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Helping Children Reduce Anxiety When Starting Child Care

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Starting child care can be a significant transition for both children and parents. It’s natural for children to feel anxious about this change, but there are strategies parents can use to help ease this transition and make it a positive experience. Here are some tips to help children feel less anxious when starting childcare.

1. Familiarise Them with the New Environment

Before the first day, take your child to visit your local childcare centre. Schedule a time when the centre is relatively quiet so that your child can explore without feeling overwhelmed. Walk through the different areas, pointing out the classroom, play areas, nap spaces, and bathrooms.

Let your child play with the toys and interact with any children who might be there. Meeting the caregivers is crucial; introduce your child to the teachers and staff and allow some time for them to interact. This visit helps your child build a mental map of the new environment and start forming positive associations with the space and the people there. Repeated visits can further solidify this familiarity, reducing anxiety on the first official day.

2. Establish a Routine

Children thrive on routine because it provides a sense of security and predictability. In the weeks leading up to starting child care, establish a consistent daily routine that mirrors the schedule they will have at child care.

Wake them up at the same time each day, have breakfast, and engage in activities similar to those they will experience at the centre, such as storytime or play sessions. Gradually adjust nap times and meal times to align with the childcare centre’s schedule. Consistency in these routines helps your child’s body clock and expectations align with their new daily pattern, making the transition smoother and less stressful.

3. Talk About Child Care Positively

Discuss child care with enthusiasm and positivity. Explain to your child what they can expect, highlighting the fun activities they will participate in, the new friends they will make, and the caring teachers who will look after them. Use positive language and an upbeat tone to create a sense of excitement.

Avoid expressing any of your own anxieties or uncertainties about the change. Instead, focus on the benefits and the fun aspects of child care. For instance, you might say, “You’re going to have so much fun playing with new toys and making new friends!” This positive framing helps your child develop a positive attitude towards the upcoming change.

helping children reduce anxiety when starting child care

4. Read Books About Child Care

There are many children’s books available that talk about starting child care or preschool. Reading these books together can help your child understand what to expect and see the experience as a normal and exciting part of growing up.

Choose books that feature characters going through similar experiences and emotions as your child might. Discuss the story as you read, asking questions like, “How do you think the character feels?” and “What do you think will happen next?”

This can open up a dialogue about your child’s own feelings and expectations, helping them process their emotions and feel more prepared for their own experience.

5. Create a Goodbye Ritual

Having a special goodbye ritual can make parting easier for both of you. This could be a special handshake, a hug, or a short phrase you always say. A consistent and quick goodbye can reassure your child that you’ll be back. It’s important that the goodbye is not prolonged; lingering can increase anxiety for both you and your child. Instead, keep it short, sweet, and predictable.

For example, you might say, “I love you, see you soon!” and then leave promptly. This ritual provides a sense of closure and security, helping your child understand that while you are leaving, you will always return, which can significantly reduce separation anxiety.

6. Encourage Independence

Help your child develop skills that will make them feel more confident at child care. Encouraging independence involves teaching your child to perform simple tasks on their own. Start with small, manageable activities like putting on their shoes, zipping up their coat, and packing their own backpack. Practice handwashing together, emphasising the importance of cleanliness.

Celebrate successes and provide gentle guidance when needed to make toilet training fun and stress-free. Role-playing different scenarios, such as snack time or getting ready to go outside, can also help your child feel more prepared. These skills not only foster a sense of self-reliance but also reduce anxiety by making daily activities at childcare more familiar and manageable.

7. Bring a Comfort Object

Allow your child to bring a favourite toy, blanket, or any other comfort object to childcare. A comfort object, often referred to as a transitional object, provides a tangible reminder of home and a sense of security. This object can be anything your child feels attached to, such as a stuffed animal, a small blanket, or even a parent’s scarf. Discuss with the childcare provider to ensure they are aware of its importance and can accommodate its presence. Make sure the item is easily identifiable and not easily lost. Having something familiar to hold can make the new environment feel less intimidating and provide comfort during moments of anxiety.

8. Stay Calm and Confident

Children often pick up on their parents’ emotions. If you remain calm and confident, it can help your child feel more secure. Even if you’re feeling anxious, try to project a sense of calmness and reassurance. Before you arrive at the child care centre, take a few deep breaths to centre yourself.

Use a cheerful tone when talking about child care and focus on the positives. Avoid showing any hesitation or lingering during drop-off, as this can increase your child’s anxiety. Your confidence will signal to your child that they are in a safe and positive environment, making it easier for them to relax and engage with their new surroundings.

9. Gradual Transition

If possible, start with shorter days and gradually increase the time your child spends at childcare. This gradual transition can help your child adjust more comfortably. Begin by staying for just an hour or two, then slowly extend the duration over several days or weeks.

This incremental approach allows your child to acclimate at their own pace and reduces the overwhelming feeling of being away from home for long periods initially. Discuss this plan with the childcare provider so they can support the process and provide feedback on your child’s adjustment. The gradual increase in time helps build trust and familiarity, making the full-day transition smoother and less stressful.

10. Communicate with Caregivers

Build a strong relationship with your child’s caregivers. Regular communication can help you stay informed about how your child is adjusting and provide you with insights on how to support them at home. Establish open lines of communication from the start by attending orientation sessions, meeting with caregivers, and participating in parent-teacher meetings.

Share important information about your child’s likes, dislikes, routines, and any concerns you may have. Frequent updates from caregivers about your child’s progress and behaviour can help you address any issues promptly and reinforce positive experiences at home. This partnership ensures that everyone is working together to support your child’s well-being and development.

11. Acknowledge Their Feelings

It’s important to acknowledge your child’s feelings and let them know it’s okay to feel scared or nervous. Reassure them that you understand their feelings and that it’s okay to talk about them. When your child expresses anxiety, listen attentively and validate their emotions by saying things like, “I understand you’re feeling scared, and that’s okay.”

Offer comfort and encourage them to share what specifically makes them nervous. Help them find solutions and coping strategies, such as deep breathing or thinking about something happy. By acknowledging their feelings without dismissing them, you help your child feel heard and supported, which can significantly reduce their anxiety and build their emotional resilience.

12. Be Patient

Adjustment to child care can take time. Be patient and give your child the time they need to get used to the new environment. Celebrate small milestones and progress along the way.

By taking these steps, you can help your child feel more comfortable and less anxious about starting child care. Remember, every child is different, and what works for one child might not work for another. The key is to provide support, understanding, and reassurance as they navigate this new chapter in their lives.


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Mick Pacholli

Mick created TAGG - The Alternative Gig Guide in 1979 with Helmut Katterl, the world's first real Street Magazine. He had been involved with his fathers publishing business, Toorak Times and associated publications since 1972.  Mick was also involved in Melbourne's music scene for a number of years opening venues, discovering and managing bands and providing information and support for the industry. Mick has also created a number of local festivals and is involved in not for profit and supporting local charities.        

Mick Pacholli
Mick Pachollihttps://www.tagg.com.au
Mick created TAGG - The Alternative Gig Guide in 1979 with Helmut Katterl, the world's first real Street Magazine. He had been involved with his fathers publishing business, Toorak Times and associated publications since 1972.  Mick was also involved in Melbourne's music scene for a number of years opening venues, discovering and managing bands and providing information and support for the industry. Mick has also created a number of local festivals and is involved in not for profit and supporting local charities.        
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