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Getting Emotionally Ready for Daycare

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Dropping off your baby at daycare for the first time exciting, but it’s also filled with intense emotions. Many parents are returning to work after parental leave or a career pause, or adjusting to work transitions and new schedules. For those who had pandemic babies, this may be the first time they’re leaving their baby with a caregiver ever. The stress is real.

Getting ready for daycare requires adjustment both logistically and emotionally, but there are many strategies available for coping with change that might even get you excited about your new chapter.

Dr. Ilyse Dobrow DiMarco is a clinical psychiatrist specializing in maternal anxiety. She says often her patients are relieved for life to be returning to normal, but the stress associated with leaving their child’s care to someone else for the first time can be monumental.

If you are transitioning your infant or toddler to professional child care for the first time and are worried and anxious, you are most definitely not alone. And, according to Dr. Dobrow DiMarco, there are things you can control and ways to ease the anxiety.

Here are six tips to help ease the transition as get your baby (and you!) ready for daycare.

Set expectations.

Transitions are always tough, even if you are transitioning to something new and exciting. The first thing to keep in mind is that it’s always going to be rocky at first.

You may also expect an outburst of big feelings a few days into your new routine as your young child realizes that, yes, this is their new routine.

“That is completely normal and that doesn’t mean they’re having a bad time at school,” Rachel Duda, Vivvi’s VP of Learning, says. “It just means some of these big feelings they didn’t anticipate in the beginning are now coming about.”

Keep the the “Two Week Rule” in mind, says Dr. Dobrow DiMarco. There is often so much anxiety around starting something new that parents panic right away if their child has a few rough days. Try not to worry until the “rough days” hit the two week mark. If it’s still very bad after two weeks, then you can problem solve.

Set a schedule.

At least a week ahead of time, create a morning routine and a list of supplies your child will need each day – and talk it through with your co-parent.

Toddlers can help with this, too. You can practice the new morning routine in advance and let them help pack their own bag. For younger babies and infants, you can still include them by narrating the process of what you are packing and why.

Relinquish control.

Recognize that your child’s caregivers are professionals who know what they’re doing. Things may be different with a nanny or in child care than they are at home, but that’s okay. It’s not bad, just different.

If you’re waiting anxiously for photos or videos from your caregiver, Dr. Dobrow DiMarco suggests distracting yourself the first day by taking time off work and doing something just for you. “The idea is to not be thinking about this every second of the day,” she says.

If that doesn’t work for you, try setting a timer and limiting yourself to one check an hour. Checking constantly on your child will become less of an addictive novelty once you and your child become more comfortable.

Show compassion for yourself.

“The term self care is tricky because it conjures images of pedicures,” Dr. Dobrow DiMarco says, “but when I think about self care I think about anything that’s restorative for you personally.”

She tells her patients to make an exhaustive list of things that are restorative for themselves outside of parenting or working. Big things and small things. Then schedule one activity everyday, whether it’s an all day hike, 15 minutes of reading a new novel or 5 minutes of a meditation app. You need and deserve that.

Handling difficult feedback.

When caregivers have information about your child that might be difficult to hear – biting, for example – try to listen.

Many times when parents hear difficult information they immediately become defensive, Dr. Dobrow DiMarco says. Instead, she suggests listening and finding out how you can work with the caregiver to stop the problematic behavior.

Good questions to ask your caregiver about a difficult situation are: Can you tell me what that looked like? Can you tell me more about the situation?

Be assertive, but kind.

When you have an issue with the way a situation is being handled – perhaps your child is missing naps – think about approaching the conversation in terms of yourself and your child, not what the caregiver is doing wrong.

Assertiveness is just about asking for what you need in a direct way,” Dr. Dobrow DiMarco says. “There are ways to do this that facilitate a good relationship with the caregiver or school.”

A lot of this is simply not using you-statements that put the caregiver in a defensive position. Instead, try approaching the situation as how can the two of you work together to achieve a goal for your child.

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