Help me manage the transition to daycare!
August 31, 2010 9:56 AM   Subscribe

My 17-month-old is starting daycare for the first time. Should we send her for two, or three days per week? And what changes should I expect in her personality or our relationship as a result of this?

First of all, a disclaimer: apologies for the beanplating about all this. I realize my kid will probably be fine regardless, but have not yet managed to shed all that initial OMG-MUST-GET-THIS-EXACTLY-RIGHT-THE-SLIGHTEST-MISSTEP-SPELLS-DOOM new-parent anxiety.

Until now, my kid has stayed at home full-time, being looked after by a parent, relations or full-day babysitter. Very soon, though, she'll need to start going to daycare either two or three days per week from ~8:30-4:30 or so. We've found an in-home situation run by a grandmother who seems nice; there are five other kids who go there (most ~3-4 years old, one infant). It's a little small and dark, but there's a big yard and the provider seemed the kindest and most responsible of the people we interviewed.

My daughter is currently fairly quiet, gentle and even-tempered, VERY well-behaved, and not boisterous or destructive at all. She's whip-smart, curious, and has a great relationship with her dad and me. I'm worried that these things will change when she goes to daycare. I'm also worried, obviously, that she'll have a miserable time and be scarred for life. I've combed obsessively through the Ask Moxie archives and dipped into various abominably-spelt Babycenter posts, but I still have just a few questions, if anyone who's been around this block wouldn't mind chiming in:

1. I work from home, so we have a bit of flexibility where timing is involved. Is there any compelling reason to opt for three vs. two days per week of daycare? Three seems like a lot (almost 50% of the week!), but will only two days make it harder for her to adjust and get into the swing of things?

2. Is 8:30-4:30 too long a day for a kid this age? The provider charges by the day, so shortening the hours would be expensive and inefficient, but it could be managed.

3. Lastly, with the understanding that every child is unique, what changes can I expect to see in my daughter as we navigate this transition? Any tips for avoiding the more unpleasant ones?
posted by Bardolph to Education (16 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
1. Start with two. You may find you like having her at daycare. You may find that she likes going to daycare. If you can afford three days, then you have the option of bumping up to three days.

2. The hours you list are not too long. Most of us who have to use daycare have our children in care longer than that.

3. You're worrying too much. She's going to experience new things. Some may be great like meeting new friends. Some may be not so great like learning to bite those new friends after they bite you. These are normal things that should be expected. She may come home more tired or even a bit wired during her transition phase (figure 2 to 3 weeks). However, she'll get used to the new routine pretty quickly and she'll still be the same little girl you've been loving for the past 17 months.

For my little guy, daycare provided him an opportunity to socialize with other kids his own age. That's a very different set of skills than socializing with the adults who had previously been his world.

It will all be ok. If you make a mistake, you won't break your daughter. We all make mistakes. Our kids are broken for other reasons.
posted by onhazier at 10:14 AM on August 31, 2010

1. Do not send her for less than two full days a week. Three is probably better. I had a long discussion with my own daycare provider about this. A friend's daughter had started daycare at about a year old. She went one day/week. Going to daycare didn't become routine. She didn't have a chance to get used to it. She was always upset at drop off, stayed upset all day, and then was upset at pick up. I don't know about now, but it really struck me that one day a week was far too little because it snuck up on her. Our own daycare provider said that it's usually best for kids to go three times because it then allows the provider the chance to get to know the child, how to comfort the child, and so forth.

2. My son has been going to daycare from 8:00 - 5:00 or even 6:00, depending when I'd been able to pick him up, since he was 3 months old. He gets more upset if I pick him up before 5 than after because he doesn't want to leave. I don't think this is too long at all. My son is now 20 months old.

3. She may be extra clingy for awhile. A girl who started at about two years old at my son's daycare took about two weeks of going full-time to adjust. She was extra clingy with her parents and at daycare she didn't want to do anything. The providers were great and didn't push her. If she didn't want to go outside, they didn't make her, and so forth. Your daughter may go through something similar, especially if she hasn't been left with babysitters or isn't used to strangers. She may also be totally cool with everything on the first day, but if she's not, just give her time.

