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Preparing Children for Child Care

Rose Allen, Extension Educator – Family Relations; Reviewed by Ronald L. Pitzer, Family Sociologist

Reviewed July 2013 by Kathleen A. Olson, Program Director — Partnering for School Success.

New experiences are part of growing up. All children experience some change in their lives as they mature. Change can cause anxiety in children. Entering a new child care home or center is a common new experience for many children. Here are some things parents can do to make this change easier for your children and yourself.

Making the Change Easier

Choose Your Child Care Situation Carefully

As a parent, you have a big responsibility to choose the right child care for your child. Take time in making your decision. A careful search for child care will help you feel better about your decision. This is very important. You need to feel confident that your child is being cared for by people you trust, in a safe environment, and in a situation that allows your child to grow and develop to the best of his or her abilities.

Talk With Your Child about What Is Happening

New experiences can be scary. You can ease a lot of fears by talking to your children about going to child care if your children can understand. Let them know what is different about the new situation, as well as what is the same. Children need to know that they will come home at the end of the day to a family where they are loved very much. A good book to read to your child as you prepare him or her for child care is Going to Day Care by Fred Rogers.

Share Your Positive Attitude about Child Care with Your Child

Your child will feel good about going to child care if you feel good about your decision. Talk with your child about the toys, people, and activities he or she will experience in child care. Let your child know that going to child care is necessary and can be fun.

Begin New Child Care Situations Gradually

It’s frightening to be put in a new situation. Parents can help ease the transition by bringing their child to child care gradually. If it’s possible, try putting your child in only part time — for a few hours or half a day — for the first few days. This will also help the child care provider get to know your child before he or she spends full days there. You may find it helpful to spend time at the child care site yourself. Your presence will be comforting. Work together with the child care provider in creating a smooth transition to the child care routine. He or she can help your child adjust to new situations.

Establish Good Communication with Your Child Care Provider

Leaving a child in someone else’s care can be hard for parents. You may worry about your child’s behavior, whether or not the provider and the other children will like your child, and if the provider can understand and fulfill your child’s needs. Let your provider know as much as possible about your child. They need to know what words your child uses to ask for things, their nap, eating, and toilet habits, their likes and dislikes, and information about their general development. A quality provider will take your child's unique characteristics into consideration as they care for him or her. They will also provide you with some insights on how you both can work together to help your child adjust to a new situation.

Help Your Child Say Goodbye and Hello

It’s called transition time. This is when parents and children separate in the morning and return together in the evening. When child care is new, transition time can be very difficult not only for parents and children, but also for the child care providers. Children need to learn to trust the new situation. They also need to trust their parents and understand that leaving them in child care is not abandonment. They need to know you will return.

How Parents Can Help Their Child Adjust

The following list can help you help your child:

It Wil Take Time...

Every child is different. Some children will adjust to a new child care situation almost immediately. A few others will take several months. Some children will seem to adjust to the situation quickly, but then experience difficulty a few weeks or months later.

As a parent, it’s a good idea to check out how things are going with your child. For young children, you need to observe their behavior at home. Are they eating, sleeping, and interacting with the family normally? For older children, you need to talk with them about their day. Do things seem to be going well?

Talk with the child care provider. How does he or she feel your child’s adjustment is going? Is there an effort to make your child feel comfortable? Your child may cry when you leave, but in most cases she will recover quickly. If separation is a problem, talk to your provider about how long it takes your child to settle in for the day.

If you feel confident about your choice of child care and you know your child has trouble adapting to new situations, it’s best to keep them in that setting. Changing child care will mean that your child will have to start the process of adjusting all over again.

If your child seems to be very unhappy with the child care situation and your provider is making every effort to help, it may be a case where the child care you have selected doesn’t fit your child’s needs. In a case like this, a change in child care may be your best option.

Related Resources

Child Care Dilemmas: What Do I Do When... — No matter how good you feel about the child care that you have selected for your child, you still need to plan for certain situations.

Is My Child Ready for Kindergarten? — Questions to help determine if your child is ready for school.

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