Leaving your little one at child care can make any parent feel anxious, but there are simple ways to make it easier on you both.
I was wracked with guilt for years for putting my daughter into child care so I could work. I always felt I should have been around more and yet I also knew my little girl was really happy there. She developed amazing friends, learnt new skills and games, and, in turn, I was supported. Most of all my daughter had beautiful carers/educators who continued with her each year until she left to move onto big school. All was good.
Having reviewed Secure Transitions: Supporting Children to Feel Secure, Confident and included, I realise now the child care path was the right one for me – the carers knew what they were doing far beyond what I knew and were experts in helping deal with the most emotionally charged parts of the day – when I was having to leave my darling in the harried rush of the morning and reconnecting with her at the day’s end.
If you’re struggling with your child moving into child care consider the points included in the Secure Transitions booklet. It may help you understand a little more about how to help your child adjust to a new and healthy experience without too much anguish, and relieve you of feeling guilty (the way I did).
Helping your child adjust to child care
The Secure Transition authors liken the moment when you drop your child off to child care to when two little row boats come up to each other and the child has to step from your boat into the boat of the carer. It is a moment of negotiation. It can be stressful for you and your child but when you and the carer work together to maker the hand-over explicit, your child feels safe as they step from one boat to another. The connection is made. ‘Now I can step out confidently to play because I know I can always come back to my carer who is responsible for me’, the book exemplifies.
Before your child arrives at child care
Talking with your child about which staff member they will see when they arrive at child care can generate a sense of familiarity and predictability their day. When you get to the centre bring your child to their carer to demonstrate you are confident in saying goodbye.
In turn, when an educator or carer has a secure relationship with your child – they will know your child by name, greet them when they arrive, reassure them of their day and make them feel safe. This provides your child with solid ground to move into the rest of their day.
Saying goodbye to your child for the day
When it comes to saying goodbye make this a two-way conversation between you and the carer:
Here’s how Secure Transitions authors pitch it:
Mother to her child Sara: “I will be thinking about you today. Joan is here to look after you and keep you safe for me”.
Mother to carer: “Joan will you look after Sara today?’
Carer to Mother and Sara: “Yes Sara, I’m pleased I get to keep you safe and play with you until mummy comes back. You can always come back to me when you need me”.
Saying to a carer that they’ll keep your child safe may seem strange, but children understand its meaning, and it creates predictability for your child.
“What is important is how the message, ‘We can keep you safe’, is being conveyed, rather than the particular words used,” the authors state.
“Saying this out loud creates very clear expectations and tells your child that he or she is in the mind of two big people who care for [them]”. Similarly, with babies a tone of voice that conveys care, conviction and firmness of purpose gives the feeling that you and the carer have everything under control and your infant can relax.
Collecting your child at the end of the day
Children have their own style of reconnecting at the end of the day. When you see your child, have your cuddle or greeting ready for them, the authors state. When they are ready to talk you can ask them about what they enjoyed rather than ask them whether they have been good or what they have made or achieved. Your child will feel less pressure of any kind of expectations. The authors say this helps them to organise their feelings to get back with you.
Listening to your child’s story frees you up to join in with them and enjoy them and also connect easily with the childcare staff to find out what happened during their day. It’s a way of supporting your little one to step back into your row boat and help gently set up for another lovely day on the lake.
The ideas described in Secure Transition: Supporting children to feel secure, confident and included come from the Attachment Matters project run by Robyn Dolby, Eilish Hughes and Belinda Friezer. The project examined how the relationships between educators and children support children’s learning and social competence with their peers. You can buy the booklet at Early Childhood Australia or email firstname.lastname@example.org.