How to help your baby settle in to childcare

Starting childcare can be a huge emotional and practical transition for both you and your baby. It’s a new routine, a new environment, new caregivers, and possibly the first time your baby will experience some separation from you.

We know what a difficult adjustment it can be for the whole family, so we’ve put together these tips to make it smoother and reduce the tears at drop-off (yours and bubs!). Your daycare centre or family daycare will have plenty of suggestions to help your baby settle in to childcare.

Be organised

Take care of all the practical stuff the night before to reduce stress in the mornings. Ensure their clothing is labelled and out the night before. If you have to pack lunchboxes, do that also the night before if possible. Pack their bags, get your clothes ready, and get some of the breakfast ready. Anything to help the mornings run smoothly is fantastic.

Allow time for connection

Being organised in the mornings can also hopefully give you the opportunity for some special time together before you start the day. Fill your little one’s emotional cup with a cuddle, a story, or a breast or bottle feed. If you can’t squeeze this into your mornings, try to do it when you get home together, even for 10 minutes, before the busy evening routine starts.

Pack comfort items

You could give them a new soft toy or comforter that is specially for daycare, or something already familiar and loved. Remember to pack their dummies, sleeping bags, their favourite book, and anything they can associate with you. Give their educators a family photo – they often have a family tree or a wall dedicated to photos of the children’s families that provides some comfort to little ones.

Start slowly

Starting slowly is the key to easing into childcare. This can depend on your baby, so be guided by them on how slowly the transition period is. Allow time for several orientation sessions, in which you will stay with them for an hour or two, and gradually leave them for a short period while you wait in the childcare centre. Then, start by only leaving them for half days if you can, and gradually extending how long they stay.

Build a relationship with the educators

Starting slowly not only allows your baby to get accustomed to their new environment and routine with the reassurance of having you nearby, it also allows time to establish a connection with their new caregivers. A child who has a trusting and warm relationship with the educators will feel secure and happier about leaving your arms.

Say goodbye

Talk positively about childcare before you leave home. If you’ve allowed a few weeks to help settle your little one in, it’s time to say goodbye. This can be hard, and you might be tempted to stay and wait until they’re distracted and then sneak out. This should be avoided, and instead goodbyes need to be short, calm, loving, and confident. Give your child a kiss and a hug, say goodbye to them, and leave with a smile on your face.

What if they cry at drop-off every time?

Distressed and teary drop-offs are heartbreaking. You wouldn’t let them cry like that any other time, so you might be wondering if it’s doing any harm to them. According to leading psychologist, Karen Young, regarding this upsetting separation:

‘As long as you are still with them, their amygdala (the part of the brain responsible for anxiety) will have hope that the separation won’t happen, and it will keep the fight or flight response going. Once you leave, the amygdala registers futility. Only then can your young one’s brain and body rest. The neurochemical surge that is driving the physical, emotional and behavioural symptoms of anxiety will start to neutralise and their anxiety will start to ease’.

Once the brain registers futility like this, they will build resilience. Karen suggests that parents can remind themselves that their child is safe, is in the care of wonderful caregivers, and that they are providing the experiences that will build courage. If you phone their educator, or sneak a little peek into the room a few moments later, you will probably discover that they have moved on with their day quite quickly.