So. You've made the decision to put your infant in daycare. You've visited different places and picked the one that seems to work out the best for you and your family. Of course, you're still concerned about how your baby will adjust to childcare and hoping that everything will turn out fine. As an infant daycare worker myself, I have heard myself and my co-workers say many a time, "I wish parents knew X, Y, or Z before starting, because it would make life easier for them AND their baby." Well, rather than keep this information to myself, I'd like to share five things you can do to ensure a smoother transition.
1. Make sure baby will accept other caregivers.
I have had babies in some of my rooms whose parents have told me they refuse to take a bottle from anyone except Mom and Dad. A bad situation for everyone is a hungry baby who won't take a bottle at daycare - they need to eat! I've also had children who won't nap unless a parent puts them to sleep. While you'd think these babies would eventually just take a bottle or go to sleep, there are some stubborn children out there. I had one 10-month-old boy in my classroom who, for weeks, would refuse to have any more than one bottle and a jar of baby food, or sleep more than 10 minutes, during his 9-hour day with us. As you might imagine, this was not easy for him or his family, who felt horribly guilty. This generally is more of an issue for older infants. If your baby is under 6 months old, or you know she has no problem with other people taking care of her, don't worry. Also, you should expect an adjustment phase at first. But if your child refuses to go down for a nap at Grandma's or take a bottle from Uncle Joe, it may be the same at daycare. No fear, though - just try to make small changes where you can. Maybe a visiting friend or relative can give baby a bottle or lunch, or you can try feeding in a totally new place. Same idea for nap time. Easing her into the idea that new routines aren't all bad can definitely help her at daycare.
2. Have an idea of baby's schedule and cues.
Not all babies necessarily operate on a schedule. Many parents will just feed baby when he seems hungry and put him to sleep when he seems tired, and thus have no idea how often he eats or sleeps. For a week (or longer if you prefer) before daycare starts, you may want to record approximately when he wakes up each morning as well as the times of each feeding and nap. Some babies are like clockwork and you'll see that he eats about every 3 hours and sleeps every 2 hours. Maybe he always nurses or has a bottle at 11, eats lunch at 12, and a nap at 1. Or you may notice that he generally eats every 2-4 hours and naps every 1-3 hours, but that this varies. Either way, it's helpful to have some sort of idea so you can let the care providers know what to expect. They may anticipate that he'll eat every 3 hours, and so knowing that sometimes he gets hungry again within an hour and a half will make it easier for them to know what he needs, and thus better for him. Also, have an idea of what his cues are. Besides crying when he's hungry or yawning when he's sleepy, are there any other things he does when he needs something? Many younger babies start sucking on their fists or smacking their lips in the air when they are hungry, or older babies may have a specific fuss. Some children will pull on their ears when they are tired. This is all great information for your baby's caregiver. You don't need to write them a book or anything, but a general idea is really helpful.
3. Make sure baby can sleep through noise.
This one is REALLY important. You may be tempted to silence the household when your baby's asleep, but being able to sleep with background noise is a great skill to teach her. She will be one of quite a few children in the room, which can get loud (as you'd imagine!), and she'll nap far better if she can snooze through the occasional commotion. If the slightest noise keeps her up, it sure won't be easy on her. Other babies in the room who operate on a different schedule can keep her from sleeping well, which in turn can make life harder for you at home with an overtired, grumpy baby. You can help her out with this by continuing to talk with your family, use appliances like your vacuum cleaner, listen to music, or watch TV at normal volumes when she's asleep. Also, you could play a radio station near her crib while she's napping - the changing tones and volumes as the songs, DJs, and commercials change can be pretty good practice for sleeping through the noise associated with daycare.
4. Help baby entertain himself.
At home, you may be in the habit of constantly holding and playing with your baby. That's great! Your baby most certainly benefits from all this positive interaction with you. However, it's also great to help him realize that he can check things out on his own without you or another adult right there with him. Of course, at any reputable daycare, your child would never be left alone in the room. But bear in mind that the children will definitely outnumber the adults. There might be times where the caregivers are giving a bottle, changing a diaper, dealing with a boo-boo, or otherwise occupied. If your little guy needs to be held all the time, it will be difficult for him to deal with having to wait while other things get taken care of. On the other hand, if he feels comfortable chilling out and entertaining himself for some time, he won't feel stressed when his care provider is helping another child. Bonus? You can put him down to get some chores done around the house without worrying about him screaming. Ways to encourage this are singing while you hold him, putting him down with something interesting, and continuing to sing as you move away from him gradually. This way, he can hear that you're still around. Also, try putting him down with some cool toys to play with or look at when he's in a good mood and more likely to interact with them.
5. Plan a goodbye routine.
This is useful for older infants, especially as they approach the separation anxiety phase. Your child may cry as you put her down and walk away, which is completely normal - and can be completely heart-breaking! Running out the door before she notices may actually make her separation anxiety worse, and hovering around may make it that much harder for her when you do leave. If she knows there is a specific routine, it can make it easier because she'll know what to expect. Maybe you'll come in holding her and tell the caregivers any information they'll need to know - how she slept last night, when she last ate, any medicine she's on, etc. Give her a hug and a kiss before putting her down - maybe in front of a preferred toy or book - and then say your goodbyes. Of course, this is just one suggestion, and there are many things you might choose to do. I really recommend not leaving without saying goodbye, but also not sticking around once you do say goodbye. This way she knows that when you say goodbye, you leave. Hanging around because she's upset may actually make her more likely to cry, if she thinks that it will keep you there. Leaving as soon as she's distracted by something else without saying anything may make her separation anxiety worse, because she'll know you could just disappear at any moment. Try not to feel too bad if she bawls as you say bye and walk out the door - this is 100% normal, and your daycare providers will probably expect it. Most of the time, children calm down within minutes of their parents' departure, since this age group can be so easily distracted. You can always give a call later on to see how her day's going if you're worried about her drop-off.
While there's always going to be an adjustment period as your baby gets used to a new situation and a new caregiver, these tips can help make things easier on everyone!
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