Switching daycares can be very stressful both for children and parents (OK, let's be honest, moms). Here are some tips to make the transition to a new daycare easier for you and your toddler. Hopefully these can relieve some of the anxiety you might feel about switching your toddler to a new daycare.
This is not a blog post about whether you should switch daycares. That's a whole other topic, and there could be so many reasons for switching daycares: from disappointment in your current daycare to other practical reasons, such as moving to a new house or getting a new job.
Our son is 2.5 years old and he's been in three daycares so far (plus one full-time in-home childcare arrangement and two different babysitters).
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Why the heck did we switch daycares so much?
The first time we switched daycares was because we decided to go from part time to full time, and wanted to enroll him in a "school" where there was more learning and less screen time. I had no reservations about making that change, I knew it was for the best.
The second time we started our son at a new daycare was because we had to evacuate after hurricane Dorian and were living with my mom for a few months while I had to work full time, so I had to quickly find him a new daycare (I found and toured a daycare all in one day and signed him up!).
The third time was when we moved back to the Bahamas and he went back to his full time daycare, but it was a new teacher, new classroom, new everything.
He's going to have to start a new daycare when we move back to the US. We've been through this many times and I am not that worried about the next time we have to start at a new daycare.
The most stressful part for my about starting new daycares for my son was his picky eating. When he was 15 months and we were starting him in the full time daycare, and when I went to meet the daycare administrators to learn more about the daycare, I remember breaking down and crying in her office when I was telling her how worried I would be about him not eating.
Luckily, our son ate SO MUCH BETTER in daycare, which just reaffirmed that it was the right decision to send him to daycare full time. So it's going to be OK, mama.
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It's not as scary as it sounds
Yes, switching daycares can feel so stressful, especially if your child has anxiety or had a hard time adjusting to the daycare that they are in now. But before I get into the tips for a smooth transition, you have to remember a few things:
- This will be one of the MANY changes in your child's life. It's OK for them to feel uncertain or scared for a little bit. It sounds awful, but remember that your job as a parent is to help them with these transitions, teach them how to deal with changes in their lives, and be there for them as a safe space at home. As I mentioned in my blog post about how to reduce toddler tantrums, we are trying to raise a resilient, easy-going son.
- Keep the big picture in mind. If you are switching daycares, it's probably to make things better for YOUR WHOLE FAMILY. If you decided to move your child to a better daycare, or to one with a special needs programs your child needs, this will be a benefit to your toddler, even though it might seem hard. If it's because of a move or a new job, this job is hopefully something that will help your whole family live a better life. If it's a logistics reason that feels "selfish," such as needing a shorter commute to daycare, or needing to move your toddler to a daycare closer to their sibling's school so you can have a shorter daycare commute, that is OK TOO. A happier mama who gets an extra 20 minutes of sleep is better for the whole family, trust me (I mean, this is assuming you are not putting your child in a bad daycare just because you don't feel like driving extra).
- This is probably harder for you than for your child. Some kids might have absolutely no problem with the transition! Remember, you're the one agonizing over this decision, touring daycares, making pros and cons lists, and planning for weeks. On top of that, you're worried sick about your child the first few days they go to the new daycare. Your child has no idea this is all going to happen. If they are old enough to understand when you tell them, they might get upset for a little bit but they will get over it and forget about it until their first day.
That said, let's talk about how to make the transition to a new daycare easier.
1. Tell your child about the upcoming change
Even if your child is not speaking yet, he or she might understand if you explain in simple terms that they are going to a new daycare tomorrow (or next week). Don't tell them too far in advance, there's no need to stress them out. Tell them they will be going to a new daycare, and they are going to have lots of fun there, with so many toys, books, games, activities. Tell them whether there is a playground, or anything else that the daycare might have.
2. Keep the consistency
Keep as many things consistent as possible: their blanket, sleep mat, sippy cup, lunch bag, forks, spoons, everything. Bring a favorite toy or stuffed animal. Let them have the pacifier if they still use one.
3. Visit in advance
See if you can visit the daycare with your child before their first day and play in the playroom together, so your child is familiar with the environment and have a positive, safe association with it. Talk about how fun the toys are, how many friends your child will have. Tell your child now nice the teacher is. Show your child where they will nap and where they will eat.
4. Talk to the daycare teachers
Ask the daycare teachers how they plan on welcoming your child the first day. Ask if it might be helpful for you to hang around for an hour or two to help your child feel comfortable and then clearly say "bye bye" after some activity and leave (more on how to leave later!). Some daycares encourage and actually require you to spend time there the first day. Most discourage it, knowing that many children have an easier time transitioning without a mommy there to cling to. All our teachers in every daycare recommended against staying around the first day, and they were right. Our son is definitely more likely to cry and cling to me if I stay for an hour and then try to leave.
Talk to the new daycare teachers and tell them how your child likes to be fed, or tucked in for naptime. Share whether they like to be hugged and encouraged to play with others or if they prefer to have their own space at first while they feel out the situation.
Ask them to keep you extra updated the first few days through text messages or a phone call midday.
Tell them everything they need to know about your child in advance so you don't have to explain it all the first day (see below on why you'll want to walk out quickly). If there is anything you are extra worried about or forgot to tell them, write them a note and hand it to them the first day, or call the daycare after you leave - they'll get the message to the teahcher.
