Bridging the gap between home and childcare

I'm sure it's not a generalisation to say that the vast majority of children experience some degree of anxiety when starting daycare. But like any new stage in our children's lives, a little investigative research, a positive vibe, lots of cuddles, patience and perseverance all go along way.

For the child starting daycare, home and their family have been the epicenter of their young lives to date, and they can be forgiven for feeling a little lost (we can be forgiven too, as they have been the epicenter of ours for what seems like an eternity!). So it makes sense to try to make connections between daycare and home so they can better understand how and where daycare fits in, and reassure them that home is still their epicenter.

Starting preschool or daycare can be a stressful time for everyone - parents included.
Starting preschool or daycare can be a stressful time for everyone - parents included. Photo: Getty Images

Here are some simple ways of bridging the gap between home and daycare.

Put a family photo in the preschool bag

Choose a family photo for your child to take to daycare or preschool with them. Let them know they can look at it during the day whenever they miss you. Many daycare providers display photos around the room of each child with their family as a nice reminder of home.

Take a photo at daycare and bring it home

In support of bridging the gap between home and daycare (with the daycare provider's consent) why not bring some photos of daycare home to discuss as a family. It will help your child become more familiar with the environment and they may enjoy sharing stories of their new space with their siblings or parents.

Pack a comforter of transition item

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Research shows that comforters or transitional items - like a beloved blanket, teddy or small toy - can work as a defense against separation anxiety, when in a new or unfamiliar environment. Ask if it's okay for your little one to take along a special item that will remind them of home. 

Organise a play day at your house

Ask your daycare provider's permission to approach another parent for a play day at your house for an hour or two one weekend. Chances are there's another parent and child looking for the same thing as you.

Read books about daycare/preschool

When my first child started childcare, my greatest concern was that my two-and-a-half year old daughter wouldn't understand that we would return to take her home later that same day. I couldn't bear for her to think that I wasn't coming back, so I sketched a little storyboard to try to explain the sequence of events between my dropping her off and picking her up. This storyboard is now a book, Playtime Hometime, which I hope others may also find helpful in bridging the gap between home and childcare.

You can also have a look through our gallery of books that explain the experience in a way young children will understand

Prepare for the day

In the lead up to your child's first day, you can drive past the new place and talk about the fun things they'll get to do there. Other common sense approaches include taking your child for a few introductory hours of play before their first day, if possible.

Talk about it - but not too much 

Sometimes, parents who are worrying about whether they're doing the right thing can talk a lot about the upcoming separation. This is usually done in an attempt to ease any anxiety, but can work against you by reinforcing any anxious behaviours. The general rule is: Less talk and more action. Remember that his memory isn't big enough yet to hold things in mind constantly; take advantage of this and enjoy the last of the holiday period as though it's not going to stop.

I can only speak as a mother in saying that some of my anxiety towards daycare was tied up with the conflict of not wanting to leave them, but needing to. But it comforts me to think of the positive ways my children can benefit from daycare - not only through social and personal development, but in terms of how they relate to the world.

A mum of two, Claire Gordon is co-author (with fellow mum, Sarah Smith) of Playtime Hometime, a storybook about preparing for a happy day at preschool or childcare.