Most days, three-year-old Gabriele is quite happy to be dropped off at his daycare. But this morning, he glues himself to his dad’s leg. Why? His dad, Dave Curcio, says it’s hard to know.
Cindy Piwowar is a lecturer in early childhood education at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, BC. “When there’s a change in behaviour like that, it usually means something has changed. We often need to go back and try and figure out what it is.”
A new caregiver, changes in the program, the loss of a buddy, even the disappearance of his favourite red truck can throw a child for a loop, says Piwowar. Changes at home — even positive ones — can throw a preschooler off too: a move, a new baby, visiting grandparents or even a vacation.
Developmental change can also make children anxious about daycare. For example, a four- or five-year-old might be outgrowing the need for a nap, says Piwowar, who suggests that children be allowed to play with a quiet toy or look at a book during rest time. “I tell them, ‘You can rest your body, but you don’t have to sleep.’”
Here are some other things that may help kids feel better about daycare:
Follow consistent routines There’s security in knowing from experience what comes next. Most of the time when children are upset in the morning it’s because the drop-off routine has changed, says Piwowar. “I had a little girl whose daddy always brought her to daycare, read a story and then left. When mom started bringing her, she couldn’t get away without a huge tantrum and ended up staying over an hour with her daughter. Once this little girl and her mom started following a similar routine — reading a story, saying goodbye — the upset ended.”
Of course, there will be those times when routines will need to be altered, but if you’ve just come back from vacation, it might not be the best time for Grandma to drop off little Lucy at daycare. “It’s also important to talk to your child’s caregivers about changes at home they might otherwise not know about,” Piwowar adds.
Give extra attention Piwowar encourages parents to plan to spend some extra time at drop-off. “Ten minutes playing a game together or helping him set up the easel to paint a picture can help a child settle in.
Leave a reminder Children might want to carry a photo of her family in her pocket, or post it in the centre.
Talk about saying goodbye Try to see the behaviour not as manipulation (“If I cry, Mommy will stay”), but as a genuine struggle to let go. Acknowledge her feelings (“You’re feeling sad about saying goodbye”) and tell her how the transition is going to work (“Mommy needs to go to work. I’ll pick you up just like always. I’m going to give you to Cindy and she’s going to help you until you feel better.”) It can also help to talk with kids in advance (“Daddy will help you hang up your coat. We’ll find your teacher and then we’ll say goodbye”).
Is something wrong?
If you have a concern about the daycare, talk with the senior educator or administrator. “Often parents are afraid that speaking up will be taken as a threat and their children will be treated differently,” says Piwowar. “But most often, if you say, ‘Here’s what’s going on with my child. Can we try and figure out what’s causing this behaviour?’, the staff will be more than willing to try and find a solution.”
You can also ask to observe the program. “Centres should have an open-door policy,” says Piwowar, adding that, “occasionally, for a variety of reasons, the daycare centre just isn’t a good match for a particular child.” For example, a child who’s more reserved might feel more comfortable in a smaller group setting.