Toddler not adapting to new age-group room at daycare.
June 12, 2013 1:38 PM   Subscribe

I am worried about my 2.75 year-old daughter. Today is the 8th day she has been in the new, 3-ish to 4-ish age room at daycare. She is now crying really hard every morning when I leave here there (new behaviour, but still normal). But she is also refusing to go to sleep at night, throwing huge fits, jumping out of the crib, clawing at us to get away when we try to rock her, and basically forcing herself to be awake until she is so exhausted she can't stay awake any longer. She won't or can't give me a clear answer about what's wrong. How do I help her?

So that there's no 'tease' here, I'll say outright that I'm going to ask them to put her back into the younger room. So my question is really: what can I do UNTIL there is space in that old room again?

Imagine a normally high-spirited, always happy girl. They started to introduce her slowly to the new room; she cried the first day and seemed fine the second. But on the weekend the refusing to sleep started, and so this has been going on for nearly two full weeks now. It's taking her 2 - 3 hours from the time we turn off the light and start rocking. Normally, we would wait until she was asleep or almost asleep to put her in her crib. My husband and I generally take turns on bad nights - he'll do a half hour, then I'll do a half hour, etc. I've described her new behaviour above. My mom was over and tried to put her to sleep last night (they have their own routine where mom cuddles her for 5 minutes, puts her in the crib and sits in the room with her until she falls asleep). This time, she clutched onto my mom like she was terrified, and my mom thinks she's too scared to fall asleep and is forcing herself to stay awake. This makes sense to me, and now I feel sorry for her instead of for myself.

In the morning, she has full on trantrums about waking up and putting her clothes on. She'll scream and try to get away and rip her clothes off. I've been late for work several days now.

While she's getting to the boundary-pushing age, I attribute this to the new daycare room. If I ask her whether she's had a good day, she either doesn't answer or shakes her head no. Sometimes she yells 'NO!' to indicate that she does not want to talk about it. When she was in the old room, she would always say that she had a good day.

Another problem I'm concerned about is that she might be holding her poo in. She is 75% potty trained, meaning she can and likes to pee on the potty but sometimes forgets and has an accident. As for poo, she's not good at that yet. I agreed with the very nice ladies in the room that we would let her poo in her pants until she got the hang of it (it's never bothered her at home to have an accident in her pants - we just say 'Oh well, you need to tell mommy or daddy if you need to poo' *hug*). She has been missing her second bowel movements of the day (at daycare, not at home) and yesterday did not have one at all, even at home. Maybe she is embarrassed? But how can it be a good idea to go backwards and start putting her in a diaper again?

The daycare staff say that she's occasionally been weepy, but is OK after I leave. They say she seems happy. I have been able to get one piece of information out of here, although I can't always trust what she says (she'll make stuff up; I think this is normal). She told me that the 'big kids' are taking her toys away and she doesn't like the big kids. So I called the daycare yesterday and asked if they could have a talk with the older children about not taking toys away from the littler ones (the right people aren't there when I drop her off and my mom picked her up yesterday). They said that they would do that; I don't know the results yet. But she wasn't any happier last night. A guess I have is that she has always been really adored and treated with kid gloves in her other rooms because she's really cute and always happy - an easy kid to look after. Now, she's probably getting some tough love in this new room. But hey, that's life; we all have to grow up, right? I don't know what to think.

tldr; My toddler is very unhappy in her new daycare room for reasons I can't tease out of here. Her new behaviour is alarming me. She's very smart, but she either doesn't have the language to explain what's bugging here, or doesn't want to talk about it (that scares me too, but reminds me of myself as a child. Great; I have depression...) How do I help her until she can be moved into her old room (assuming they will even agree to do this)? How do I get her to talk? How do I get her to sleep? Am I overreacting?
posted by kitcat to Health & Fitness (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Can you take a day off and observe her in the daycare? Talk to the other parents and ask about the dynamics in the room or their opinions of the caretakers? Talk to the caretakers about the same thing?
posted by St. Peepsburg at 1:44 PM on June 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

Came in to say exactly what St. Peepsburg said. Ideally you wouldn't be involved with her care, just observing. At the very least, stop by at the start of naptime and observe (without her knowing you're there, if possible), since this all seems to be tied into sleep fears. Perhaps another child is harassing her, or the care providers are being short with her if she doesn't stay quiet and try to sleep (perhaps assuming that since she's in the older kids' room she must be ready for it, even if she isn't.)
posted by davejay at 1:47 PM on June 12, 2013

Have you discussed the behavior changes in detail with the day-care staff? Clearly your daughter is upset at the change in behavior, but who knows why? Perhaps one of the day-care givers can be helpful in figuring out what the issue is.

