How to help your child adjust to childcare
This year while my daughter goes to morning preschool, I’ve been looking forward to exercising for a bit at the gym. The only problem? My two year old. My darling, highly-attached, cries-if-I’m-gone-for-two-
Here is how I gently helped my child transition to gym childcare and the day by day process of him learning to be comfortable without me.
Strategies to prepare your child:
- Talk about it for a while before. My mom had the great idea of calling my son’s gym time “school”, so he would be starting “school” the same time his sister would be beginning preschool. We talked for a few weeks leading up to the first day about how “You will be going to school too!” Talking about what you’re going to do beforehand gets your child warmed up to the idea before they actually experience it.
- Make a book. In my case, I used an old dollar-store binder and page protectors to write the “story” of my son going to childcare at the gym. Each page had a sentence or two and a rudimentary picture to match. He and I read his book lots the first few days of going to the gym, nearly every time before we got out of the car for the gym, and sometimes he brought it with him. He was very proud to see himself on each page.
- Offer a lovey. If your child has a special toy, stuffy, or blanket, bring it with them to help them have something familiar while you’re gone.
- Find a routine and stick to it. For my son and I, our routine looks like this: drop off sister, drive to gym, walk to classroom, drop off saying “Bye-bye. I love you. See you soon!”, then getting a snack after pick up. You better bet my kid’s favorite part is that last step 😉 Every time I pick him up I give him a high five and say “You did it! You went to school! Say bye bye to your teachers!” As tearful as he often was during pickup, he always seemed proud by my reaction and that he went to school. We also had a certain phrase we used repetitively – “Grownups come back” (Shoutout to Daniel Tiger)
- Be persistent. The advice of everyone around me was to just keep going. Eventually my child would get comfortable. It was hard when he was so upset to go, but we kept going and it did get better.
Day 1— Wednesday
L was really excited for his first day of school! He proudly walked to the classroom on his own, hung up his back pack, and put on his sticker. Things really hit the fan when I said goodbye. He screamed, he cried. It was terrible. I set a time on my watch for 5 minutes and went and walked the track while I waited for it to time out. Once 5 minutes was over, I walked down the stairs hearing his loud screams all the way down. I picked him up and gave him lots of positive feedback for going to school for the first time. As he ate his snack we talked about how it went. “I sad. I miss Mom.” L would say. “I missed you too, buddy. Grown ups come back.”
Day 2 — Thursday
L again walked proudly to class and then became very upset when it was time to say goodbye. I picked my sobbing child up again after five minutes.
Day 3 — Monday
L cried uncontrollably all the way to the gym. I spent a good deal of time trying to calm him down in the parking lot and finally decided to head home. We’d try again tomorrow.
Day 4 — Tuesday
Again, L cried in the car on the way to school, but I decided to bite the bullet and walk in anyways. He was fairly calm walking through the gym, but cried during drop off. I picked him up after 5 minutes.
Day 5 —Wednesday
L cried less on the way to school. He cried during drop off and for the whole 5 minutes I was gone.
Day 6 — Thursday
L cried during drop off again and I stayed away for 7 minutes this time
Day 7 — Monday
I decided this week I’d increase my time to 10 minutes. When I checked on him after 10 minutes he was crying, but not screaming. I saw this as progress, but still checked him out.
Day 8 — Tuesday
When I checked on L after 10 minutes, he was fairly quiet. I stayed upstairs an additional five minutes before checking him out.
Day 9 — Wednesday
I set a timer for 15 minutes. When I came to check on him he was calm, but still not playing. I checked him out.
Day 10 — Thursday
I checked on L after 15 minutes and was shocked to find him playing! I snuck back upstairs and walked for 10 more minutes. L was so proud when I picked him up, saying “I played with toys!”
Day 11 — Monday
L was excited to go back to school. He stayed and played for 20 minutes.
Day 12 — Tuesday
This was our landmark day—L entered the classroom waving bye and immediately began playing. This was his first drop off without any tears! I stayed away for 30 minutes.
As you can see, it’s taken a lot of time, patience, and very minimal exercise expectation on my part to help L adjust to the gym childcare. It’s been a month since we first started and he usually plays happily for 45-60 minutes 4 days/week at the gym now. He still has sad drop-offs occasionally but usually enjoys playing and is always excited to go to school now!
I’m so proud of how far he has come in the past month and hope this new routine helps him continue to grow in confidence and independence.
If you’re contemplating a childcare change for your toddler, perhaps some of these tips will help your child’s adjustment too. We’d love to hear from you!
As always, you’ve got this parenting thing! And we’re here to help you through the little bumps along the way, like trying to get a workout in. 😍