Author: Nayana Chakrabarti, Parenting and Education Editor
If you are thinking of enrolling your child in daycare or if you are about to enroll your child in daycare, you might find yourself feeling a little anxious. This is normal. Beginning daycare is a big step for any family, large or small. It is likely to be one of the first times that you will be entrusting your child to the care of others.
Many parents worry about finding the right center for their child, many worry that they haven’t made the right choice, some second guess themselves altogether. How do you know if you have made the right choice? Well, the right choice is the one that’s right for you and the one which fits with your family and your parenting style. My choice might well be different from yours. However, using my experience as a former daycare teacher and my experience of, well, being a mum whose child attended daycare, I’ve put together a list of things to look out for which I hope you will find helpful.
1. Choosing the right daycare
What do you need to look for when you are choosing a daycare for your child? The following four items are a starting point, you will want to add to these.
- Cleanliness and hygiene
- Teacher/child ratio
- Clear protocols and policies
- Variety of teaching, learning and playing resources
- Do they take allergies seriously?
- Word of mouth – what are people saying about them?
2. Sleeping Safely
There are a lot of things that you might have on your list when you are looking around for the appropriate daycare for your child. For example, outdoor playing areas might be a priority for some families, while access to books, toys and resources might be a priority for others But something that should be a priority everyone is ensuring that the daycare you eventually select puts sleep safety first. If you see cribs crowded with plushies, loose blankets and bumpers, just turn around and walk straight out.
That is not a safe sleeping environment.
Babies should be laid down to sleep on their back, there should be nothing else in the crib other than a sleeping bag (if necessary) and pacifiers (also, if necessary).
What should you be looking for?
1. A thermometer
3. Doors that allow you to see into the sleeping area (which also often doubles up as the nappy changing area)
4. No hanging blind cords (choking hazard)
5. A safe sleeping protocol
6. Familiarity with using sleeping bags
7. Demonstration of safe sleeping practices
Please note: this list is not exhaustive
The daycare should use a thermometer to ensure that the sleeping room is neither too hot nor too cold. The ideal room temperature for a sleeping baby is between 16 -20 Celsius. In summer, this is likely to rise, in which case there should be adequate ventilation. The daycare teachers that you speak to you should demonstrably and adequately explain to you that they lay babies to sleep on their backs, whether they transfer babies to their cribs if they have dozed off elsewhere and so on and so forth. The room should look clean and safe. This conversation is important and it should leave you feeling reassured. If it doesn’t, then the alarm bells should really start to ring.
3. Settling in
So, you’ve found a daycare and you’re happy. The teachers seem lovely and the place itself is light, airy, comfortable and clean. The icing on the cake is that they have spaces available. What now?
‘Settling in’ is the practice of ensuring that your child settles into daycare. This happens gradually and over a period of time, such as two weeks. Over a predetermined period, your child will incrementally spend more time at daycare while you will be asked to make yourself available and free just in case they need you. It’s most likely that they won’t but it’s a necessary protocol nonetheless as the daycare teachers work with you in order to ensure the best start for your child. At the beginning, you will accompany them but by the end, they should be ready to spend a whole day at daycare without you. This is because along with your child, you too are getting ‘settled-in’. It helps your child if you are both familiar with the process as well as the teachers who will be taking care of your little one. In some cases, settling -in does take longer. This is fairly normal and not something you should be worried about unless you feel that your child’s anxiety is trying to tell you something, in which case, give yourself time to pause and introspect. You might want to ask for meetings with the teachers and the management to ascertain what is really going on.
4. All The Things They Want VS All The Things That They Need
Take your time to familiarise yourself with the items that your child’s daycare asks you to provide. Each one is slightly different and has different expectations. These expectations also vary according to the age of your child.
For example, for a younger child, you will be expected to provide pumped breast milk or formula. It is unlikely that the daycare will provide formula as each baby’s needs are so different. If you are in the midst of weaning, you can be almost certain that the daycare will ask you to provide the food. This is partly because daycare’s are committed to upholding as much of the home environment for young babies as possible but also because parents generally prefer to provide the food for the youngest babies themselves. You might also want to check if your daycare allows breastfeeding parents to feed on site; in fact this is something that you might want to ask when you are visiting daycare. If breastfeeding is important to you, your daycare should accommodate you and make you feel both welcome and comfortable.
Older children usually eat the food that is prepared on site. Your daycare should be preparing and providing at least one hot meal a day alongside a healthy range of snacks. The menu plan for the week should be clearly visible. However, if your child has allergies, they might ask you to provide the food that is suitable for them. All members of staff who work in the daycare should be aware of all the allergies at all times. If this is something you are concerned about, it is well within your right to ensure and check that the information is properly displayed.