I have detailed memories of being in day-care, and I can tell you that it wasn't the other kids that bugged me, it was the adults.

I have a very distinct memory of a rather nasty lady and she kept yelling at me when we were out playing. She got annoyed with me and gave me a time out on a log. "Don't move until I tell you to." So I sat there when all the kids were called in after play time. I sat there all afternoon. I sat there until my parents and the school staff frantically came looking for me. I was mostly bored, I knew EXACTLY what I was doing. When they found me I worked up a really good cry and when they asked me why I didn't come in I did a really good sobbing, "But Mrs X said I couldn't!" I was four years old.

Yeah. I've been a manipulative asshole most of my life.

My point is, as a kid, we understand that other kids are jerks, but we expect the grown-ups to be fair and nice and to like us. Expecially if we've been liked in our other day-care room.

Here's an idea. Offer to take your daughter to Wal-Mart to buy little presents for the staff. "Do you think Miss Lisa will like this? Do you think Miss Erin would like this?" I'll bet when you get to the grown up she doesn't like, you'll get an emphatic "NO!" Because in our little, lizzard, kid brains, we're not giving Miss Jerkface anything nice.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:50 PM on June 12, 2013 [29 favorites]

But hey, that's life; we all have to grow up, right?

Not when we're 2.75 years old. It could be nothing dire, but even so, I'm glad you're putting her back in the old room. It's a very different experience being one of the oldest vs one of the youngest in the room, especially at that age when development differences are so enormous.

(I don't imagine that you'll learn much from observation if you're in the room. The dynamic won't be the same. She'll know if you're there, and so will the teachers and other kids.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 2:28 PM on June 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

First. Tell your daughter you love her, you want her to feel safe and comfortable. Ask her what you can do to help her feel that way. She may not be able to articulate what she needs, but hearing that you care about her feelings will be important. She needs to know that you are on her team, and that you're not trying to make her miserable. She needs to know (even if she can't understand) that you can't fix everything, but you'll try, and that you will stick up for her. This needs to be true for the long term, and constantly reinforced with action (rather than just words). Kids will not just assume it to be true.

Maybe the room is too cold or too warm. Maybe a staff member is being a jerk. Maybe the kids are all bigger and more articulate and know each other in that obvious chummy way so they hang out together and ignore her. Maybe another kid is being a jerk and none of the staff members are helping or acknowledging. Maybe your daughter is having a growth spurt, which makes kids into little assholes sometimes and needy whiny terrified kids other times. Maybe she's developed an ear infection? Which, omg, they don't call kids disease vectors for no reason. New batch of germy kids...worth checking out.

It could also be that a staff member gives her the weirds. She may not be able to point out why, but something may be off. Worst case, a staff member is doing something inappropriate to or near your daughter, visiting the center and expressing concern to them (without making any accusations) will indicate that this child is cared for and defended and may encourage an adult to back off.

Holding poo is about control. And usually kids doing super control stuff feel like they don't have control over something else that is important to them. Maybe she really misses a particular toy. Maybe it's, like I said, a creepy adult. Could be the food is different, or the potty is different. Could be anything.

Finally, while all of the above are certainly potential issues that could be causing this, it might be a feedback loop at this point. She screams and you cuddle her. This is the way life should be at 2, 3, 10. And yet. It makes me wonder if there is a chance she is getting enough of the positive attention that she wants when she isn't screaming? What is enough varies by kid, by age, and what else is going on in their lives. So the old adage of reward what you want and try to ignore what you don't is not what I am going to suggest here, but maybe sprinkle more rewards in when she is fine, along with the snuggles when she's obviously having a hard time.
posted by bilabial at 2:32 PM on June 12, 2013 [7 favorites]

My girl is terrified of the 3yr olds who are sometimes brought over to her room as number of kids dwindles in the later afternoon. They're bigger, faster, more coordinated, and utterly ruthless.