5. How to walk out the first day (no, it won't be easy)
If you are not planning on sticking around for an hour or so the first day, you need to be strong, say "bye bye" and leave. Don't linger by the door. Don't look worried or sad. If they see you worrying, they will wonder if something is wrong and might get afraid of staying there without you.
Don't turn around if you hear your child crying.
I know, it sounds awful. But if you turn around, they're doing to cry even hard when you leave. If you go back to comfort them, it will just prolong their sadness. They'll be afraid that you're leaving the whole time you're comforting them, and then will cry AGAIN when you actually do leave.
Be strong, mama. Just rip the band-aid off and walk out.
They will stop crying. They will get distracted with a toy and they'll be OK. Yes, they might be sad. Yes, it's heartbreaking to think about it. But remember that your child's teacher is a professional who has dealt with this hundreds of times. She'll know what to do.
My son actually cried so hard he threw up at two of his first days at new daycares. Yes, it sucked hearing that. But he was better in the afternoon, and 100% better the second day both times. I warned the teachers that might happen because he often gags and throws up when he cries, so the teacher knew that my son wasn't sick and didn't have to go home because of this.
As I said above, don't spend time the first day telling your teacher stuff she needs to know. If your child hears you sounding stressed or worrying about leaving him or her there, they might get worried themselves.
And if you're having a hard time the first day, it's OK to get in your car and cry. Let the tears flow. Then call a friend, your husband, or your mom and ask them how their day is going to keep your mind off your stress.
6. Have the dad do the drop off!
If your child is clingy with you and is more likely to cry when he or she sees you leave, see if the dad (or grandma or an auntie) can do the drop off. When my son was younger, he didn't care so much if his papa said goodbye and left, but would have a meltdown if I left. So my husband did the daycare drop off every day. It was just easier that way for everyone.
Right now, our son is ALL ABOUT HIS DAD so I am able to drop him off without any tears.
7. Start slow if you can
See if you can start your child on a Wednesday or Thursday. This will mean a shorter stressful first week at the new daycare, and then a whole weekend at home! Starting earlier than Friday will help them remember and reinforce that they are going to the new place and give them a little extra time to get used to it the first week. Starting on a Friday might mean that they have a hard time again on Monday, it will be like starting over.
Another option is to see if you can do a half day at first, or pick your child up early at first. Just check the daycare's schedule to make sure you are not interrupting nap time or snack time.
But even if you can't do any kind of easy transition, it's going to be OK. I promise.
It's harder for you than for your child
As I mentioned above, this is probably going to be harder for you than your child. Kids are resilient. They just want to play. They don't know what time of the day it is and how long they've been at the daycare. You're the one counting down the minutes until pickup. Chances are, your child will transition very easily and will love any daycare they go to (as long as it's a good one and they are treated well, of course!).
You're the one who has been stressing about this for a long time, not your child. Remember, this is for the good of the whole family.
Even if your child has a rough time with the transition, remember, it's all temporary. It will get better and they will love it. Give it a fair chance. Don't make any impulsive decisions and pull them out of daycare just because they have a rough first week. Consistency and stability will help make it all better.
When your child starts kindergarten in a few years, you'll be able to tell them about how brave they were when they switched daycares, and how they ended up having so much fun and making new friends and learning a lot, and the new kindergarten school will be the same way.
You'll both get through this. You've got this.
Other parenting articles you might be interested in:
- Coming to terms with the Autism diagnosis - one mom's story
- My best tip for reducing toddler meltdowns
- Is a robot vacuum worth it?
- How to get your toddler to eat when they refuse
- How to keep your child seated longer in the high chair
- Simple family rules to help with picky eating
- Toddler-friendly vegetable soup recipe
- Feeding therapy for picky eating - our experience
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Monday 8th of August 2022
Very presumptuous to say that it is only stressful for moms. That’s where I stopped reading, maybe my wife might decide to see if the content is any better than the preconceived notions.
Friday 19th of August 2022
Hi Mario, you're right, thank you for pointing that out. Since this is a personal blog, I was writing from my point of view and my personal experience, where my male partner was definitely not as stressed or worried as I was during every daycare transition. But you are correct that that is not the case for everyone. I hope that both you and your wife take the time to read this if you find it helpful.
Sunday 9th of January 2022
Hello! I just wanted to thank you for a refreshing and reassuring post/real-life account..I am starting a new job after being out of work for almost 2 years due to the pandemic, and I'm switching my 2.5yo to a new daycare and she'll be going full-time versus 3 half days, PLUS sending my 10 month old for the first time! I am feeling guilty, nervous, all of the emotions. Your post was very uplifting for me at this time. Thanks again for your insight!
Monday 10th of January 2022
It's so hard! And I feel like the older our son got the harder it was for me.. because a 10 month old just needs a bottle, some baby food, snuggles, and a nap. Toddlers and older kids have opinions, expectations, etc. I hope the transition is smooth for everyone!
Monday 7th of December 2020
I agree with you that mothers who would like to switch day care must inform their kids about the possible transition. You are also right that it would be a great idea to visit the center in advance so the child will be familiar with the environment. Anyhow, if I were in this situation, I would make sure to look for reputable daycare so I'll be ensured that my kid will be well-taken care of.