3 things to expect when children start daycare…and tips to cope


1. Frustration: Starting daycare is a big transition and it is normal for children to express many emotions as a result. Depending on the age of your child, you may see him or her get frustrated at the thought of separating from you and being in a different environment full of new faces. In this context of change and learning, with the limited emotional resources young children have, crying is expected and normal, although it can be heartbreaking for parents.

When going through transitions, children usually need some time to figure out their new setting and learn from their new experiences. In this case, when leaving their home or other familiar environment to start a new routine (at a new place), it will take some time to learn that caregivers will come back for them, that they can count on other grownups for love and support, and that they can play and share with other children.

Keep in mind that your child’s developmental level at the time of the transition to daycare may have to do with the amount of frustration or crying the child exhibits. For example, when children are between 7 months and 2 years old, they are increasingly understanding — sometimes grudgingly — that they are individuals and that they can be separated from their caregivers. As a result, children between these ages may experience separation anxiety, which tends to peak around 9 months and 18 months. In general, children with a more sensitive temperament may be slower to warm up to their new setting and could exhibit additional frustration, anxiety, or fear as a result – this is normal and it is especially important for caregivers and daycare professionals to support children with empathy and acceptance.

2. Parental stress/anxiety: Leaving one’s child at daycare for the first time can conjure many emotions for parents and caregivers. They may experience grief due to the separation, stress from changing the family’s routines, or negative emotions such as fear and worry that could be triggered by past experiences of separation. As much as parents want their child to transition to daycare successfully, it is important to give time to acknowledge the change and prepare for the possibility that it may take longer for the child and the parent/caregiver to settle into the new routine than anticipated. If possible, parents might consider taking some time off from work and other responsibilities to visit and tour the daycare with the child, meet with the daycare staff, and even volunteer for a morning or afternoon (if permitted) to get a feel for the environment.

3. Emotional safety at the daycare: Because children often express frustration and crying when starting daycare, it is especially important for caregivers to expect the daycare to provide an environment of emotional comfort and protection. In such environment, kids feel loved, accepted for who they are, respected, appreciated, heard, and safe. Beyond socializing children to the moral values of these qualities, having this environment is also crucial to children’s neurological, cognitive, and emotional development. Parents and caregivers are advised to look for daycares and schools where teachers and guardians provide comfort and above all emotional and physical safety. Additionally, parents may also have varying preferences for the way in which daycare professionals interact with their children – some may emphasize emotional expression, helping children name their emotions. At the minimum, it is reasonable for parents to expect daycare staff and teachers to express love and never use negative labels for children due to their behavior.

How can this transition be easier for the family?

The emotions and new stimulation resulting from the transition to daycare may cause some children to experience sleep regressions, throw more tantrums, and/or have changes in their eating habits. Here are some tips on how to make things a little more manageable during this time:

  • Expect things to be a bit bumpy for a few days and try to avoid making too many other changes to your family’s routine at the same time.
  • Daycare can initially be emotionally and physically tiring for your child. You might try letting your child nap longer, put them to bed early, and/or spend more time cuddling and playing with your child. Providing snacks that are high in protein and low in sugar will help them make it through the day with greater success.
  • Physical expressions of love and speaking about the experience help to soothe your child’s nervous system and will allow them to better integrate and understand the change.
  • For parents, seeking support from friends and family members who understand what you are going through can be especially useful. It may be also be helpful to establish a way to check-in regularly with the child’s new setting and teacher to receive updates on how the day is going. Building in self-care activities to one’s routine can also calm nerves and promote emotional well-being, which will ultimately strengthen the parent-child relationship.

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17 thoughts on “3 things to expect when children start daycare…and tips to cope

  1. I have been looking into daycare options for my children and wanted to just look up some information. I didn’t know that daycare could be frustrating for my child for the first couple of days. It is important that any daycare caregiver can help give emotional support for my child. I will definitely look into a good day care to make sure my child will be happy. Thanks! http://www.starbrightearlylearningcenter.com/programs/

  2. I like your idea to provide snacks for your child that are high in protein and will help them have the energy they need for the entire day. If you feed your child sugary snacks, it’s likely that a sugar rush will cause a burst of energy and then a crash. After the crash, children can get moody and grumpy, so it’s safe to stick to healthy foods.