I'd put 50% on this being the case for your little. Even though she's not giving you info, maybe try getting it indirectly while drawing or playing. Asking if there's something she likes about her new room, then if there's something she doesn't like. If there are big kids in the room and then whether or not she's a big kid. Are big kids funny? Are big kids scary? That sort of stuff.

The other 50% could be a different teaching style in the room that's thrown her. Might not be the lead teacher - could be an assistant in the room for only one part of the day. We learned the hard way that the various personalities at my girl's center are...varied. There's one teacher who makes a big deal out of bowel movements ("EW! This is so gross! What did you EAT?!") and that necessitated a sharp conversation. Another was banning thumb-sucking without asking if parents were trying to control that - more than one parent stopped that. It goes on. The thing is, you probably aren't going to catch this in a formal or even surprise observation. This is the kind of thing that pops up almost spontaneously, generally when everyone's least expecting to be in the same place at the same time, even if the caregiver thinks it's a totally normal thing for them to do.

So...I'd have similarly indirect conversations with your little about the teachers and the different ways they do things. Maybe try to compare between a loved teacher from the old room - "does Ms. 3-4 do potty time the same as Ms. 2?" in a cheerful, curious tone miiiight net you an answer, but, if not, you can still drop little questions into a playtime session and catch her attention span off guard and get an answer that way. But keep it light and not intense at all.

I would talk to her frankly about feeling scared/worried/nervous to go to bed and poop, though. And empower her in whatever way you can - extra choices for controlling clothes, food, activities (all within limits - just making like one extra allowance per thing, maybe) - along with inviting her to share her opinions on things that you then take seriously. I've found that approaching discussion of emotions works best with acting out what that looks like, bringing up things that make you feel the same way (that don't make you seem like you could be out of control or anything other than a safe harbor), and anything the two of you have already identified makes her feel that way. Putting words to the way she feels might be a big help, in and of itself.

I don't know if that's going to work, but, dang, I feel for y'all. All those extra hugs and the compassionate approach is probably going to be the best way to make it through.

Good luck.
posted by batmonkey at 2:58 PM on June 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

We had a similar situation with a new daycare, around the same age. We were thinking boundary pushing as well, until my husband saw something disturbing. He was picking up our toddler when he saw the woman (private house daycare, sole owner) not exactly hit but forcefully and viciously yank another toddler for not responding to a request to stop playing with some trains within a second (which, as I am sure you know, is a completely unrealistic expectation for toddlers). Of course, there is no way to know whether something like this is going on if you are there to observe (my husband was able to see this through a basement window, by accident). I would say a sudden change in behavior, coupled with your instinct, is a cause for concern.
posted by rada at 3:19 PM on June 12, 2013 [4 favorites]

St. Peepsburg is what I would say if I was clever. I want to add that there might have been something in the old room they were attached to but cannot describe. A toy, a friend, a window they see a particular animal or object. Moving may be correct for development and having someone on her side to observe could help.
posted by nickggully at 5:28 PM on June 12, 2013

Don't discount paying a visit. It is really not possible for a teacher to change the underlying dynamics or her/his personal style of doing things in a group of kids. If she is disorganized, it will show. If she is harsh or overly regimented, you'll see it. I have learned a LOT about teachers suitability for my kids in just 20 minute visits to classrooms.
At this young age though, it would be easiest if your kiddo doesn't know you are there, but it might be worth a visit even if she does.
posted by SLC Mom at 6:27 PM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

We had something like that happen when there was Big Drama happening at daycare that we weren't privy to (big drama, as in whatever-it-was led to both of his teachers being fired in a 3- day period and we weren't told until the following Monday.) It sounds like it's a multi-room daycare; any chance you could talk to the next level up in management to check in that there's nothing unusual happening in the room?
posted by tchemgrrl at 6:30 PM on June 12, 2013

I don't have specific advice on daycare, but I know that my son went through a similar transformation at about that same age, with no significant life changes. It may just be that the combination of age plus a significant life change is causing your child to try to control everything else. Before she may have always felt like the queen of the world, towering over the other smaller children in her life, and now she may feel like everyone is bigger than her, and the only place where she can be in charge is at home.
posted by markblasco at 7:25 PM on June 12, 2013

What's the nap situation like in the older group's room? Is it different from what your child is used to? I don't know if that's the issue but it's another thing to take a look at it while you assess the situation. I know one of my nieces stopped napping around age 3 - I can imagine if your kid is still a napper and is in a room with a bunch of non-nappers there might be some conflict there.
posted by stowaway at 8:42 PM on June 12, 2013

Transitions are tough at a young age. It could just be she needs more time.

