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My 15-month-old doesn’t like being in the daycare’s toddler room
Q: My 15-month-old daughter moved from our daycare’s infant room to the toddler room and she’s not doing well. She cries first thing in the morning and when I pick her up. They tell me she does well during the day, but the mornings and evenings are hard. Instead of dropping her off in the toddler room in the morning I drop her off in the infant room and they take her to the toddler room after breakfast. She still cries. If I try to take her to the toddler room in the morning she cries horribly. She seems to be afraid of the older kids. They tell me she doesn’t really play with them. Is there anything I can do?
A: When parents encounter a disturbing situation in their child’s care arrangement, they often assume that the problem is with childcare in general, whereas the problem is often associated with a particular childcare setting. So the first thing I would do is take a day off from work and observe—preferably from a spot where your daughter can’t see you—for an entire day. If the director of the program says that is against the rules, get your daughter out of there. Any childcare that does not allow parent visitation, announced or unannounced, is of poor quality.

It’s okay if you have to observe from inside your daughter’s classroom. Take a book or some magazines with you, tell your daughter that you have things you need to read, and tell her to go ahead with her group. Make certain you observe her both when she is in the infant room and when she is in the toddler room. It may be that she would do fine if kept in the infant room all day. After all, she is still an infant. Any good program will provide activities for children covering at least a six-month age range. If the bigger and more active toddlers frighten her, keeping her with the babies might make her more comfortable.

After your observation you will have a pretty good idea of what you need to do. Is it true, as the daycare employees told you, that your daughter cries only early in the morning and in the afternoon at pick-up time? If so, she may be putting on a special show just for you. Truthfully, some parents seem disappointed if their child doesn’t cry when they leave. If the crying goes on all day (even if it moderates down to whining), I’d be prone to get her out of there.

You didn’t say what type of care your little girl was in, but it sounds like a fairly large centre. Some young children are more comfortable in a smaller, family-type facility where one woman cares for no more than four to five children. This is called family childcare and, like its centre counterpart, it can vary widely in quality. Your state’s Social Services office will be able to give you a list of licensed or registered family childcare providers. Or your city may have a Resource and Referral (R&R) service, which can provide information about childcare arrangements in your area, including tips on quality. Perhaps the most important features to examine are the adult-child ratio (no more than 1:6 for a child your daughter’s age, and preferably 1:5 or 1:4) and the training of the personnel responsible for the program.

Dr. Bettye M. Caldwell Ph.D. Professor of Pediatrics in Child Development and Education