11 month old starting daycare

Hi Dr. Laura,
I'm looking for some advice on how to possibly transition my almost 11 month old into daycare on a part time basis. Currently, I work evenings and my husband works days, so one of us is always with her. This has worked *ok*, except, due to my schedule I am only getting 4 hours of sleep a night. (And, I never see my husband!)

I am looking at taking a job closer to home (9 miles away vs. 50!) I would work more of an afternoon shift and my daughter would need to be in daycare for about 4.5 hours a day.

She is very social and not too afraid of strangers. She loves to interact with other kids, but doesn't get an opportunity to do so very often (one reason I think daycare will be a good thing for her!) She has spent full days with her grandparents and my sister and has even had one overnight with her grandparents. She does well in these situations, but is a tad more clingy to me the next day.

If I take this job, how do I make this transition smooth and positive for her?

Thanks in advance for any insight you can give me!

Sarah

Dear Sarah,

So far, you and your husband have done an admirable job of caring for your daughter by arranging for one or the other of you to be there with her at all times. However, getting four hours of sleep a night is certainly not a sustainable situation and will not help you be the mother you want to be. A job 9 miles away vs 50 sounds like a huge improvement in your quality of life.

I'm not a fan of full-time daycare for eleven month olds, but four hours per day should be just fine for her if you find a high-quality daycare. When you look for the right place for her, observe how the staff relates to the little ones, and ask about staff training and staff turnover. The ability and willingness of the daycare staff to form warm and loving relationships with the kids is what will make daycare a positive experience for your little one.

Then, to ease the transition:

1. Facilitate your baby's bonding with the caregivers. The only way to help your baby over her upset when you leave is for her to develop a great relationship with her caregiver. She will still protest your leaving, but a caregiver she feels connected to will be able to comfort her. Her protest should be brief. If she keeps crying for twenty minutes after a few days, it means she isn't willing to accept comfort from this new person--which means they need to do a better job bonding with her and consoling her.

2. How do you facilitate a great relationship? First, talk to the daycare folks and see if they will designate one person as your daughter's transitional staffer. She needs one person she knows she can depend on, in that situation when you walk out the door and she is in an unfamiliar situation with a group of people.

3. Help her get comfortable in this new situation. Invest in making this experience work for your daughter by spending a few afternoons, or parts of afternoons, at the daycare with her before she begins there. Facilitate her bonding with the other kids, and especially with the caregivers.The minute she gets engaged in something, try to take a back seat, nearby but not engaged. Let her have good experiences with the caregivers in your presence.

4. Relate warmly to the caregivers yourself, in your baby's presence. Take a photo of the "designated" caregiver holding your baby. Put it on your refrigerator, and speak warmly to it often in front of your daughter (“Alma, you won't believe it when my daughter shows you that she knows how to bark like a dog!”) Point the photo out to your daughter regularly, using the caregiver's name. Say "Alma loves Mia!" and "Mommy loves Mia!" and give her a hug.

5. Start with short separations. After she feels comfortable with this new situation, and has developed more of a relationship with the caregivers, practice leaving her for a very short time — start by saying goodbye, leaving, and then returning as soon as she stops crying. If you start with short absences, your daughter will learn more quickly that you always return, and can gradually get used to the separations as you gradually extend your absences. But don't give in to the temptation to return while she is still crying, or she'll think crying can bring you back, and it will be hard for her to give up that strategy!

6. Develop a parting routine. For instance, always read her a story, then hug her and tell her you love her and when you'll be back, then put her in her caregiver's arms, then say your standard parting phrase (“I love you, you love me, have a great day and I'll pick you up at three!”). Stick to your routine every day and resist the urge to either extend it or cut it short. It will help your daughter to know exactly what to expect.

7. Leave her with a comfort object. If you can give her something of yours, such as a scarf, she may be able to comfort herself with it, although don't be surprised if she throws it on the floor as you leave. Many people suggest giving your child a lovey, and of course these are helpful, but no securely attached baby will find it more than small comfort in the absence of a parent.