4. Your provider sounds a lot like mine --- a smallish dark inside area, big outside area, and two very kind, very loving providers who are really invested in the kids. I think once she's past the transition, your daughter will thrive in that environment. I also think the in-home environment is great because of the chance for mixed ages. Baby Zizzle is around other little babies and kids going on to kindergarten or a more traditional preschool in another year since he started. It's been fabulous for me.
posted by zizzle at 10:18 AM on August 31, 2010

We were concerned like you are with the first kid. The trick is to see how they react to it and feel it out for the first couple of weeks.

With the second kid, we had much less concern and were ready for him to go at age 2. He responded very well.

Either way, the most important consideration is that kids are amazingly resilient and adaptable, and as long as you are giving them quality time, love, and attention outside of daycare, they will most likely do fine.
posted by willc at 10:21 AM on August 31, 2010

3) Prepare to be sicker than you've been your whole adult life. You and your child will catch every cold and flu that sweeps through. Fortunately, it's not a deal-breaker, but the impact is huge -- you'll have to run to pickup your sick kid, spend money on extra doctor visits, etc. A lot of parents don't have a work-at-home situation and they'll lie through their teeth about how sick their kid is in order to not miss work.
posted by PSB at 10:34 AM on August 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Expect her to learn obnoxious/unfamiliar behavior and/or language. Tone of voice and body language occasionally might surprise you.

At this age (and more so as they get older) they do a lot of imitation without understanding what they're imitating. It can be very unsettling! Just ignore it as much as possible and without reinforcement the behavior will probably fade. No need to discipline, it's not purposeful.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:40 AM on August 31, 2010

With my daughter, I noticed a much easier time with 3 days a week than with 2. 2 days a week gives four days in between visits, which is so long as to be essentially forever for a toddler, so then the first day rolls around and it's all "We're doing this AGAIN?!" Whereas three days is on, off, on, off, on, off-off, and it's much faster to get into a routine.
posted by KathrynT at 10:43 AM on August 31, 2010

3) Prepare to be sicker than you've been your whole adult life. You and your child will catch every cold and flu that sweeps through. Fortunately, it's not a deal-breaker, but the impact is huge -- you'll have to run to pickup your sick kid, spend money on extra doctor visits, etc. A lot of parents don't have a work-at-home situation and they'll lie through their teeth about how sick their kid is in order to not miss work.
posted by PSB at 1:34 PM on August 31 [+] [!]

In-home daycares, like the one the OP's child is attending, have far fewer instances of this than centers because there's usually no more than 10 kids (and often far fewer) and no turnover in staff (because it's in the staff's home).

I have yet, in almost 18 months of daycare, to pick my son up sick once. In fact, I've never had a call from the daycare during the working day about anything.
posted by zizzle at 10:43 AM on August 31, 2010

My almost sixteen month old is in daycare now 2 days a week, with a full time sitter (at the sitter's house, but it's basically like family and she is the only child) 3 days. Starting in September, she'll go to daycare three days a week, and 2 days with the sitter. We started her 2/3 because I was nervous about her adapting to the daycare setting - harder to nap, less attention, etc. She's usually there from around 8 until around 4; sometimes a bit longer (yesterday it was from 7:30 to 5:30, poor baby). 8:30-4:30 isn't too long, I don't think, because she doesn't think about it that way. If the daycare provider is good with her schedule, helping her get naps and quite time as needed, you will be fine. Or, she will be fine, but you might find that 8:30-4:30 is too long for you!

But now, she loves it at the daycare. She still has a hard time napping there (I think it's just too exciting with the other kids). She has learned a ton from the other children, and loves interacting with them.

Some things I've noticed since she started at the daycare center: for the first couple weeks she cried when I left. She doesn't do that anymore, partly because we figured out that if when we get there I give her blanket to the teacher, she goes right to her. Or, if the teacher has the morning snack, she goes right to her. I have to give her to the teacher, and not just set her on the floor - setting her on the floor causes tears. I think she just likes to know that someone is there for her? Who knows. All this is by way of saying, be willing to try different things until something works. The daycare teacher often said that she thought the adjustment would be easier if she went there three days a week instead of two. It took around 6 weeks for going to daycare to truly be easy and routine.

