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Language & Learning

10 Things to Do Before Starting Daycare

Here’s how to prepare for the big day

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Starting daycare can be a huge change your whole family, but these expert tips can ensure a smooth start—and ideally help everyone love the new routine.

1. Talk about it. A baby may not be able to understand what you're trying to explain, but you can certainly bring up the topic with toddlers. Let her know you’ll be taking her to a special place where she’ll play and learn with other kids her age. You can also read picture books about “school.”

2. Shop together. Pick out a new item to bring on the first day. A backpack, lunchbox, or nap blanket that’s just for daycare will signal the importance of the change and give her a sense of pride.

3. Visit the center together. “If your child is old enough, a trip to the center before the actual start date can smooth the transition,” says Ron Seidman, vice president of government relations and membership for the National Child Care Association. Show your child the classroom, play areas, and cubby where she’ll hang her jacket.

4. Pack ahead. To avoid feeling stressed on the first day, make sure you’ve organized what you need to bring (diapers, formula, or pumped breast milk, snack or lunch). “Most centers also require a change of clothes for your child since accidents happen,” Seidman points out. And don't forget that you'll probably need to bring this stuff every day at the drop-off time—so experiment with what works for your schedule, too.

5. Be on time. For the day to run smoothly, childcare providers need parents to be prompt at drop-off and pickup. Rushing in when things have already begun can be awkward for your child and make it harder for the caregivers. Make arrangements with your workplace so you can pick up your tot on time as well.

6. Tuck in right. Waking up a cranky kid could get your child off to a rough start. If your bedtime routine has gone off the rails, now is the time to get it back on track. Start earlier in the evening so there’s time for a bath, stories, and cuddling before bed.

7. Make drop-off quick. Short and sweet is best, according to experts. “Regardless of the age—even for newborns—give a quick kiss and a hug and then leave,” recommends Ingrid Kellaghan, a childcare expert and founder of the Cambridge Nanny Group. Hanging around in the classroom will only confuse your child and make separation that much harder.

8. Give extra snuggles. A new routine that involves separation can be stressful for babies and toddlers, so be aware of your child’s mood at home. An extra nursing session, more snuggling, and quiet stories together on the couch can help ease the transition.

9. Expect some tears. It’s hard to take—and you may even shed some of your own. “It’s very normal for your baby or toddler to cry when you leave him and it can also tear your heart wide open,” notes Kellaghan. But try your best to hold back tears at daycare. “Kids look to us for safety and comfort, so falling apart in front of them will only exacerbate their fears and insecurities,” she adds. Which brings us to…

10. Tamp down anxiety. As nervous as you may be about the start of daycare, try not to let your own feelings rub off on your child. “Parents can transfer emotions like doubt and fear to their kids,” Seidman says. Because children can pick up on stress, try to show positive energy and body language. And remember, after they’ve had time to adjust, most kids come to love daycare.