Finishing maternity leave and starting your child at a learning centre can be a stressful time. Most infants (up to 7 months of age) adjust very well to childcare. Older infants, however, might find that it takes a bit of adjusting. Here are some tips to make your child’s transition to a learning centre as smooth and painless as possible:
One of the best ways to reduce your child’s anxiety about starting at an early learning centre is to get them familiar with the centre and their carers before they start going regularly. To facilitate this, we provide ‘sit-in days’, where you and your child can come and spend time at the centre together and get used to the carers, schedule and facilities. We recommend that you come in a few times together before your child starts coming alone, as the learning centre environment can feel overwhelming for some children.
The sit-in process will allow your child to become familiar with the centre environment. It will show them that they have nothing to worry about, and foster excitement about all the playing, creating and socialising they will soon get to do all day! A couple of trial runs will make your child’s actual first day much smoother.
It can also be helpful to ease your child into the learning centre routine – so, rather than starting them at 5 days straight away, consider starting them at 2 days per week and building on this over a couple of months.
You can also make your child feel more comfortable with the idea of going to the centre by reading or telling them stories about it. You could try picture books about starting child care or making new friends (ask your local library for some suggestions). Alternatively, you can make up stories to share with your child about the experience – it will be beneficial to include all the feelings that your child might go through when they start going, like happiness, excitement, sadness, anxiety, apprehension and tiredness. Make sure that you focus on the positives of centre like making new friends, playing fun games and having the best toys on the block!
If you see the learning centre in a positive and playful light, it will increase the chances of your child seeing it like this too. Focus on the positives, like playtime, friends and activities, and not on the negatives, like how much you will miss your child or how sorry you are that you have to leave them.
It’s very normal for mums and dads to feel guilty and anxious about leaving their child, but it’s very important that you don’t communicate these feelings to your child. In order for your child to enjoy, they to get the impression that centre is a positive experience in their life.
The Early Learning Centre is a very social environment, and this can be quite a shock for kids who aren’t used to socialising. So, it’s important that you get your child used to social environments before you start leaving them at the facility. In the months before they start, take them to playgrounds, playgroups and other social environments, where they will get used to playing and interacting with other children. This will help them to adapt to the childcare environment much faster.
Communication is very important at the learning centre – not just between your child and the other children, but between your child and the carers. So, it can be helpful to work on communication with your child before they start coming. In particular, it can be very beneficial to help your child to communicate basic feelings like being sleepy, hungry or needing to go to the toilet. The more your child can communicate their needs to their carers and the other children, the happier and more comfortable they will feel.
A familiar item from home can help your child to feel more comfortable at the learning centre. This item can be a blanket, pillow, toy, picture of you or anything else that makes them feel comfortable and reminds them of home. You can also consider giving your child something ‘special’ of yours (like an item of clothing or a necklace), which you can ask your child to keep safe for you until you pick them up. This will reassure your child that you will be coming back for them soon, and give them something positive to focus on when they feel overwhelmed or anxious.
Goodbyes are the hardest part, for both parents and children. Therefore, it is important that you make the goodbye process as quick and painless as possible. Your goodbye needs to be affectionate and loving but also final – your child needs to be aware that you are leaving because you need to go to work, but that you will be back to take them home very soon. Your child might cry and beg you to stay, but you need to remain positive, reassuring and firm. Your child will stop crying as soon as we have them settled into a fun game or activity.
It is also very important that you say goodbye as opposed to just ‘slipping away’ when your child isn’t looking. Doing a disappearing act will make your child feel distressed and anxious, and it can also lead to them feeling less trusting of you.
For your child’s first few days at the learning centre, it can be beneficial for you to settle them into an activity or game before you say goodbye.
Being consistent with your routine will help your child adjust and settle into their new schedule. Try to drop off and pick up your child at the same time each day, as this will bring them a sense of security. Also, make sure that you are not stressed or rushing when you take your child to the learning centre, as this will heighten any feelings of anxiety that they might have.
And that’s it, for now. We could go on for hours about ways that you can help your child to settle, so don’t hesitate to contact us if you would like more information. We understand how difficult it can be to start your child up a learning centre, and we are happy to support you and your child in any way we can.