8. Help your little one to understand what's happening. Her language is limited, but she still understands more than you think. It will help her to cope if you reassure her by explaining what will happen. She also needs you to explicitly say that you will always comeback. It may be obvious to you, but how should she know? Kids also seem to use that phrase as a mantra when they get anxious: "Mommy always comes back."

When you talk about it, though, don't focus on the separation, keep going to describe the fun she will have:

“First I will read you a story. Then Alma will hold you. I will say ‘See you later Alligator!' Then I will leave and wave goodbye and you and Alma and your lovey will wave from the window. Then you and Alma will dance to the music you like. You might be sad, but the music and dancing will make you feel better. Alma will hold you. Then all the kids will have lunch. You will play outside, and then I will be back after snack to pick you up. Mommy always comes back.”

9. Don't give in to the temptation to sneak out. It will make her separation anxiety worse in the long run. When she bursts into tears, say calmly “I know you don't want me to leave, but I will be back right after lunch. I will wave goodbye from outside. Alma will take you to the window to wave.” Then leave. Resist the urge to run back and grab your crying child. It may take her weeks to start waving to you, but you should always wave to her. Regulate your own distress and signal that things are fine by being matter of fact.

10. Discuss in advance with the caregiver what she can do to comfort and distract your daughter. Some babies are calmed by running water, or by always visiting the window to watch the birds at the feeder, or by dancing in the caregiver's arms to particular music. One boy I knew was always distracted by a particular video of earth moving equipment; his mom could say goodbye, settle him in front of the video with his lovey, and leave. When the video ended half an hour later, he joined the other kids without a fuss. Maybe there is a specific toy that your daughter loves (even one that you bring from home but she only plays with at daycare.)

You want to make sure that the caregiver will keep trying until she finds something that distracts your daughter, and that she will hold your baby until she is calm and whenever she needs to beheld while you are gone. And if she can get the other kids started on a fun activity that your baby can't wait to join, it might really shorten the hysterics. Babies want to imitate the bigger kids.

11. Don't be late to pick your little one up. If she finishes snack and you aren't there yet as promised, it will make things harder in the future,and you will be setting up a long-term feeling that you don't always follow through on your promises, which is no basis for a bond with your child.

12. Help your daughter learn that people return; that what disappears isn't gone forever but will reappear. Play games like Peek a Boo, or hiding and finding a loved object (“Is your lovey under the bed? No, it isn't under the bed. Is your lovey behind the shower curtain? YES, there's your lovey!”), or Hide and Go Seek (and of course hide in a place where she can easily find you!)

As she gets older and wants to read with you, share books about separation and return, which will help her to use her intellect to put the pain in context--always a good strategy to feel less panic about it. Some great books:

Kathi Appelt's Oh My Baby, Little One (which is a fabulous book about how the mother and child are connected all day while she's at daycare.)

The Kissing Hand - universally loved by children

The Invisible String

Love Waves by Rosemary Wells

Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman - still a classic

Mama Always Comes Home

13. Create a “Lots of People Love Me” book. Put together a small child-sized photo album with people your daughter loves holding her: you, her dad, her grandparents,her caregivers, aunts and uncles. Add cousins and friends. Read the book often. Let her get used to her designated caregiver reading it to her in your presence. Many children are comforted by reading such a book when they miss their parents.

14. Give your baby lots of love and attention when you are with her. You may need a hot bath and a cup of tea at the end of the day, but she has a pent up need for you. Be prepared for her to be more demanding for awhile, maybe even to wake-up at night or want to sleep with you. She will be getting used to what to her will be a stressful situation, and she needs your calm, loving presence to unwind and relax. Keep things calm, avoid the power struggles that often develop at about 13 months, and look for opportunities to connect. That doesn't mean you need to engage in exhausting (for you) educational play, in fact, just the opposite. It means you need to be calmly present and affirmative with your attention.

Your daughter will eventually get used to daycare and enjoy it. Hopefully,these strategies will make the process faster and easier for her – and for you. Good luck!
Dr. Laura

Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids

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