This year, we were blissfully unaffected by the typical September routine shakeup that most people know as Back To School. Still, as parents are dropping off children at preschool and kindergarten for the first time; as they walk away, wondering if their children’s days will be good or if they will miss them at all, I am reminded of when I left Cameron at daycare for the first time.
Parents feel loss and anxiety the first time they leave their children under anyone else’s care. Yet, often, the decision to put a child in daycare is fraught with emotions when considering all the options (or lack thereof) in front of you. Some mothers (and fathers) work because they choose to. Some mothers (and fathers) work because they need to. And sometimes, daycare is the only option.
I remember when we were looking for a daycare for Cameron. It was so heartbreaking and so scary. What if we didn’t find the right one? How could we make this experience, which felt so uncomfortable to us, be enjoyable to our child? Now that we have two children in a daycare that I am very happy to send them to daily, I think I have learned a few things about the whole process.
8 Things To Know About Starting Daycare
1. Visit The Daycare
I remember the precise moment that I knew we had found the right daycare for Cameron. It wasn’t after meeting with this particular daycare provider, though the meeting went fine. Instead, it was when I went to the daycare during work hours and saw the daycare in action. It was nothing the teachers did to convince me – it was the children. As Cameron gingerly picked up these new toys in the new environment, one kid got right down to his level to play with him. A couple bigger kids ran up to me to tell me about their day. They were so excited about that morning’s activity and about what they were scheduled to do tomorrow. It was clear that these children really enjoyed being at daycare, and that is something that can’t be faked. If this daycare could make these kids this happy, then this was the daycare I wanted for my son.
2. Find a Daycare Relevant To Your Child
One of the best parts of daycare for my children are the friends that they make and the activities that they do. Ask your potential daycare provider for the schedule of what they do day to day. Also, make sure that there are other children in the same age range as your child at the daycare. Friendships are important, even for these little ones.
3. Reconsider Your Absolutes
When we first visited the lady who ran the in-home daycare that Gavin and Cameron now attend, I was worried about a few things. She had pets that sometimes spent time with the children. Also, their weekly schedule involved a few field trips that would require the children to travel in a van. These were almost deal breakers for me. Might the dog be dangerous? (He so isn’t!) Would the cats aggravate Cameron’s sensitivities? (Nope!) Would car rides put my child in danger? But after seeing how excited the daycare children were to do each daily activity, I realized that these excursions were what made this daycare unique and enjoyable. And, as it turned out, Cameron fell in love with both the animals and the field trips. The two things I was worried about turned out to be the best things for him.
4. Start Slowly
If any other parent is like me, we put off daycare until the very last moment. We don’t want to lose any of our precious time with our children. But starting daycare a week or two before you actually need to is ideal. Bring your child in to the new daycare for an hour the first morning, two the next, and so on. Not only will your child ease into the daycare routine, he will also learn that you are coming back for him.
5. Occupy Yourself
Those few hours of alone time when you drop your child off at daycare for the first time can seem like torture. Often parents will imagine that things will go worse than they actually do. Meeting a friend for coffee or going to the gym or getting the groceries will keep you occupied and keep your mind off your child, who is probably doing fine anyway.
6. Make it Routine
This is probably going to be controversial, but I think that if a child is in daycare, it is best for the child to go into daycare full time, at least at first. Children thrive on routine and eventually your child will begin to expect and look forward to daycare. When Cameron was little, he used to walk to the front door and wait of us to take him to daycare – even on the weekends.
7. Tears Aren’t Permanent
Daycare teachers know how to handle tears. Trust them. Drop offs will be hard, at first. Your child will cry. Your child will reach for you. Your child will make you feel like the worst parent ever. But, your daycare provider is used to this. They expect it and know how to handle it. And sometimes the best way to handle it is to shoo you out the door. Don’t be offended. Know that leaving will give your child the opportunity to focus on something different. Take a deep breath, sip your coffee, and remember to smile. Your baby is in good hands. Your baby is (eventually) going to love daycare.
8. Don’t Take It Personally
Hopefully, your child will love daycare. He might run out of your arms into the arms of his teacher every morning when you drop him off. (<This is Gavin in the mornings). He might barely acknowledge you when you pick him up in the afternoon. (<This is Cameron at the end of the day). Your daycare might see his first steps and hear her first words. They might teach your children to sing and count and go to the bathroom. And all of this? Is okay. It is good. Let your children come home and proudly tell you what they did that day. Watch as they grow and learn before your eyes. See what socializing with other children does to them. The best case scenario is that they will love daycare. Embrace that. Find joy in their growth and happiness, even if you can’t be physically present for every minute.
I’ve come to learn that daycare isn’t the end of the world. I don’t hate it. I actually think that my children, especially my oldest, thrive there. I hope that every parent who has to leave their children at daycare or preschool or school for the first time find this same peace and joy that I have when I think about my boys at daycare.