Deciding on daycare

Make the transition to leaving your tot easier with these tips.

The day you first leave your baby in childcare while you return to work is a momentous occasion, with lots of tears likely to be shed – and your baby will probably cry too. Leaving your wee one in someone else’s care can be extremely difficult, but many of us have no choice – we have to go back to work. But there are things you can do to make it less traumatic, including making sure you’re happy about your choice of establishment.

How to choose childcare

You can’t beat personal recommendations. Ask your friends, friends of friends, coffee group members, workmates and everyone on Facebook about the childcare facilities they’ve used and whether they are any good.

Do plenty of investigation into the places you’re thinking about using. Go and spend some time there and ask if you can observe a meal time and play session. Don’t just observe the staff and how they treat the kids – watch the children too. Do they seem contented and relaxed? Are they kept busy?

Don’t be shy about taking a comprehensive list of questions with you (see below for some suggestions about what to ask) and make sure you’re satisfied with the answers you are given.

Questions to ask:

  • What is the ratio of staff to children?

  • Is food included?

  • Do you cater for special dietary needs or do I need to supply those foods?

  • Are nappies supplied?

  • What is a typical day like?

  • What kind of activities will they do?

  • What happens when my child is sick?

  • Do I pay for days when my baby doesn’t attend due to sickness or being on holiday?

  • Are you open throughout Christmas and New Year?

  • What happens if I’m late to pick up my child?

  • Who is allowed to pick up my baby?

  • Is there an orientation programme to prepare my baby for starting at daycare?

  • Are there daily reports to show what my child has been up to, how long they’ve slept for and what they’ve eaten?

  • Can I drop in at any time to see how my child is getting on?

  • When it comes to older children, what discipline measures are in place?

How to help your baby adjust

If your baby isn’t used to being separated from you, gradually start spending time away from them. Find someone you trust to look after them while you pop out for half an hour to begin with, building up to a couple of hours.

Leave them with a friend or family member’s so they get used to being in a different environment. This will help them learn that it’s okay if you’re apart because you’ll be back.

Before they start, visit as often as the centre will allow, to get them accustomed to their new surroundings and the people there. Ease them in by starting them on reduced hours and gradually build up to the amount of time they’ll be spending there.

When you drop them off, greet staff at the childcare centre warmly and look happy. This shows your baby that you like the people there and they can be trusted. Once you’ve handed them over, smile, say “See you later,” and leave quickly. Don’t drag out the farewell or keep going back to them. This will just confuse your baby and leave them feeling unsettled.

Pack a couple of special toys or a favourite blanket so they will have familiar items to provide some comfort.

About separation anxiety

This is a normal part of development that babies go through. They are meant to form strong attachments – this is vital for their survival and emotional development – but separation anxiety doesn’t kick in until around six months of age. Before then they are often quite happy to go to anyone and you probably think they’re very sociable because they will happily be held by complete strangers.

But from six months on they begin to get more attached to their primary caregivers. They start to understand that you still exist, even when you aren’t with them, and they get upset when you leave.

They may also become anxious about strangers at the same time. This separation anxiety usually peaks when they are around 12 months old, and starts to get better after that, although older children can still suffer from it.

Unfortunately, when they’re between six to 12 months is often when you’re putting them into daycare, so it can be harder. Once they understand that you aren’t going away permanently and will be back, it will be easier.

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