"Parents are extra-vulnerable to new tremors from old earthquakes. When we leave our children in child care or in preschool for the first time, it won't be just our child's feelings about being separated from us that we will have to cope with, but our own feelings as well -- from when we were children and struggling with our own feelings of being away from loved ones."

Child Care

Children feel safe when they are with family or others they know well. So many children have a hard time if and when they start child care. Child care is a new place with new people. It’s not until the age of three that children begin to get a confident sense of their own separateness from everyone else. It’s not surprising then that during the first three years, separation from parents (the people whom a child feel closest to and even feels part of can be very upsetting for a child.

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Trust Takes Time

It naturally takes time before children can feel secure at a child-care setting. They can't feel safe until they trust their new caregivers, and they can't trust them until they come to know them and feel “related” to them. Trust builds over time. For some children building trust takes longer than for others.

Since children don't understand the child care routine at first, they don't know when parents will come back, or if parents will come back. When children learn, day by day, that their parents come for them when they say they will,they also learn to trust that times of separation will be followed by times of being together again.

Children grow in their ability to handle transitions when we let them know that it's okay to feel sad and angry at first, and that little by little, they'll feel better and find different things to enjoy. If grownups make children feel babyish for crying or being sad, those children may get even more upset. When children hear that their feelings are natural and normal, they are more likely to manage better.

Create Transition Routines

Some families use rituals and routines to help smooth transitions. Some have special ways of saying goodbye with certain “secret” family words, gestures or hugs. Many parents create a routine of taking their children into the child care setting themselves, helping them take off their coats, getting them settled and giving them a hug and a reminder that they’ll be back later in the day. When "goodbye" gets to mean "I'll be back later," it becomes a much better word.

Think about what's helped your child handle other comings and goings in the past. Even though each situation is different, the transition into child care or preschool is much like other separations your child has already experienced, like going to bed at night or having a babysitter or playing at a friend's home. This new separation is also much like those that will happen in the future, going off to college and leaving home much later in life. The caring way you help your child adjust to child care or preschool is strengthening the foundation for the transitions your child will be dealing with in all the years to come.

Letting Go Is Hard for Parents, Too

For many parents, child care is a necessity,but even those who put their very young children in someone else's care by choice have many mixed feelings. Most parents feel some guilt or are upset by the thought that they're missing out on the joy of helping their children learn new things and watching them make the everyday discoveries that are so delightful in childhood.

There can be many reasons why it's hard for parents to let go. Sometimes it's even difficult to know who's having the greater problem saying goodbye, the child or the parent. If you talk about your concerns with your child's caregiver, you may find out that many other parents have those same feelings. Knowing that our feelings are natural and normal helps all of us feel more confident, which in turn helps our children manage better, too.

Developing a Partnership

Watching a close bond forming between a child and a new caregiver can bring pangs of jealousy to any parent. But the love between a parent and child is unique. No matter how attached a young child may become to another caregiver, it will be a different kind of attachment than the one the child feels to his or her mother or a father. No one else can take your place.

If you've chosen high quality child care, you're giving your child the opportunity to learn that there are other adults besides their parents who are loving and can be trusted. One thing’s for sure—for any day care to be a healthy part of a child’s growth, parents and child care providers need to work together closely. They must be partners in helping children as they grow.

If those kinds of concerns aren't "mentioned," they can easily turn into awkwardness, tension, and even fear. But when we encourage children to talk about whatever they're wondering, we often find that they become more accepting and empathetic. Asking and openly talking about differences helps children get beyond the fears so that they can feel more comfortable with people who have disabilities. As unique as each one of us is, we human beings are much more similar than we are different. That may be the most essential message of all, as we help our children grow towards being caring, compassionate adults.

Before the First Day of Child Care:

  • Visit the child-care center with your child before his or her care starts, and stay there for a while with your child. Your child can feel more secure with you nearby and, therefore, more willing to get to know the people there.
  • Let your child see that you're friendly with the caregiver. If you can spend time talking and smiling with each other, then your child sees that you like and trust each other.
  • Show your child all the rooms that the class uses -- especially the bathroom and the kitchen. Let your child see that in many ways, the child-care setting is similar to home. Children feel more comfortable when they see that there are familiar home-like things in a new place.

When Child Care Starts:

  • Plan to stay with your child a while for the first few days or more. It may help if you gradually stay a bit less each day. Of course, some children need a longer time before they feel comfortable in a new place.
  • Some children like to bring along a stuffed animal, favorite toy, or their beloved "blankey." It's comforting to have something that's a part of home there, even if that toy has to stay in a "cubby."
  • While it may seem easier at first just to slip out the door with no goodbye, that may make separation more difficult. Your child will likely have a harder time trusting when you will go and when you will come back.
  • Remember that there are certain times that your child may need extra help with adjusting -- after a weekend at home, holiday vacations or an illness, when there's a substitute teacher, or when the group moves on to another room -- even if it's in the same center.
  • At the end of the day, some children need a little more time to stop playing. It helps if you can stay a little and show an interest in what your child is doing.

Quote of the month

"Confronting our feelings and giving them appropriate expression always takes strength,  not weakness… It takes strength to talk about our feelings and to reach out for help and comfort when we need it.”

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