Day­care: Oh happy days!

Day­care: Mov­ing your tot from a home en­vi­ron­ment can be tough for both you and your child. How­ever, there’s plenty you can do to make the tran­si­tion a happy one, writes Lori Co­hen

Your Baby & Toddler - - News -

WHEN IS THE RIGHT TIME?

THERE’S NO PLACE like home. This old say­ing may be par­tially true, but for par­ents con­sid­er­ing send­ing their baby or tod­dler to day­care, rest as­sured there are also ben­e­fits to spend­ing one’s day sur­rounded by other chil­dren and adults.

You may know that fact ra­tio­nally, but the tears your lit­tle one sheds when you leave them may send your mommy guilt into over­drive. But, says ed­u­ca­tional psy­chol­o­gist Anel An­nan­dale, day­care as a child­care so­lu­tion can be a pos­i­tive move in your child’s de­vel­op­ment, ig­nit­ing their lan­guage ac­qui­si­tion and fos­ter­ing so­cial skills.

The ques­tion many moms ask is: When is the right time to en­rol my child in day­care? There is no per­fect time – and for many work­ing moms they don’t have the lux­ury of choice. Dif­fer­ent ages have dif­fer­ent con­se­quences, says Anel.

In­fants will feel the ef­fects of sep­a­ra­tion anx­i­ety less than those who are nine months or older, which is a plus. How­ever, the fact that your baby can­not com­mu­ni­cate with you ver­bally poses other chal­lenges, says Anel. “They can­not tell you what their day was like, what they en­joyed, or how they were treated. With older chil­dren they can tell you what they did, but the ini­tial sep­a­ra­tion from you may up­set them,” she con­tin­ues.

Tim­ing, rather than the child’s age, is some­thing you should con­sider, how­ever, says Anel. “Many par­ents choose to make the change when a new baby is born. If you are go­ing to put your tod­dler into day­care or preschool you should rather get them into a com­fort­able rou­tine long be­fore the baby ar­rives,” says Anel, as this re­duces the amount of change your tod­dler has to cope with all at once.

The temperamen­t of your child is an­other con­sid­er­a­tion, as well as their home sit­u­a­tion, says Anel. “Chil­dren

who have no sib­lings may be ex­cited by the in­ter­ac­tion and so­cial­i­sa­tion they get at day­care, which makes the tran­si­tion eas­ier. Kids who have sib­lings may also find it eas­ier to in­ter­act and share with other kids than those who don’t have sib­lings.” QUAL­ITY COUNTS Ei­ther way, a day­care en­vi­ron­ment is a mi­cro­cosm of the world and can play an im­por­tant part in your child’s so­cial, phys­i­cal and other de­vel­op­ment. The ef­fec­tive­ness of this re­ally comes down to the qual­ity of child­care your child re­ceives there. A study con­ducted by Prince­ton Univer­sity showed that early ex­po­sure to child­care could leave young chil­dren at risk for trou­bled re­la­tion­ships if the care they re­ceive at day­care is poor.

“Re­spon­sive care­givers who sur­round chil­dren with lan­guage, warmth, and chances to learn are the key to good out­comes. Other qual­ity at­tributes (like train­ing and staff-to-child ra­tios) mat­ter be­cause they fos­ter pos­i­tive care­giv­ing,” report Deb­o­rah Phillips and Gina Adams who con­ducted the study.

In or­der to en­sure that your child will be get­ting care that is ben­e­fi­cial to them, you should spend a cou­ple of hours at the day­care with your child on a trial ba­sis be­fore you en­rol them, sug­gests Anel. Do the car­ers sur­round them with rich lan­guage and stim­u­lat­ing play? What is the staff turnover like? It’s prefer­able for your child to be able to bond and rely on the same in­di­vid­u­als. How many car­ers are there? Three to four in­fants per care­giver is rec­om­mended. Does the care­giver re­spond quickly to the chil­dren’s need for at­ten­tion or are they fre­quently ig­nored? Does she help fos­ter pos­i­tive friend­ships? Is she pa­tient or eas­ily over­whelmed by frus­tra­tion?

The amount of time your child spends in the care of oth­ers is also some­thing that has come un­der scru­tiny. A re­cent US Na­tional In­sti­tute of Child Health and Hu­man De­vel­op­ment (NICHD) study showed that chil­dren who spent more time in non­ma­ter­nal care be­tween the ages of one and four were per­ceived by their preschool teach­ers as more ag­gres­sive, as­sertive, and de­fi­ant than chil­dren of the same age who spent less time in child­care. It also showed that th­ese chil­dren were bet­ter pre­pared for aca­demic work at school.

