Settling into childcare
The heart-wrenching sobs and
the rather awkward leg cling-on need not be an ongoing part of your
childcare drop-off routine. Early childhood educator Michelle
Hewlett shares some strategies for settling.
Whether your child is starting with a childcare centre, kindy,
home-based childcare, au pair, or nanny, here are some tips to
assist your whole family through the settling process.
Making the choice to start your child in
childcare is a huge decision and one that you need to be
emotionally ready for in order for your child to settle. It's
important not to show your child any negative emotions you may be
feeling about leaving them in childcare. Children can easily pick
up on these feelings, which will make them apprehensive and anxious
Is childcare a good choice for my child?
In 2008, 95% of all Kiwi children under the age of five were
enrolled in some sort of early childhood education. Studies show
that early childhood participation can lead to positive social and
academic skills, which set children up for a lifetime of learning
It's important for you and your child to
become comfortable with the routines and rituals of the centre,
home-based caregiver, nanny, or au pair, so you both know what to
expect when you start. Getting to know the teachers or caregivers
will help you to feel more at ease about leaving your child with
them. Having an allocated primary caregiver can further assist the
settling process as children have the opportunity to form a close
relationship with one staff member (Brownlee, 2008).
During your visits to the centre or caregiver prior to starting,
it's good to try and be really boring, so your child wants to move
away from you and explore their new surroundings. Be there
emotionally for your child. They may need some encouragement and
reassurance about starting, as they too will be feeling anxious and
unsure about the huge change that is about to occur in their life.
Keep explanations about starting care positive and simple so you do
not confuse them. For example, tell your child, "Tomorrow is your
first day at your new centre. You're going to go to make lots of
When it's time for the parent to leave, I
have observed that children tend to show one of three main
The perfect story: Your child
slots right in to the centre, makes friends, participates in
routines, and shows no signs of issues in settling. This is quiet
abnormal, but does happen for some children who have had a lot of
social experiences already.
Fine initially, then flip
out: On the first few sessions alone, your child is fine,
seeming to have settled well into care, then... MELTDOWN! What is
going on? They were fine last week!
This is hugely alarming for parents and
they often feel that something must have gone wrong for their child
to suddenly change. What is actually happening is that your child
has just realised that you're really gone and the novelty of coming
to this new place has worn off. Don't be alarmed if this happens;
it is a perfectly normal part of transitioning. Refer to the
section below on how to settle your child when this happens.
The loud transition: This
really is a parent's heartbreak; a terrible, heavy feeling of
emotional pull on your heart as you pry your screaming child's
fingers from your hair and shoulder and hand her over. As terrible
as this is for all parents, once you have made the decision to
leave, you must leave, and preferably quickly. Prolonging the
process or returning when they are upset is only going to make
things worse, as this confuses your child. You need to work closely
with the teachers and caregivers so they can be ready to assist you
through this process. It is perfectly natural for you to become
emotional throughout the process, but please, if you are going to
have leaky eyes, it's a good idea to wait till you are out of sight
of your child (since you've already told them how happy you are
that they are going to be in this new place!).
After your child has attended a couple of
sessions, the crying may start the morning of daycare or in the car
on the way there. This is also normal, as anxiety rises at the
thought of you leaving. Maintaining calmness during this time
encourages your child to realise that you are confident in their
ability to settle and have fun with you gone. If the same procedure
is carried out prior to arriving and during the drop off, your
child will begin to understand that you will come back for them,
and it actually starts to become fun to be at childcare. Once your
child gains a sense of belonging, they will start exploring their
surroundings, and begin to engage in social activity and develop a
passion for knowledge that sets them up for a lifetime of
So what happens after I leave?
Every child is different; therefore, it's up to teachers to judge
the situation after you leave. Remember, every childcare centre has
their own philosophy on how to assist children through the settling
process. Ask your centre about the strategies they will use when
settling your child. Some children want to be physically comforted,
and have a cuddle or rub on the back to help them through the
process. Others wish to be left alone. When this happens, it is
good for teachers or caregivers to respect the child's choice and
either leave the child to self-soothe, approaching him/her at
five-minute intervals to offer comfort or company. Or the teacher
can sit next to the child (if it's wanted) and be simply there to
support the child in their choice they have made for settling. In
their own time, your child will decide it's rather boring where
they are, and seek social interaction or explore this new and
exciting environment that is eager to be discovered (Gerber and
When it's time for pick-up
You've peeked through the door to see your child playing happily,
but when they see you, they explode into tears again! But they
should be happy to see you, right?
They are, but seeing you reminds them of
the separation that took place a few hours earlier. This, too, will
lessen as time goes on. Occasionally, a settled child will do this
for other reasons; for example, if they have lost their favourite
teddy or stopped using their dummy. As adults, we need to remember
that a child's world is much smaller than ours, and it takes only
the tiniest of things to upset it.
Each time your child will cry less and
less and eventually come to terms with the separation process. Be
prepared for this to take a few weeks, depending on how many days a
week your child is in childcare. The bigger the gap between
sessions, the longer the settling process can be. Persevere and
work with your child's teachers to help the settling process and
strengthen the bond between you, your child, and the centre or
caregiver. Be comforted in knowing that it is a perfectly normal
process to go through, and focus on the learning opportunities that
await your child.
Tips to help with settling
- Send your child's favourite blanket or snuggle toy from
home as a comfort.
- Give teachers some general information about your child,
such as what interests them or who your family members are, so they
have something to talk to your child about when you are gone.
- Request to have an allocated primary caregiver, one
particular teacher for your child to develop a relationship
- On arrival, encourage your child to become involved in an
- Always say goodbye. Sneaking out gives children a
terrible fright when they realise you are gone and makes them much
more apprehensive about coming again.
- Once you've said goodbye, leave. The more you fuss over
your child, the louder they will become. Prolonging the process
only makes your child's anxiety worse.
- Make a book with your child. You can take photos of where
their bag gets hung up, where they wash their hands, eat lunch, who
their teachers are, etc. This way you can have a little bit of the
centre at home and your child can reassure themselves by referring
back to their book at any time.
- Have short, positive discussions about starting care with
your child. Tell them how happy and excited you are about them
coming to the new place.
- Some parents find it helpful to arrange playdates with
children from the centre.
- Read books with your child about starting childcare. Some
great ones are The Things I Love about School by Trace Moroney,
Stevie's First Day by Peggy Ballantyne, and Tom & Small by
Michelle Hewlett (BTchg ECE) is an
Early Childhood Team Leader and Registered Teacher for Kids 1st
Childcare. Michelle has been settling young children and their
families in early childhood educational settings for over eight
* Brownlee, P. Dance with Me in The Heart. Christchurch: The New
Zealand Playcentre Federation, 2008.
* Gerber, M, and Johnson, A. Your self-confident baby. USA: John
Wiley & Sons, Inc, 1998.
* Tolley, A. "Keynote Address to Australian Schools Education and
Childhood Congress." 6 May 2009.
As seen in OHbaby!
magazine Issue 11: 2010
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