August 2022 | Back to School

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Managing child care first-day butterflies For our children and ourselves WRITTEN BY SARA SILVA

For a family, there are few days that bring a mixture of emotions—excitement, tension, confusion, sorrow, relief and guilt—quite like the first day that we hand our precious little one into a stranger’s arms and care. Countless questions flash through our minds: Are we making the right choice? Will they love them and care for them as much as we do? Will they be happy? Will they be safe? With a little time and preparation, we can calm some of these first-day jitters and make the day a wonderful milestone for everyone.

Meets and Greets

Ask your child care provider if you and your child can visit a few times before the official start date. These visits allow both you and your little one to become familiar with their classroom and teachers. They can also become familiar with where their things will go and the rituals and routines of the classroom. These visits not only build your child’s sense of security and familiarity but yours as well. If your child care provider offers home visits, make sure to schedule one. Meeting their teacher in their own home environment is a big advantage for young children and a great leap forward in your child feeling safe in the care of this new adult in their life.

Slow Transitions

If possible, consider a slow transition into child care. This involves dropping your child off at child care at the usual time but then picking them up earlier than their scheduled pick-up time. For example, the first day your child might attend for just two hours and the next day they may stay the whole morning (if the first day went well). A slow transition allows your little one time to learn how to manage feelings about being away from you and the stimulation of so many exciting toys and busy children.

Let your child know exactly when you’ll be picking them up by telling them what will be happening before mommy or daddy comes back. For example, “First you’re going to play with all these new toys and new friends and you’re going to have so much fun. Then you’re going to have a snack and go play outside. When you’re playing outside mommy will come back to get you.” For young children the sequence of events, rather than the length of time on the clock, is what’s important – it’s how they track the passage of time. If you are unable to engage in a slow transition, create a goodbye ritual that you engage in everyday with your child. It can be as simple as, “We put your coat away, pick out a snack, have two kisses and wave at each other through the window.” Some children prefer a little bit of a longer transition and adding a story book or five minutes of play to the drop-off may be just the ticket. Having a family photo that your child can carry with them throughout the day or giving them a personal item of yours that they can keep in their cubby are two other strategies that you can use to support your little one’s sense of security while you’re away.

A Loving Goodbye

No matter how tempting it might be to sneak away while your little one is happily engaged, always, always, say goodbye before leaving. There may be tears, but you will have protected your child’s trust in you. They will know that they can trust you to let them know when you’re leaving and that when you say you’ll be back, you’ll be back. This trust will then extend to the child care environment and your child will be much happier and safer in the long run. If you are concerned about the length of time your child may be upset after you leave, have

a conversation with your child care provider about whether or not you are flexible and able to return if your child is having a hard time. Sharing your expectations clearly with your child care provider ensures a positive experience for everyone. Many child care providers are happy to send a photo or text during the first few days to let you know how the day is going.

Happy Hellos

Pick-up times are busy times. Our minds are often racing with plans for going to the store, ensuring we gather everything we need to take home from child care and planning for everything that needs to get done that evening. Your little one has been working hard too. As they play, they are developing academic concepts that they will build on during their school years: Figuring out how to interact within a large and unfamiliar social group and trying to hold their emotions together when things haven’t quite worked out the way they would like them to. Don’t worry if your little one breaks down crying the minute that they see you. It just means that you are their safe place to land and they can finally let out all the big feelings they have been experiencing throughout the day. They are so very excited to be safely back in your arms (even when they continue to play and aren’t quite ready to make the transition from child care to going home). Take a moment to be present and focus on enjoying the moment when you get to say hello to each other after your busy times away. Remember that our children are keyed into our feelings and when you feel good about your child care choices, they will feel safe, secure and reassured. Sara Silva is a STARS Coach at Child Care Connection, where they are all about quality child care. For more information on their services for families and child care providers, visit cccmontana.org or call 406-587-7786.

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