A List of Things “I Wish I Had Known" Before Starting My Son in Daycare!
Recently, I made a rash decision to register my son in daycare one day per week. I dropped him off and went across the street to attend a workshop I signed up for simultaneously. Didn’t think much of it.
When I went during my lunch break to breastfeed him, I saw him crying and looking around in every direction, very startled and confused. I didn’t expect that. I underestimated his ability to realize he’s not home and that these people are strangers to him, so of course he was terrified. A lady working there told me “the first day shouldn’t be this long” my heart sank.
Let me explain to you what went wrong. When I was looking for a daycare I focused on location, safety, food, cleanliness and staff. I didn’t think about what will happen while he was there or the fact that it should happen gradually. I thought since he’s not a year old yet, and waves to people on the street, he’d be fine. The daycare was nice enough to accommodate my needs, but I wish I were guided through the process since I am a first time mom.
Anyway, so I cancelled the workshop and that was the first and last day my son was in daycare. I needed time to get over the guilt (cue dramatic music) research and be prepared for the next time.
Here is a list of things “I wish I had known before starting daycare”:
1. Book daycare tour appointments, prepare question (here’s a good link I used), and take your time deciding.
2. Before the actual first day, visit the daycare with your child a few times to familiarize them to the environment.
3. Ask the director of the daycare about the “transitioning process”. Some allow one parent to come and stay the first day, which should be an hour, then go home with the child. Others will tell you to stay 15 minutes and leave for 45. Just make sure it starts gradually (preferably mid week), one hour the first day, increasing the hours day by day.
- First day - one hour
- Second day - until lunchtime
- Third day - until naptime (or after nap, if your child successfully sleeps)
- Fourth day - full day
4. Talk about daycare weeks before even if your child does not speak yet. There are many storybooks out there about starting daycare (didn’t know that!)
5. Prepare familiar items to take with him:
- A familiar blanket.
- Put a teddy bear in bed with you for a few days so that it will take your scent, or give them one of your scarves.
- A familiar Sippy cup he’s used to (I sent with him a new Sippy cup – I know don’t judge)
- Ask if you can bring a toy from home with him (some don’t allow toys from home)
On the day:
1. RELAX. (I didn't sleep AT ALL the night before and I don't recommend it)
2. Have a dialog of the process (regardless of the age) “mama will take you to daycare and it’s going to be so much fun! You’ll play with the toys there and then mama will come back to pick you up after”
3. NEVER talk about how nervous you are to your child.
4. NEVER sneak out. I thought it was better to distract and sneak out, I learned that that was wrong and could create trust issues.
5. Make a RITUAL of saying goodbye (ex: 2 kisses and a high five) and explain that you will be back to take them later. Make sure you make it short and pleasant but not too happy (kids sense bullshit more than you know)
6. EXPECT the second and third day to be worse than the first day because they know what to expect. Also, it takes a few weeks for some to get used to it (side note: I read somewhere that 18 months is the peak of separation anxiety, so if you can, start daycare earlier) Also keep in mind maybe daycare might not be a good fit for your child, there's nothing wrong with that.
I hope you find this list useful, and that no one goes through the same gut-wrenching guilt I went through (yes I’m always this dramatic) and if you do, be kind to yourself. While researching I came across an article online where a phD student in education (who is a first time mother) made very similar mistakes. You don't believe me? Here's a link!
Thank you to everyone who gave me advice on my instagram post, I wouldn’t have known most of this stuff without you! I will be using these when the time is right (for me more than him lol)
Stay tuned for our “first day at daycare" do-over post!