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
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