My daughter had similar challenges to yours. She transitioned rooms in the same daycare at age 2, 3, and 4. Each time she cried for weeks and said she didn't want to go to the new room every morning. I think it took her about a month each time to adjust. And every year without fail, the teacher she rejected at the first of the year became the most loved teacher, the room she rejected became the most loved room, and the crying cycle repeated itself.

Then when she was 5 she transitioned out of daycare and started kindergarten. She started having accidents in her pants at school. Reason? As far as I can tell, in the new school the bathroom was far away and too scary to go to by herself. Just moving the potty, even for a much older child, can cause problems.

My take? If you have been with the centre for a while, trust the staff, and don't want to leave the school, you might want to just give it some more time. Some kids just don't do change well.

Suggestions if you want to coach your daughter through it instead of investigating the daycare situation. Your daughter is at the right age for The Kissing Hand and the lesson about how sometimes we all have to do new things that are weird and scary at first. This is a lesson worth repeating. If she has a security object (blankie, etc) it might be worth making sure it's available at school and treated appropriately/kept with her. I am from the Sleep Lady school of sleep training, it is just as relevant to toddlers and the techniques can be introduced to help you separate at bedtime. Mornings? I may be a mean mom, but I have put my child in the car in a half-dressed state and then dressed her in the back of my car the parking lot at the day care to send a message that going to day care is not optional.
posted by crazycanuck at 8:55 PM on June 12, 2013

Prechool/toddler teacher here. Put her back in the other room for a few more months if you can, but you are probably not doing lasting harm if you don't. Toddlers advance and mature so quickly, there are many instances where you can have a major struggle over something the child is not interested in or developmentally unready for or you can let her mature a little and have it be less of an ordeal. Giving her more time to mature is not being overly accommodating, it's recognizing that you have tiny person who has a hard time with concepts we take for granted because she's only been on this earth for less than three years. The oldest of my charges are turning three this month, and there is such a huge difference between two and 3/4 and three. Many of the children who were nightmares at two and 3/4 are way better at expressing themselves and have way less breakdowns now that they are three.

There is a good chance you are not getting the full story from the teachers. There is a huge pressure put on teachers to downplay the negative aspects of a child's day. Ask one of the oldest children about it if you can. There is a chance your child is mostly doing this behavior with you, I have had many children that act completely differently around their parents than they do at school. She could be acting this way at school and not around you, but there's really very little way to know. Unless you can observe without your child knowing you are there it would be useless, as she her behavior will be different. Also the teachers will be acting differently. If you really, really want to know what's happening even though this might sound a little nuts, maybe you could find something that records audio and hide it in her cubby. The teachers should already have a plan in action if the older children are repetitively taking your children's things. "Talking to them" really won't do anything unless there is a plan involved. Make sure to give your child the vocabulary in those situations, it can be simple like "I'm using this! Find something else!" What is the ratio of teachers to children in the room? The teachers' education? The pedagogy the school follows? The vaguer it is the more likely that it's inconsistent, poorly defined and open to distortion by less apt teachers. I'm not trying to shit on your school in particular but I feel like most parents don't understand the reality/horror of the wildly unregulated state of Early Child Education in most places (don't know about canada)

You keep implying that maybe she was spoiled a little bit in the other room. Which is better, being a little spoiled or sleepless anxiety? There will be plenty of time for the harsh realities of life when kindergarten comes around. Right now she's two. It's ok.

DO NOT go back to the diaper. The poop thing will work itself out. The more you fuss over it the more anxiety it will cause, so just let it go for now. She's probably not hurting herself, it's not worth stressing over.

Good luck! This age has its challenges, and they surface in unexpected ways. Sorry if any of this sounded harsh, I've had a long day with the monsters and my brain is a little fried. Feel free to PM me with any early childhood/preschool questions.
posted by Betty_effn_White at 9:30 PM on June 12, 2013 [5 favorites]

I agree that there is cause for concern. This does not sound like a typical reaction to a change in a preschool situation. At a minimum you should do some observing there. Alternatively you should try changing to a different school such as a good Montessori.
posted by Dansaman at 10:16 PM on June 12, 2013

We just transitioned our kid to the preschool room at daycare when he was 2.75 last month. Everyone agreed he was beyond ready for it and had been ready for months, but it was still a much harder transition than we expected. The first few weeks he would say the big kids didn't play with him and he seemed pretty sad about it. He was way more tearful in the mornings than he was in his old room. We talked to the teachers, talked to him, and let it play out a bit. He seems much happier there already on that front, I think it just took time.