A SICKLY SIT­U­A­TION If you have the op­tion, Anel says, the op­ti­mal time to wait un­til you en­rol your child in day­care is three years old. But this has a health, rather than emo­tional, im­pli­ca­tion. “A child’s im­mune sys­tem is still de­vel­op­ing be­fore this, which means they will be ex­posed to ill­ness on a daily ba­sis at day­care. A rou­tine and at­ten­dance dis­rupted by re­cur­ring ill­ness can leave them un­set­tled and ag­gra­vate sep­a­ra­tion anx­i­ety.” Im­mune boosting sup­ple­ments, con­tin­u­ing with breast­feed­ing at night and teach­ing your child about hand wash­ing and hy­giene are all strate­gies you as a par­ent can put in place to min­imise ill­ness.

There’s good news too. You will be set­ting your child up for bet­ter health in later life. A study pub­lished in the jour­nal Archives of Pe­di­atrics and Ado­les­cent Medicine showed that ba­bies who at­tend large group child­care cen­tres be­fore they were 2 ½ years of age do get more res­pi­ra­tory and ear in­fec­tions than those cared for at home, but they are less likely to come down with th­ese ail­ments once they start school.

If you are un­sure if your child is “ready”, Anel says you should con­sider the fol­low­ing. “There are lev­els of readi­ness depend­ing on the age of the child. After the age of two you would look for signs of them want­ing to so­cialise. Do they seem bored or frus­trated at home, are they able to com­mu­ni­cate their needs? Are they okay with sep­a­rat­ing from you for cer­tain pe­ri­ods of time and are they potty trained?” she ex­plains.

PREP­PING AHEAD There are strate­gies you can put in place to help pre­pare your child. Mak­ing the space fa­mil­iar is a great place to start. “Even com­ment­ing on the school when you drive past is use­ful. Say things like ‘That’s go­ing to be your new school. Re­mem­ber, Mommy is go­ing to drop you off and fetch you af­ter­wards,’ for ex­am­ple. Then ease them in with a short visit to the cen­tre and later meet the car­ers. If you do this, don’t hover over them. Let them ex­plore the en­vi­ron­ment them­selves,” sug­gests Anel. Also check in on your at­ti­tude. “Your child can pick up on your anx­i­ety.”

In younger chil­dren, from around the age of nine months, you can start pre­par­ing them by spend­ing short pe­ri­ods away from them in the next room but en­sur­ing they can still hear your voice. “Talk to them from the next room and let them know you are com­ing back,” sug­gests Anel.

Small chil­dren strug­gle with the con­cept of time so you can also help them by help­ing them vi­su­alise and an­tic­i­pate when you will be fetch­ing them.

“You can tell them you will fetch them after their sleep or after story time. Speak­ing to your child and pre­par­ing them can go a long way to al­le­vi­at­ing sep­a­ra­tion anx­i­ety,” says Anel.

Once you drop your child off, she also rec­om­mends you don’t stick around too long. “Wait un­til they are set­tled and leave them, even if they are still a lit­tle tear­ful. Always make eye con­tact and say good­bye,” she says.

LEAVE A LIT­TLE LOVE BE­HIND

THERE ARE LEV­ELS OF READI­NESS DEPEND­ING ON THE AGE OF THE CHILD. AFTER THE AGE OF TWO YOU WOULD LOOK FOR SIGNS OF THEM WANT­ING TO SO­CIALISE

Leav­ing them with a com­fort ob­ject is also im­por­tant. “Sep­a­ra­tion anx­i­ety hap­pens be­cause a child hasn’t yet un­der­stood the con­cept that when they are away from you, you still ex­ist. An ob­ject they as­so­ciate with you and with com­fort can re­duce the stress,” says Anel.

Keep­ing a pos­i­tive and light at­ti­tude is key too, says Anel. “We talk about in­di­rect praise. In­stead of telling your child that you are proud of them for be­ing brave, praise them to oth­ers when they can hear you. Telling your part­ner or friend that they are do­ing won­der­fully at day­care and that re­in­forc­ing that they are fine is a good strat­egy,” says Anel. YB

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