Most daycares will ask you to provide a range of clothing. In Switzerland, it is common practice for children to walk outside or play outside in all kinds of weather. This means that you will have to provide clothing that covers a range of weather patterns, from rain, to snow and everything in between! However, at the same time, it is important to not go overboard. Day-cares can only provide each child with a finite amount of storage. If you bring in too much, this means that you will be taking space from another child. In short, when arranging your child’s daycare wardrobe, make sure that you pick items which are good for rough use and that if the item of clothing is ruined – you won’t be devastated. Moreover, it is very likely that things may go missing. This is not as a result of malice or ill intent but simply because many children might have similar pieces of clothing. While it is easy to blame teachers if things go missing, it is also very likely that the fault does not lie with them. In my experience, things tend to go walkabout when people who do not usually pick up children from daycare are then asked to pick them up. Grandparents have frequently walked off with things which look similar but do not actually belong to their charge. One parent took my coat home because I had left it hanging visibly after a brief outing! The good news is that, nearly always, things can be tracked down and happily restored.
Labelling your children’s clothes is always a good idea. If you’re in a hurry, use a permanent marker on the label but if you have time, you could order labels with your child’s names printed or embroidered on them. Labels by Stickerkid.ch tend to be very popular. They are known to deliver quickly – something which I find to be a bonus!
5. A Word to the Wise: Let’s Talk Shoes
When investing in shoes for daycare for your child, do try to be mindful of what kind of purpose they will serve. For example, if your child is too young to tie their own shoelaces (which is the case in daycare), please don’t send them to daycare with lace-up shoes. It will mean that a teacher is down on their knees tying and retying shoelaces repeatedly. The really cute lace-ups that you have your eyes on could very well be reserved for weekends where you have one-on-one time and it is likely that you will be dealing with fewer children rather than daycare teachers who have to attend to approximately eight to thirteen children at a time. Not to put too fine a point on it but it was my experience that it was precisely when I was attending to something like tying shoelaces i.e. engaged in mindless labor that I was distracted from dealing with the issues that really needed my attention. Are laces solely to blame? No, of course not. But are they necessary when they are just cosmetic and the child wearing them does not yet have the fine motor skills to tie them? No…Instead, invest in some lacing toys or even better, make them yourself. Follow the instructions here and make a DIY lacing card.
Investing in sensible shoes, rather than shoes which are in vogue, can also help to ward off unnecessary accidents. Try to ensure that the ‘house shoes’ i.e. the shoes which children will wear indoors have just as good a grip as the shoes which they wear outdoors. Children run about all the time, slipping and sliding is common if the soles have poor grip. For example, a particular brand – and rather expensive – of moccasins are very popular, namely because they are very soft. Their soles also happen to be as smooth as butter. When a baby or toddler is learning to toddle, the benefits of the moccasin’s softness is outweighed by the fact that they are very difficult to gain purchase on the ground with resulting in slips, slides and various avoidable bumps to the head.
6. Dropping Off
Okay, so now you have chosen your daycare, you have packed everything and you’ve just started to get those first-day-of-school tingly feelings. What next?
Dropping your child off at daycare is a big transition for you both and one which you will need to prepare for. Firstly, it is important that you familiarise yourself with the logistics – the when, the where and the how. Make sure you know this before the first day so that you don’t feel rushed and flustered. Luckily, the settling-in process should have created a sense of familiarity for your child and you will be able to use this to your advantage. In the first few weeks, try and give yourself plenty of time to drop your child off and approach it with a lot of positivity. Studies indicate that routine is important thus perhaps you could even create your own goodbye ritual. Rituals offer reassurance. Don’t forget to remind your child that you will be back to pick them up at the end of the day and that they are going to have a really fun time at daycare. Many parents feel guilty about sending their child to daycare; do remember that you have nothing to feel guilty about. It is important to put on a brave front at this point, even though you might be experiencing mixed emotions. But, take a deep breath and put on a brave, smiley face.
It is crucial that your child believes that you trust the teachers at the daycare to look after them and that you are on the same side as them. If they are made to feel that you don’t trust the teachers, they will pick up on this and feel very insecure about being cared for by the teachers. Once again, this is why it is crucial that you do genuinely trust the daycare that you entrust your child to; this is why the vetting process is so important and why it is important to visit a number of daycares in order to find the best fit.
The tears at drop-off time will reduce over time but in the initial days, they will take some getting used to. It is also very likely that almost as soon as you are out of sight, your child will stop crying and become diverted by all their new friends, the lovely environment and the fun toys that are on offer.
7. Picking Up
Small children have big emotions. Nowhere is this more on display than at pick-up time. As their parent, you are still your child’s number one person. After having been away from you all day, they might manifest their emotions by demanding your attention in ways that you might find taxing and might leave you wondering whether they were at all happy during the day. It is more than very likely that they had a grand time at daycare; their reaction on seeing you is very much their reaction to you. They want and need you. A nursing child might start wanting to feed like a newborn; your toddler might feel like an additional limb; a preschooler might nosedive to the floor in a series of tantrums. Some children might simply need to chill out, enjoy a bit of downtime and unwind. This is all part of your child adjusting to the overwhelm and part of how they are working through their emotions as they adjust to a new routine. If you have had a full and busy day at work, try to remember that your child has had a full and busy day too. Avoid over-scheduling, as great as the temptation might be. You might also find that your child is ravenous so it is a good idea to come to pick-up armed with some healthy snacks.
