Settling into a new care environment can be a thrilling time for a young child as s/he explores new surroundings, makes new friends, and bonds with new carers. However, this exciting time can be intimidating and emotional as the child makes her/his first venture from the home to a new care environment. When parents and carers approach this transition with support and love, the child can settle easily into a new routine at a child care centre.
Why children experience a transition period
All children experience a transition period as they enter into a new care environment; however, the length and intensity of the transition is affected by two main factors:
- Separation anxiety: In Touchpoints 3 to 6, child psychiatrist and Harvard Professor Joshua Sparrow explores the topic of children settling into a new care routine. Sparrow links separation anxiety with the length of time that a child takes to settle in at a child care centre. Depending on how frequently a child separates from the parents, the settling in period can last from a few days to nearly a month.
- The ratio of children to carer at the centre: The ability of children to settle in is also greatly affected by the ratio of children to carers in a centre; a crowded centre can be extremely overwhelming for a young child just leaving the home environment for the first time. As such, children adjust better when they receive more attention from their carers.
What can parents do to help their children settle in more quickly?
While the physical environment of the centre (fun, engaging, clean, not too crowded) plays a large role in how quickly a child adjusts, parents can also help their children settle in faster. It’s not unusual for children to protest leaving their parents, sometimes crying, or even throwing a tantrum; however, the attitude of the parents themselves affects a child’s settle time.
- Consistency is critical for a smooth transition. By attending the centre regularly, the child is able to learn the new routine quicker. Separating should be brief but loving; lingering
goodbyes almost always make the separation harder on the child.
- Positivity is another trait that parents can pass onto their children. When discussing the centre, parents should remain enthusiastic and cheerful. Ask your child questions about his day, including what his favourite activities were.
- Reassure your child that you will return shortly to collect him.
- Communication with the staff can help shorten the settle time as well. This communication assists in overcoming obstacles to a child’s adjustment period. By providing the
pertinent information about their child (including normal sleep patterns, food allergies, medical conditions, any special toileting needs), carers can attend to each child’s individual
needs more closely.
- Accept that your child will need to adjust. Let him know that it’s okay to feel sad or scared, but the carers are always there to help.
How carers can affect settling in
Regardless of whether you are looking at a family day care or a child care centre, the carers themselves play a role in how quickly or slowly your child settles in to a new learning environment. A child who feels connected to the carer will experience a shorter settling in time. According to Doctor William Sears of the Doctor Sears Wellness Institute, children feel safe when they feel love and respect from their carer, which ultimately leads to happier children. As each child adjusts in his or her own way, an experienced carer can
show love and attention when a child needs it the most, such as reading a story together as the parents depart.
As your child embarks on this milestone, remember to allow your child her/his time to process the change and support her/him with love.