I think the fact that there are different ages there will be good for your daughter- my daughter is in a room of 6weeks to 18 months; apparently she LOVES the little babies and gives them lots of attention, but she also likes to follow around the older kids, singing and dancing.

Your kid will learn lots of things and you won't know what they are all the time. With our sitter, I get constant updates about anything new or fun she does; sometimes at daycare I say "have you seen her sing EIEO?" and the teachers are like "yeah, where have you been, she's been doing that for weeks". This is, I think, the disadvantage of part time - no one has a complete handle on what's going on with her. I like to think that with all the communication I do, but really, I don't. But that's okay (it isn't like we're talking about *bad* things - just little things, but little things are big things with a first child). I've already told the daycare that I don't want to hear it if she takes her first steps at daycare.

It will be okay. Be flexible. Communicate alot. Worry less :)
posted by dpx.mfx at 10:45 AM on August 31, 2010

Our daycare nearly insists on doing as many days in a row as possible, as it is much easier on the child and the daycare itself.
posted by k8t at 10:56 AM on August 31, 2010

Oh, and with an at-home daycare, find out what her backup plan is if she becomes sick or goes on vacation. IMHO that is the biggest drawback of at-home.
posted by k8t at 10:57 AM on August 31, 2010

K8t raises a good point. Also, what's your plan if your kid gets sick?

I personally think that's a long day for a little kid. My kids went 1/2 day, but that was years ago.

And while the in-home with a granny could be nice, what's her plan for rainy days? Paying to have a kid parked in front of Dora can get on your nerves. And your kid will be much younger than the 3-4 yr. olds, and she's not going to want to watch the baby.

Are there snacks? What about naptime? Does Granny do any field trips?

I realize this isn't my place, but frankly, I'd rather pay for someone to watch my kid at my house. Obviously, YMMV.
posted by Ideefixe at 11:05 AM on August 31, 2010

I'd opt for three days, but shorter days, rather than two long days. And I agree that that three days in a row work best, as it allows your child to get into a routine instead of having something different every day.

Some things that might surprise you: your little one might happily eat food at daycare she'd never try at home; she might discover toys and books she loves you never would have thought to buy her; she will learn songs and stories you don't teach her (it seems obvious, but it's surprising and wonderful when your little one comes home chattering about a nursery rhyme you forgot you knew); she will love her classmates and teachers; she will make glorious artwork; she may very well nap better at school than at home; she might behave better at school than home.

And the big one: she might be crying and sobbing and in agony as you walk out the door, but will be fine about two seconds after you are no longer in sight. Seriously.

Some bad things: she'll learn about toys and commercial culture you might have wanted to avoid (I'm thinking Barbie and such).

And one suggestion: is she more attached/clingy with you than your spouse? If so, then spouse should drop her off the first few days. This was a huge help when my under two son started in daycare. He'd resist so much, at first, if I was the drop-offer.

Just to reassure you: yes, you are worrying a lot, and your little one will be fine!
posted by bluedaisy at 11:49 AM on August 31, 2010

is your babe still in diapers? when i sent my 16 month old to daycare, she became very upset about diaper changing and i always thought it was from the humiliation of having her diapers changed in "public", without the warmth and comfort of our private routine.
posted by lakersfan1222 at 1:46 PM on August 31, 2010

and three days sounds like a good idea, but in a row. definitely in a row. kids thrive on consistency.
posted by lakersfan1222 at 1:47 PM on August 31, 2010

I would not worry about the length of the day or the number of days of the week; there's not too much to worry about there in our experience.

One thing to point out that I didn't see above: if your experience is the same as ours, your child will be much more tired at the end of the day.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 3:47 PM on August 31, 2010

At our daycare some days were more popular than others - it was very hard to get a slot on monday unless your kid was going five days a week. Since we preferred to ramp up (three days, then four, then five) we had a really hard time with our first child. With our second, we learned to request the most popular slots first. So keep in mind that you might just be doing three days a week now, but if you want to add days as your child gets older then you need to plan ahead.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:25 PM on August 31, 2010

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