Heading off to daycare and leaving Mommy or Daddy behind is a colossal milestone in a child’s life. There is no exact method for determining which child will happily wave and run off to play and which one will take one look at the new surroundings and promptly superglue herself to a parent’s leg. If yours is one of those superglue kids, here are some ideas to help her loosen her grip and enjoy her new experience.
Take small steps to reach your separation goal.
Some children have increased anxiety if they go from a familiar setting to a brand-new situation or a longer separation schedule. It can help to slowly “wean” a child to her new routine. If she is struggling, see if you can arrange to build up to a full day’s schedule over time. Begin with a one- or two-hour segment for a few days, progress to a slightly longer period, and eventually to a full day. If you can spread this process over several weeks, it may help your child ease into a full program.
Plan for readjustments.
Many children start the week off slowly, but after several days of the routine, they settle in. Regression can happen after days off, particularly long weekends or vacations. After having three or four days off with you at home, your child has to readjust to the routine. When getting back into the swing of things after a weekend or vacation, make sure you stick to your normal bedtime, wake up early, and allow the morning routine to be a peaceful one. You don’t want to have to hit the ground running after time off. Plan for some quiet time when your child arrives home to unload the stresses of the day. A walk outside, a bike ride, or a trip to the park can do wonders to settle your child into the week.
Encourage friendships with home playdates.
Ask your child’s caregiver if there are any friends with whom your child has connected. Set up a few playdates with these children at your home. Make each visit relatively short, as too long a visit can be tiring for a child who is new to this kind of socializing. Plan ahead to have a craft or game ready, plus a meal or a snack, as some children will find a full session of unsupervised free time difficult to navigate.
Coordinate arrival with other families.
If you can, coordinate your daily walk or ride to daycare with another family’s. Having a friend along can change the dynamics of the drop-off routine dramatically. If your child resists the idea of the other parenting driving, then don’t push it—if you’re willing, be the sole chauffeur to allow your child this visiting time with a friend. Once they’ve bonded on the daily drive for a few weeks, then suggest the other parent take a turn and see how things progress.
Remain calm when your child is anxious.
When other adults are waving good-bye to their confident children and your little one is crying and clinging to your leg for dear life, it’s easy to become flustered. You can be most helpful to your child when you convey a peaceful demeanor to her.
Be certain you have your child in the right place.
On occasion, separation anxiety issues do not originate from a child’s developmental issues but, instead, from a poor fit between the child and the care provider. Those nagging feelings you have may be based on more than just missing your child; they may be intuition that something is not quite right.