Saturday, September 18, 2010

How Long does it take a Toddler to Adjust to Daycare?

Since High Park Home Daycare has had some new children adjusting to the program over the past couple of weeks, I figured this was an appropriate topic to discuss.

It is always difficult to adjust to change even when the transition goes relatively smoothly.  For the child, it is not only a change of caregiver, but a change in environment, food (at least to some degree) and routines. Sometimes the culture and language at the daycare are also different than the home environment.

How long it takes for a toddler to adjust to a daycare depends on the following factors:
  1. The Child's Personality/Temperament - All children are different. Some are so curious and excited to discover a new environment that they pay little attention to mom leaving. Some are scared and  uncomfortable with their new surroundings.
  2. The Degree of Change - Are the daycare routines drastically different than those at home? Is the child in an environment in which he does not understand the language? A bigger change could mean a longer adjustment period.
  3. Unfamiliarity with the Environment before the First Visit - Has the child visited the daycare before? Has she met the other children at the daycare? It may be harder to adjust to a brand new environment without the security of a well-known caregiver.
  4. Hours Spent at Daycare - A child who attends a new daycare every day for the full day will adjust quicker than a child who spends part of the day or every other day at the daycare.
I believe that the child's personality overrides factors 2, 3 and 4. I have cared for a child who was unfamiliar with the environment, spoke a different language and only attended the daycare occasionally. She was always happy to come, and, although she may have been slightly tentative at first, adjusted very quickly.
Just what is meant by "adjustment" anyway? Looking at the children who have come into my care, I have noticed two levels of adjustment. The first is when the child is no longer crying, clinging to me, or isolating herself from the group. She begins to play with toys, interact with the other children and eat a decent amount of the food provided. The second level of adjustment usually comes after a month or so of full-time care. The child begins to see the daycare as her place. She displays more confidence with her environment and is thus a happier kid. Often, the way I know a child has gotten to this second level is when she feels comfortable enough to be silly.

This blog post concerns the first level of adjustment. It is awful for the parent to see their child in distress. I imagine the feelings of worry and (possibly) guilt they must have as their child screams for them not to leave. Yet, it is temporary.
Aidas fixes a truck.            M. is a "sleeping bunny" under the parachute at circle time.

What can parents and caregivers do to make the transition easier?
  • Show a Positive Attitude "It is important not to react strongly to your child's anxiety by becoming impatient with him or her, or by showing that his or her behavior is upsetting you." "If you feel guilty or worried about leaving your child at school, he or she will probably sense that. The more calm and assured you are about your choice to send your child to preschool, the more confident your child will be." (
  • Visit the Daycare Beforehand This way, the child can familiarize himself with the environment and may feel more comfortable when his parent leaves.
  • Give a Brief, but Loving Good-bye "Always say a loving good-bye to your child, but once you do, you should leave promptly...a long farewell scene might only serve to reinforce a child's sense that preschool is a bad place." 
  • Bring a Familiar Toy The child's "blankie" or favourite teddy-bear can help bring a comforting reminder of home in the new surroundings.
You can also help transition the child by spending increasingly shorter periods of time with her at the daycare. This will provide the smoothest transition, but is often not feasible. Parents returning to work usually don't have this luxury. 
Do you know of other tips to help with a toddler's transition into daycare? I would love to hear your comments! 

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