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How can I help my child adjust to a new daycare center?

We are moving and will be switching daycare centers. How can we help my 18-month-old adjust to a new place?
Submitted by American Baby Team

Transitions can be hard for young children, especially toddlers who are, by nature, not fond of change. Being sensitive to the fact that this will be difficult for him, especially because he will also be dealing with the house move, is the most important first step. Toddlers don't have a firm grasp on time, so don't start talking about the change in childcare until a week or two before it will take place, or else you may create more anxiety. In addition, while kids this age do understand a lot, and certainly understand more than they can actually say, they can't fully comprehend complex ideas like this kind of social transition by words alone. Here are some other ways to help him accept the change:
1. Ask your child's current teacher to write some brief notes about your son to share with his new caregiver. Some important issues to cover: how he handles transitions (does she do anything special to help with this?); his routines for naptimes and mealtimes; how to comfort him; and his favorite toys, books, and activities. Sharing this info can ease the transition into a new childcare setting.
2. Read books with him about making changes. Hearing about similar experiences of others can be a powerful way for young children to make sense of their own situation and may help them feel less alone.
3. Create ways to help your child remember the old center. Take photos of the teacher, the room, the playground, his friends, and his favorite toys, and then create a memory book.
4. Ask his teacher if there's something special she can give your son -- such as a cuddly stuffed animal -- to take to the new center for comfort when he needs it. This transitional object can help your son remember his old caregiver and help him adapt to his new setting.
5. Have a special goodbye ritual for his last day. You can bring in his favorite snack or music CD and have a small party to celebrate his time there. Marking partings like this is important for helping children say goodbye.
6. If possible, take him to see the new childcare center several times before he starts attending. Let him explore the room and meet the caregivers.
7. During the first week in the new center, stay with him for an hour or two each morning if you can. Gradually decrease the time you stay until you simply drop him off by the end of the week. He will take his cues from you; if you interact warmly with the new teachers and other children, he will know that the new center is a good and trusted place.

Originally published in American Baby magazine, July 2005. Updated 2009

The answers from our experts are for educational purposes only. Please always refer to your child's pediatrician and mental health expert for more in-depth advice.

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