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Helping New Children in Your Care
Author: Judith A. Myers-Walls, Ph.D., CFLE

New experiences are part of growing up. All children experience some change in their lives as they mature. However, if the change is not handled well, it can cause anxiety in children. A new childcare arrangement is a common experience for many children. The new setting can be difficult even if it is not the child’s first time in childcare. As a provider, you also can experience a lot of stress when new children enter your program. But there are things you can do to help parents, children, and yourself at this stressful time.

Encourage parents to choose their child care situation carefully

Allow parents to take time in making their decision. A careful search for childcare will help them feel better about their decision. Strongly encourage them to visit before they make their decision. Allow them to visit several times if they would like. Be available to talk with the parents. Show them around. Answer their questions. They need to feel confident that their child is being cared for by people they trust, in a safe environment, and in a situation that allows children to grow and develop to the best of their abilities.

Allow parents to begin new child care situations gradually

It is frightening to be put in a new situation. Sometimes it can ease the transition to begin childcare gradually. Let parents know if it is possible for them to start part-time for the first few days. This will help the child adjust, and it will help you get to know the child. In other cases children may do better if they start full-time right away. Some children may do well if the parent stays with them at first. Others may have more problems if the parents stay. Work together with the parent to create a smooth transition to the childcare routine.

Establish good communication with the parents

Leaving a child in someone else's care can be hard for parents. They may worry about their child's behavior, whether you and the other children will like their child, and if you can understand and meet their child's needs. They may feel guilty about putting their child in childcare. Ask parents if you can do anything to help them. Ask them about their children. Ask what words the child uses to ask for things: his or her nap, eating, and toilet habits; his or her likes and dislikes; and information about his or her general development. Think about the child's unique characteristics as you care for him or her. Share your ideas about how you and the parents can work together to help the child adjust to a new situation. Share information with parents about preparing children for childcare. Share your program's parent handbook or guidelines for parents. Give them a handout explaining childcare contracts and rules.

Help the child say goodbye and hello

The times when parents and children separate in the morning and return together in the evening are called transition times. This is when childcare is new, transition time can be very difficult not only for parents and children, but also for you. Children need to learn to trust the new situation. They also need to trust their parents. They need to understand that the parents are not leaving them forever. They need to know that the parents will return.

How providers can help children adjust to a new child care situation

Let parents spend time in your center or family childcare home. Look for chances to invite the children to do things as a group while the parent is there. The parent can wait while the child goes with the group. This way, the child can leave the parent in these first days and find that the parent is still there when he returns.

Offer activities to the child. Encourage other children to invite the child to do things. But do not force the child to go with you or the children. Let the child come to you at her own pace.

When parents leave, always make sure the child knows they are leaving. Have them say goodbye and tell him they’ll be back to pick him up later in the day. Help them to leave quickly and to avoid long goodbyes. Tell them to avoid sneaking out to prevent a scene. As you know, in most cases the crying will stop quickly after they have left. Explain this to parents, but realize that it may be difficult for them. Also tell them that you will contact them if the crying does not stop after they leave.

Ask parents to be on time when they pick up the child. Picking up the child every day at the same time will help build the child's trust and help her understand that she is not being abandoned. Ask parents to call if they will be late, so that you can prepare the child. If a parent is late, allow the child to continue fun activities. Listen to the child if she talks about being angry or sad that her parents are not there yet.

Let children bring a piece of home with them; a special blanket, toy, or teddy bear can be very comforting. You may want to have a special place for them to keep those things so that they do not cause problems with other children. (Make sure parents understand your rules for bringing things from home.) Offer to keep photos of family members, neighbors, and pets to help remind children of familiar people if they feel lonely during the day.

Children may slip back to an earlier level of development during their adjustment to childcare. Thumb sucking, wetting pants, and other behaviors may occur. Set clear expectations for the children in your care, but be patient. Give the children time to adjust. Help the parents to relax when the child does these things. It is important not to react too strongly.

Encourage parents to allow for some time, if possible, when they drop off or pick up their child. Children need a few minutes to say goodbye to Mom and Dad and to get involved in the activities at childcare. But parents need to finish saying goodbye then and leave. It is hard for the child if they take too long. At the end of the day, children need time to say goodbye to playmates and to you, the provider. The child may sometimes be unwilling to leave. It is not unusual for children to want to stay where they are when they are involved in an activity. You also need a little time to talk with the parent. Encourage the parent to notice the child first and then talk to you about how the day has gone. This is a good way to show the child the parent is glad to see him, and behavior problems may be avoided. Make sure that someone is watching the children when you are talking to parents.

Talk with the other children about what is happening

Everyone in your program will be affected when a new child enters. Introduce the children when the new child visits. Tell the children ahead of time that a new child is coming. If the children are old enough, ask another child to be a special friend to the new child. The children may want to make a card or a banner or plan a special welcome for the new child. Tell the children if there will be any changes in the routine when the new child comes. A good book to have in your home or center is Going to Day Care by Fred Rogers. That can help all the children in your care.

Share your positive attitude about childcare with the children

Remind yourself what you love about your job. Smile. Let the parents know about any fun activities that are planned for the child’s first days. Consider sending a note or letter of welcome to the child before the child starts.

Expect a reasonable amount of adjustment time

Every child is different. Some children will adjust to a new childcare situation almost immediately. A few others will take several months. Some children will seem to adjust to the situation quickly, but then have problems a few weeks or months later. Ask parents how things are going with the child. For young children, ask how they are eating, sleeping, and interacting with the family. For older children, ask the parents what the children are saying about their time with you. Tell the parents what you have observed. Explain what you are doing to help the child feel comfortable.

The child may cry when the parents leave, but in most cases she will recover quickly. This can be very difficult for the parents. If separation is a problem, talk to the parents about how long it takes the child to settle in for the day. Explain what happens after they leave.

If you and the parent feel good about having the child in your care, and the child often has trouble adapting to new situations, it is best to keep her in that setting. This is true even if she shows some separation anxiety. Changing childcare would mean that the child would have to start the process of adjusting all over again. If the child seems to be very unhappy with the childcare situation and you have made every effort to help, it may be that the childcare setting does not fit this child's needs. In a case like this, a change in childcare may be the best option. Work with the parents to make that decision. If the family decides a change would be best, help the family find a better solution.


          Preparing children for child care

         Understanding child care contracts and rules


For more information, contact Judith A. Myers-Walls, PhD, CFLE at

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