Preparing Your Child for their First Day of Childcare

By Venita Rutley

Preparing to enter the workforce, or return to the workforce after maternity leave can be a very busy, stressful time for you and your child/ children. 

So many considerations; which centre will suit me and my child?  What are my expectations of a centre that I am going to leave my child with? How will I know that my child is settled and happy? Is the staff genuinely interested in my child and their interests and development?  From the moment we make the decision to leave our children with others outside of our own family environment, it is very normal that we begin to think about how to best prepare for this transition.

Children are incredibly intuitive and pick up on the emotions of their primary caregivers. If we feel doubtful and stressed about leaving our child with others, it is reasonable to acknowledge that our children are going to pick up on these emotions. So how do we best prepare our child for this transition whilst still managing our own emotions?

Trust your gut instincts. You may have visited numerous centres to choose the one that feels right and is going to suit not only our needs, but more importantly the needs of our child. You have met the staff, spent time going on a tour, and having orientation visits. I would encourage you to take your child in for as many orientation days that you can. By doing this at different times throughout the day, it will help your child to know what the routine entails, as well as the most important part- building relationships with their carers and other children to help with the first few days of settling in. Talk with the staff about what to expect on your first day of being in care. This will help reassure you that your little ones will be in good hands.

Before your child begins

Drive past your centre, stop and walk around the outside, explain how many sleeps there is until your child starts playing with new friends and new toys. Acknowledge that you will be busy at work while your child will be busy having fun and playing. Give as many positive details as possible; say things like: you will do lots of painting, building with blocks, playing with train sets etc. Ask them what they are excited about and share in this excitement with them.

Start getting up at the time you will when your child starts care, prior to the actual start date. Set the morning routine where possible, so your child will know what to expect:  getting changed, having breakfast, brushing teeth and so on. 

Help your child get into the routine through asking for their help to pack their bags; putting in extra labelled clothes, a comforter if required and a named drink bottle. If the centre does not provide food, it is always advisable to put in more food than what they would normally eat at home, just in case.

On the first day, and possibly for the following few days while your child is settling, try to get to the centre with time to spare. This way, both you and your child have plenty of time to talk with the staff, organise your child’s belongings, sign any extra paperwork required, and have that extra few minutes to reassure both yourself and your child before you have to leave. When it is time for you to leave, it might be emotional for you both, especially if your child is upset.  Explain to your child it is time for you to go to work so that they can have fun playing. Give a kiss and a cuddle to your child then give your child over to the staff to settle.  After that, wave goodbye and leave. The staff will keep your child engaged in an experience, or provide comfort if your child requires some extra attention. If the centre feels your child is not settling in well, they will call you.  You are very welcome to call the centre whenever you feel the need to check in on your child and see how they are settling. At the end of the day, when you pick your child up ask them to show you what they have been doing. Let them know you missed them, but you are happy to see they have had a great day.

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