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Easing the Daycare and Childcare Transition and Fostering Child Development

Social Development

Let’s Discuss The Transition to Daycare

Childcare programs can have a substantial positive impact on the social development of your child. However, these advantages can come at the price of emotional stress for both parent and child. Luckily, there are many ways to ease the transition into daycare and minimize stress for you and your child at childcare drop off.

No two children are the same, so it is essential to consider your specific child’s needs and the workings of your chosen childcare facility. Before committing to a daycare, be sure to inquire about the transition options. You may be allowed to select the dropoff time and overall length of the transition to daycare.

I believe that infants require more extended transition periods. This is based on attachment figures and separation anxiety.


Daycare Transition Timing Can vary

Transitions periods can be 1-2 weeks, and in my experience, most facilities offer a 1week transition. While one week may be suitable for children 18 months and up, I believe infants require more extended transition periods. This is based on attachment figures and separation anxiety. Your child has developed an intense emotional bond and attachment with you, causing emotional distress when you leave them, which most often manifests as separation anxiety. There are different separation anxiety stages, and it is typically heightened once between 6-7 months then again at ten months.


Daycare and Separation Anxiety

While separation anxiety can be frustrating, often, it’s just part of the deal and not indicative of a developmental problem. It is a normal stage in your child’s development that will likely progress to healthier attachments over time. This separation anxiety in infants can occur whenever their primary caregivers leave, whether to go to work, go grocery shopping, or even just leave the room. Because of this, it’s easy to imagine the stress a child will feel when they transition to attending childcare away from the attachment figure for the entire day. Children do not have a concept of time as an adult. A few hours at daycare feels like a full day of stress, fear, and all sorts of negative emotions.

Infants encounter anxiety when their primary caregivers leave, whether it is to go to work, go grocery shopping, or at times as simple as leaving the room.

Having a schedule will make the transition to daycare easier. A plan should be sorted out beforehand with a childcare facility.

For children 18 months and up, it should be about a weeklong and look similar to this one:

  • Day 1 9:30 am-10:30 am (parent stays with child)
  • Day 2 9:30-10:30 am
  • Day 3 9:30-12:30 am
  • Day 4 9:30-2:30 pm
  • Day 5 Full Day

In addition to a transition schedule, ask the daycare for information about the structure of your child’s day in the facility. You can then start to mimic the system at home to get your child acclimated to any changes.

To assist them successfully through this time, I recommend having a special toy/animal.


Daycare Schedules Can Be A Challenge

It won’t be easy for all children to follow the schedule. I recommend having a special toy/animal to ease the process. You can even sleep with the animal for a few nights, so it has your scent. Bringing a family picture for your child to carry around with them can also dampen any negative emotions. Having a dropoff checklist ready to go ensures you don’t forget any of these items and trigger more stress from your child. It is important to tell your child that you love them and that you will be back after a particular activity (lunchtime, nap time, or outdoor play). This way, your child can anticipate your return. Finally, I would also ask the childcare workers to have one teacher stay with your child until he/she is comfortable. This way, he/she will have the opportunity to bond with that teacher and build trust with them.

It’s not a good idea to try and trick your child during drop-off by leaving when they’re distracted or telling them you’ll be back in a few minutes. It is better to say a short goodbye, give your child the necessary information, and be on your way. Lying to them will only break the sense of trust and make drop off even harder the next time.

For an infant, I would have a 2-week transition that looks similar to this:

  • Day 1 9:30-10:00 am (Parent stays with Child)
  • Day 2 9:30-10:30am
  • Day 3 9:30-11:00am
  • Day 4 9:30-11:30am
  • Day 5 9:30-12:30pm
  • Day 6 9:30-1:30pm
  • Day 7 9:30-2:30pm
  • Day 8 9:30-3:30pm
  • Day 9 9:30-4:30pm
  • Day 10 Full Day

I recommend that you return to your child when he/she is not crying; this way, you can praise them for doing a great job while you were away. This will also leave them with positive emotions about their time spent at childcare. The child will notice that each time you’ve returned, they were happy and eventually keep up the right behavior.

I have made this transition long because while most infants can handle 4 hours of being away from their secure attachment (parent) with a few sad moments, anything longer can be much harder on the child and negatively affect the experience. If you have flexibility with your work, I would recommend the above for a few weeks and then extend the time once your child is more comfortable with the facility, routine, and teachers.

Even if you make sure every aspect of your dropoff is perfect, likely, your child will still cry (you may too)! It’s a normal reaction that doesn’t need to be punished. Be prepared for tears, and be careful not to project too much frustration on your child.

This Isn’t Easy, But Has Its Rewards!

While the process isn’t always easy, it’s worth it for a high-quality care facility. You may find yourself feeling guilty for inflicting stress on your child, but daycare is associated with positive outcomes for child development. You may likely find your child more socially inclined, exhibit better behavioral and emotional regulation, and display cognitive and language skills. Any child will experience stress at some point, so try to relax and understand that you’re doing the best for your kid.

Speak to the childcare facility supervisor to ensure they can work with you and your child to ensure a smooth transition.
Remember that your child will still love you at the end of the day, no matter what!

Read more on child-parent attachment and social development.


Dr. Dina Kulik

Dr. Dina Kulik, MD, FRCPC, PEM
Written By: Dr. Dina Kulik, MD, FRCPC, PEM

Dina is a wife, mother of 4, and adrenaline junky. She loves to share children’s health information from her professional and personal experience. More About Dr Dina.

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