We are dealing with increased accidents and regression in the potty training, too. We suspect this is because the teachers are just not as focused on him and reminding him to go as the toddler room teachers were (he was the only potty training toddler in his previous room, so it was way easier for those teachers to be on top of it). I wouldn't go back to diapers. We are now telling our son to say "potty time" as loud as he can when he has to go, to see if that helps get his teachers' attention. Also, now that it's summer the preschool kids spend so much more time outside, which is awesome, but our son is not as used to having to go potty before going outside. If you want some more tips on the potty front I highly recommend the e-book Oh Crap Potty Training.

Finally, the sleep/night thing- is she actually sleeping for a couple of hours at nap time? Our son still gets a solid two hour nap and he really needs it. He also goes to bed at 7 (5:30 wake up time, may be too early for you, that's just when we all start moving in our house). When we put him to bed later than 7 he never sleeps any later in the morning and is also super grumpy. Maybe try starting your bedtime routine earlier to catch her at a better sleep opportunity before she can get ramped up? Anyway, best wishes. It is really hard to see your kid struggle with this transition. I hope it all works out well. If it were us, we wouldn't send our kid back to the younger room because I think there's a lot of value to learning from the older kids, but every kid is different and my kid isn't your kid.
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 3:27 AM on June 13, 2013

My daughter had a very difficult transition around that age as well. She still has days when she feels off and doesn't enjoy her day at school. Everything is different: books are read differently, the requirements for sitting down and eating have changed; she missed the teacher she had before; etc.

I really think you should take these steps:

1. As others have advised, go to school and observe for a couple of hours a few times, at different times of day. At our school, some teachers arrive early and leave early, and vice versa-- so make sure you are seeing all of the teachers in that room.

2. IF all of the teaching, accommodation, and caring is provided, give your daughter another few weeks to adjust.

3. IF IT ISN'T provided properly, meet with the school director and clearly articulate the wrong actions and what you believe should be done. Remember, even if you get her moved back to her previous room, when she moves up again, it is most likely that the same teachers will engage in the same actions. If that's what's going on, she will likely still be upset.

Regarding the constipation/retention. It is common for this to begin around this age. It is usually a manifestation of control. If it continues, talk to her doctor. But generally, a regular low dose of Milk of Magnesia can help.

And finally, best wishes to your family. It's hard to have a toddler, especially when the communication of difficulties is frequent but unclear. It does sound like there is some "age aggression" from the older kids, that the school should be handling better, regardless. But remember that most toddlers and "pre-schoolers" manifest aggression periodically. For example, my daughter was bitten by a friend on Monday (reason unclear). Yesterday she pushed another friend who she thought had stolen her toy. The process of day school is, partly, to stop the kids from doing these things. Unfortunately, it's not a magic wand!
posted by miss tea at 5:40 AM on June 13, 2013

Couple of other thoughts I had- is she eating enough at lunch? Our son has always been super picky but became even more so after moving up to the new room. Now I send either mac & cheese or chicken nuggets, with some fruits, every day without trying for more variety or for healthier lunches. He'll eat those things, and there is a big difference in his evening behavior/mood when he's eaten enough during the day.

Also, does she need to be in a crib? She is probably old enough for a toddler bed or for one of the crib walls to be taken down. You could try giving her more autonomy in the bed time process if she doesn't need to be physically put into the crib. We took a crib side down back in January, so now the crib is open on one side, the mattress is at the lowest setting, and our son can get in and out of it himself, he really likes being able to do it himself.
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 6:10 AM on June 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: These are really super answers. Truly wonderful. As for the crib, yeah, she's old for it (by today's parenting culture, at least). BUT it does her no harm and my life right now is too nutty to be able to deal with a child that will not get into or stay in her bed. I will think about the autonomy part of it, though. I just think it could be the opposite - "Get in your bed and stay there!" making her feel even more controlled.
posted by kitcat at 12:09 PM on June 13, 2013

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