It's been drilled into every parent's head that young children like routine as it makes them feel happy and secure. Consequently anything that strays from that parents are told, could be extremely upsetting and stressful to the child. So a working mother with a young toddler who makes the decision to go back to work knows that she must carefully prepare her child for the transition into an outside childcare situation.
The good news is that generally children are resilient and can adjust to the new environment fairly quickly with some preparation and strategy. For Atlanta-area mothers returning to work soon, here are five ways parents can help their young children better cope with the new arrangement.
1. Talk about it early and often. Be open about mommy's need to go back to work and that the child will be going to a new childcare facility. According to Julia Simens, author of Emotional Reslience and the Expat Child, "some kids need to hear and see it often before reality sets in, others only need to know it will happen." If it's June and you know you'll be going back to work in September, don't delay the discussions. Start now.
2. Visit the childcare center several times prior to the child starting. If the school allows it try to have your child visit the classroom and with the teacher a couple of times. These visits will help the child become familiar with the new environment and caregiver. "A parent of a young toddler must be prepared to offer her child to a new caregiver with all assurance that the new environment will provide the stimulation, love, safety and care that the toddler needs," suggest Darla Hutson and Tracy Hitchins of the PreschoolToolBox.
3. Read books and watch videos together that discuss the topic of children going to school or childcare. These activities can help explain to children that they are not alone and that other kids may share similar feelings about being in a new environment. They're also great for children who may suffer from separation anxiety. Some books worth considering are: Calliou Day Care; Bye-Bye Time, and My First Day at Nursery School.
4. Get children involved. There are ways parents can make transitions easier by getting kids excited about going to a new childcare situation. For example, children can help mom shop for special school supplies such as a new outfit to wear on the first day or a toddler-size backpack to hold a favorite blanket or Teddy bear. Or, parents can do an arts and craft activity such as making a calendar that will show the days when mom is going to work and when the child will be in childcare. "It is very important for a young child to understand that work is a commitment," says Simens. "They need to see on the calendar that Mommy goes to work (here-here-here and here) so they don't think it is a one-off event." Simens says that sometimes parents put so much effort into the "go to work" that they forget the child does not understand that this continues. She says it's important that they see the whole work commitment and know that it is long-term.
5. Hold off on other life transitions during this time. Until a child gets comfortable with his or her new childcare situation, now is probably not the time to try to ween them off of their sippy cups or pacifiers. Parents may also want to think about waiting to transition from a crib to a toddler bed or even hold off on potty training for a while. Keeping everything else in the child's life routine right now is key so that he or she is not overwhelmed by a variety of changes.