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7 Hints for Easing Kids Through Childcare Changes

Adjusting to childcare can be hard, not only for the child but also for the parent. We found some tips that might be useful for those families that are enrolling a child for the first time in childcare, or making a change from one childcare center to another.

Q. We are moving and will be switching childcare centers. How can we help our 18-month-old son say goodbye to his current teacher (someone he adores) and transition to the new center?

A. Transitions can be hard for young children, especially toddlers who are, by nature, not fond of change. Being sensitive to the fact that this will be difficult for him, especially because he will also be dealing with the house move, is the most important first step.

Toddlers don't have a firm grasp on time, so don't start talking about the change in childcare until a week or two before the change will take place. Talking about a new preschool too far in advance may just create more anxiety. Toddlers do understand a lot, but may not be able to explain how they are feeling if they feel nervous or anxious. They can't begin to fully comprehend complex ideas such as making this kind of social transition by words alone.

Here are some ways to help him accept the change:

1. Ask your child's current teacher to write some brief notes about your son to share with his new caregiver. Some important issues to cover would be: how he handles transitions (does he/she do anything special to help with this?); what his routines are for naptimes and mealtimes; how to comfort him; and what his favorite toys, books, songs, and activities are. Sharing this information with your son's new caregiver helps to ensure some consistency in his life during a period of great changes and can ease the transition into a new childcare setting. KidsFirst Learning Center helps with this transition.

2. If possible, take him to see the new childcare center several times before he makes the actual transition. Let him explore the room where he will be cared for and meet the teachers, caregivers, and other children.

3. Read books with him about making changes. Children learn how to deal with life challenges through reading and storytelling. Hearing about the similar experiences of others can be a powerful way for young children to make sense of their own situation and may help them feel less alone.

4. Create ways to help your child remember and hold on to the past preschool or daycare. Take photos of the teacher, the room, the playground, his friends, his favorite toys, and create a memory book for him to look at at home.

5. Ask his teacher if there is something special she can give to your son/daughter such as a cuddly stuffed animal -- that he can take to the new center for comfort when he needs it. This kind of transitional object can help your son hold his old caregiver in his mind and provide the comfort he needs to adapt to his new setting. While some parents worry that these remembrances from the old center will be more upsetting and interfere with the transition, in fact, such keepsakes are very important. They help children remember and honor their experience in a special place. They also give children permission to express their feelings of loss and sadness, which is key to helping them move on and adapt to what comes next.

6. Have a special goodbye ritual for his last day. You can bring in his/her favorite snack or car ride music prepared and have a small party to celebrate their time there. Marking last-day events like this is important for helping children say goodbye. This is the time where you let him/her know ahead of time so there are ample opportunities for hugs and goodbyes.

7. During the first week in the new center, stay with him/her for an hour or two each morning. Gradually decrease the time you stay until you simply drop him off by the end of the week. He will take his cues from you; if you interact warmly with the new teachers and other children, he will know that the new center is a good and trusted place. KidsFirst teachers will help with this transition, and get the child involved in social and hands-on developmental activities fairly easily.

Taking a thoughtful and incremental approach will help your child successfully adjust to his new childcare setting. It will also help him learn how to cope with future changes as he/she grows.

By Claire Lerner


Did You Know. . .

  • KidsFirst has an "open door policy." This means parents can visit or call anytime, without notice.
  • KidsFirst play areas have cushioned floors and walls to avoid fall injuries and encourage first steps.
  • All KidsFirst babies – to 18 months – have their own cribs with their names; cribs are never shared.

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