On some days, you might receive the dreaded phone call that your child is sick and that you are needed to come and pick them up early. Do not send your child to daycare if they have a temperature, if they have diarrhoea, if they are vomiting, if they have a rash or if they have a persistent cough. They should be well for a minimum of 24 hours before you send them back. This might seem frustrating, especially if you have a full plate at work but this protocol not only keeps your child safe but it also keeps other children and teachers safe. In our post-lockdown-living-through-a-pandemic-times, this is of particular note and importance. Children in daycare settings do tend to get sick more often, especially in their first winter so it is important to have a back-up childcare plans. However, you should also know that in Switzerland, each parent is legally allowed to take time off for up to three days per sickness, per child.
These are some points to consider:
- Does your workplace allow you to work from home?
- Can you work from home alongside an emergency babysitter?
- Can your partner share the load with you?
8. How was their day?
Most of the time, you will find that your child’s day has been good. The teacher discharging them will probably reel off the same factoids each day: they ate well; they slept well; they played well etc. You can request specific information as well and they should be able to give that to you. However, do be aware that daycares remain open longer than normal working hours. Hence, the teacher who you left your child with in the morning and who has been looking after them all day, might not be the same teacher who is discharging them. This is because teachers work in shifts in order to cater to the increasing demands of the workplace. The teacher discharging your child might not have all the details of their day but they should be able to provide you with a mini-report.
9. Feeling Peckish?
You might find yourself asking, why does your child seem so hungry even though the report says that they ate well. Children at daycares are encouraged to eat until they are full but it is up to them to make that decision. If a teachers notices that your child hasn’t eaten well, they will offer encouragement and if it is available, they will offer variety. In some cases, they might even offer to spoon feed (although this is generally discouraged) but do bear in mind that your child’s eating patterns will differ in daycare. It is more likely that they will eat little and often. On some days, they might have loved their lunch and their afternoon snacks; on other days they will be less enthusiastic.
10. On Biting and Biters
The issue that raises its head time and time again is the issue of biting. I’ll begin by saying this: biting is developmentally appropriate but socially inappropriate. Biting is a normal part of childhood; in fact many of us were probably biters when we were toddlers. Mouthing objects and biting them is a method through which young children explore the world. Over time, biting is also method that some children use to test their limits and express their feelings. We can observe biting behaviors in many children aged 18 to 36 months. However, some children can begin sooner, when they are as young as one years old.
Why do children bite? Don’t worry. If you have a little biter on your hands, you haven’t done anything wrong. Your toddler might be biting because they would like more attention, or because they are teething, or because they are exploring, or even because they want to test the reaction that biting gets them. In some cases, they might also bite because they are imitating someone else they have seen.
All of this is all very well and good unless of course your child is the one who is bitten. It can be extremely upsetting and even frustrating to see your child getting hurt. You will have questions for the daycare teachers and you may wonder how they ‘let’ it happen. The issue is that they didn’t ‘let’ it happen. It is also helpful to remember that the biter is just a small child. If you happen to be the parent of a biter, you may experience embarrassment and you too might wonder how or why your child is biting. It’s not simple and there’s no single-step solution. The truth is this: biting is common in daycare environments and even with the best intentions in the world, biting can happen under the watch of the most attentive of teachers. If you choose to escalate the issue – maybe its happening with alarming frequency – then try to work alongside the teachers so that you are all on the same page. The following should happen as part of the course but if it doesn’t, these are the issues you should raise with them:
- Is the biter being observed?
- How did the biting incident happen?
- Are there particular times of day when biting happens?
- How does the biter react when the child they have bitten is hurt and complains of pain?
- What is the daycare’s biting protocol?
- Was the bitten child attended to first?
- What do the teachers say to the children after every biting incident?
Each biting incident does need to be dealt with sensitively and teachers (and parents) need to explain that biting is not what we do and that it is not nice. However, actions do speak louder than words hence the following steps should also be followed both at home and in the daycare.
- Each day should have a familiar routine as not only does it help children to thrive, it also discourages biting episodes
- Close supervision of an established biter without prejudice
- Diverse activities need to be provided as boredom breeds biting in young children. Young toddlers are not cognitively ready to share toys; competition over toys can lead to biting as well.
- Praising the child for good behaviour; if positive reinforcement is provided for positive behaviour, the child is unlikely to seek attention from negative-attention seeking behaviour
Remember, if at any points you have any doubts, you should talk to the teachers and try to remember that both you and they are on the same side; your child’s side.
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