when a child reaches six or seven months, they begin to develop strong feelings about who they want to spend their time with – you! And they will use every tool at their young disposal – crying, pleading, and my personal favorite, holding onto your leg so tightly they have to be peeled off one finger at a time.
It’s heart wrenching! But there are some things you can do to make it a little less so (for them at least).
The key lies in preparing them for what is a big change to their little world. And you can start with baby steps — for example, just getting them used to the idea that someone else will take care of them from time to time. So, bring someone to your house to care for them on their home turf before dropping them off somewhere. This way they will learn that mommy or daddy aren’t the only people in the world capable of keeping them safe.
When you select a place for regular childcare, the next step would be to visit it with your child without leaving them there. Just meeting the caregiver, seeing the two of you together and knowing that you like and trust this person will help pave the way for the first drop off.
When you’re ready to take that step, encourage your child to take something from home — a favorite toy or blanket, a piece of clothing — it can be anything just to remind them of their favorite place in the world and the fact that they’ll be back there soon enough.
And take advantage of every opportunity to talk with your child about childcare. Let them know that it will be happening and what they can expect – most of all, let them know that you (or someone else they know) will be back to pick them up at the end of every day and that you can’t wait to hear how their day was. You can also ease their anxiety by doing things like reading a book about going to childcare for the first time. Acknowledge that it’s scary, but only because it’s unfamiliar, and that they will be completely safe and well cared for until you are back to pick them up later. Kids love routine — they depend on it — and they find changes to it upsetting, so whatever you can do to anticipate changes and prepare them for them will be helpful.
Finally, when the time comes to drop them off, be strong, Mama! The longer you draw out the dropping off process, the longer they will try to make it next time. It’s incredibly hard to leave your child when they’re still crying and sad and upset. Acknowledging that they’re sad and letting them know you’re sad too and you’ll miss them, but you’ll be back in a few hours and then leaving will quickly make them accustomed to their new routine. A friend of mine loves to tell the story of how she left her distraught son at childcare and less than a minute later was back to pick something up that she accidentally left. She was amazed to see that the kid who was so upset just a short while ago was already laughing with one of the other kids!
As always, be patient, be supportive and be in charge and this new phase of your child’s life will be just like the last phase: part of their routine.
Recommended Reading:￼Preparing Your Child for Child Care - HealthyChildren.org