6 Things to know BEFORE your baby begins child care
Odds are, someone else will care for your baby at some time in the first year.
The average length of maternity/paternity leave in US is 12 weeks (often unpaid) with many moms returning to work when the baby is 6 weeks of age. In fact, of the 12 million infants and toddlers in the US, more than half spend some or all of their day being cared for by someone other than their parents.
62% of mothers of infants are in the labor force. 35% of children under five are in center based care, 32% stay with a grandparent, and around 30% stay with another relative, friend or at home with a sitter.
How can you prepare your baby (and yourself!) for a new environment and caregiver? What can you do to make the transition easier?
Last week I spent a couple of days doing staff training with 18 lovely ladies who work in an early childhood center that specializes in caring for infants and toddlers through age 3. I asked these questions:
What would you, as an infant teacher, tell new parents about bringing their baby to child care for the first time?
What would be really helpful for them to know?
Here’s what they had to say…
1. Help your baby sleep at school.
We follow school guidelines and licensing requirements for naps – and these may differ from what you do at home. For example, we’re not allowed to let babies sleep in swings or carriers of any kind. They have to be in a crib. And in the crib we’re not allowed to have blankets, pillows, stuffed toys or anything else. So if you can get into the habit of laying your baby in the crib to sleep at home instead of having them in some sort of ‘equipment’ or instead of holding them for the whole nap, they’ll adjust to child care easier. It’s hard for babies who are used to movement or being held to get used to sleeping in a crib, which means they cry a lot in those first days. By getting them in the habit at home, the transition will be easier for your baby.
2. Have established routines.
Babies and toddlers thrive on routines and schedules. When you first bring your baby to school, let us know what they’ve been doing at home and we’ll match it as best we can. And if you arrive around the same time each day, at least for the first couple of weeks, that will help us establish routines at school. Some things we’ll need to know would be… Do you warm bottles or give them cold? How do you hold baby to get her to burp? How many ounces does she usually take before needing a burp? Does she usually finish the whole bottle? How does she communicate that she’s ready to sleep? How long does she usually nap? Eating and napping routines take a little time to establish in a new environment. We need time to learn your babies unique ways of communicating what they want, when. And we can do that best if a regular schedule is established. But don’t worry if it’s not, we understand. We’ll help you with that.
3. Expect incidents.
When you put 4-8 children together in a room, something’s bound to happen. We do EVERYTHING we can to prevent incidents and even then, sometimes one baby will grab another’s face and squeeze or a toddler will swiftly bite when another child grabs their toy. We stay close, we watch carefully, and we design our play spaces to give everyone plenty of room. But as babies become mobile and begin to explore others around them, they haven’t yet learned about ‘soft touches’! We will let you know with a call and written report of any boo-boos that happen during the day. And we will do everything we can to keep your baby safe and to keep them from doing anything to hurt another child.
4. They’re going to get dirty.
As soon as your baby is able, they’re going to feed themselves, finger-paint with edible paint, play in the sand, crawl and walk around on the playground and splash water. We’ll do our part to protect their clothes with bibs, smocks, etc. but please understand that school is not the place for your cutest, most expensive outfits. Comfortable, easily laundered, easy to get off and on clothes are best for the developmental activities that we do at school.
5. We go outside everyday.
Taking babies and toddlers to the playground is part of our daily routine (it’s designed just for their age group!). Not only because they love to be outside but also because licensing requires it. When it’s cooler we’ll put on a jacket or use an extra blanket to wrap your baby. Be sure to send appropriate clothes, including close-toed shoes if your baby is walking.
6. Encourage independence, especially at drop offs.
One thing we’ve noticed is that children who walk in on their own have an easier time saying good bye and getting situated in play when they arrive in the mornings. So as soon as your toddler is walking on his own, let him walk down the hall and enter the classroom on his own two feet. Let him put his backpack in the cubby and other belongings where they go. As you walk, talk to your child about how they’re going to have a great day playing with friends and then you’ll be back to get them “after ______ (lunch, nap time, afternoon snack, etc.)”. Communicate that you love them, they will be safe and have fun and that you will be back. This readies everyone for the separation and avoids the clutching and clinging scene at the door. It also communicates that you believe your child is capable and able to manage himself.
You are the first and most important teacher for your child.
The connection you have with your child is unlike no other and even though it’s absolutely necessary for your child to have an attachment to someone who cares for them in your absence, it’s IN ADDITION to the strong bond you share with your child.
You’ll find the relationship that naturally develops between your family and child care provider can be a source of support and community. Some of the friends I hang out with today are the parents of children my kids went to preschool with 20+ years ago!
Trust your baby to thrive well in child care.
Trust the teachers to do their job with excellence.
Trust your child care decision.
It’s going to be just fine. You’ve got this parenting thing.
Until next time,