  3. I like that you mention that it’s important to tour the daycare and meet with the staff with your child before starting daycare. This seems like a good way for both you and the child to get adjusted being away from home. It’s important to look out for a reputable daycare center, so it’s good to take the time to do your research until you find the right one for you and your child. http://www.toddletowne.com/

  4. My husband and I are planning on sending our son to daycare, but we are not sure what to expect of it. I like that you mentioned how he might express frustration and crying when he starts on daycare, and that the center should provide an environment of emotional comfort and protection. I’ll be sure to discuss this with my husband so that we can look for a daycare where love will be expressed to our son, and negative labels will not be used to him for his behavior. Much appreciated! http://kidstowncenters.com/

  5. I’m grateful for that part about how to help your child cope with the physical and emotional exhaustion when they initially start daycare. I want to make sure my daughter prepare for child care. I figure that’ll be the best way to ensure that the transition goes by smoothly. http://joyousmontessori.com/our-school/lewisville

  6. I like how you acknowledged that it will take some time before both the child and the parent(s) are settled into this new routine. I have to go back to work and I need to find somewhere for my daughter to go while I’m away. This will be a difficult transition, but I think that it will be for the best and that it will be a great help in the long run.

  7. Leaving your child in a place that is unfamiliar to them will obviously cause some major confusion and perhaps some trauma but that’s why you have to ease your child into it as their parent and make sure that the transition is as smooth as it can be. I know it took some time for my child to get used to his daycare but it’s pretty much smooth sailing at this point!

  8. As I do agree that children attending activities away from their parents can cause them to cry and experience separation anxiety, I believe that one should choose a daycare that can help them cope with that. Aside from the child learning basic counting and reading skills, they can also teach the child how to socialize with other kids so that he or she can eventually love being in it. If I were to send my children to one, I would choose one out of the recommendations from relatives and friends. This will help make choosing faster but also know what to expect when sending them to one, aside from the points you listed in your article. http://www.kidsandcribschildcare.com/home

  9. My son is coming of age to go to daycare. I am stressed as most parents are because I want my kids to be happy and well taken care of. Thanks for the suggestion of choosing a daycare that really focuses in on this adjustment for my son since it can be really intense at times. I hope I can find that. Thanks for the suggestion. https://www.gmvymca.org/early-learning-ymca

  10. I like what you said about letting your child nap a bit longer since daycare can be physically taxing for them. My son is just about old enough for daycare. He doesn’t want to stop playing when he gets going, so I think we should start practicing taking longer naps so he can adjust to daycare a lot better. http://www.pauldingpreschool.com/preschool-day-care

  11. That’s a good point that the first few days will be a bit rough. I wouldn’t want to give on something because it didn’t work at first. I’ll have to make sure we stick with it for a little while at least.

  12. Thank you for reminding me that I shouldn’t change anything with the family’s routine even though my child started to attend daycare. My husband and I agreed to entrust our daughter, Jamie, to a nearby daycare center so we could focus more on our tasks and she could also develop other skills that might not be exercised at home. Since you said that we should continue our usual routine despite changes, we’ll try our best to keep things as they are.

  13. Thank you for reminding me that my child still needs to adjust to their new setting in order to learn from what they’ve experienced. I got so excited to send my daughter away to daycare but your article made me realize that she might need to feel and understand how things work there before being able to adapt. It might be a good idea to take a look around different daycare centers within the area with her and see where she finds it the most comfortable.


  14. I’m glad that you mentioned how leaving our children in a daycare center can be a big transition. Honestly, I think that I would require more adjustment than my daughter would since she had always been independent. I guess I should pay attention and choose the best childcare facility in town so I can have my own peace of mind.


  15. I totally agree that enrolling our kids in school for the first time can be a big transition. My daughter just reached the perfect age for early preschool but I’m not sure if she’s ready for it. I guess I have to discuss things with my husband and see if leaving her in a learning facility can contribute to her development.


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