Sending your child to daycare is a big step in both your and your child’s lives. It can be emotional, exciting, scary, even anxiety-inducing. After all, daycare will be an important part of your child’s educational and emotional development.
By the time your child is 18-months old, they will likely have hit some important developmental milestones that will help them thrive in the daycare environment:
- Communication skills: able to say a handful of single words, can point to objects they want, able to say yes and no, etc.
- Cognitive skills: can follow simple verbal commands like “sit down”, can recognize simple objects like a blanket or a cell phone, can point to a body part, etc.
- Physical development: can undress themselves, can walk unassisted, can use a cup and spoon, etc.
Hitting these important developmental milestones around 18 months will make the transition to daycare a much more enjoyable experience for both the child and the daycare employees. Still, not every child will be excited to start daycare— like any transition, it’s a big change and you might see some kicking, screaming, and crying that first day. Here are some tips to make your 18-month-old’s transition to daycare a smooth and ultimately fun experience.
4 Tips for Your Toddler’s Transition to Daycare
Visit the Daycare Center Before the First Day
Even if you have already done your due diligence in researching different high-quality daycares, locations, and curriculum, your child hasn’t. They’re going into this new experience absolutely blind. That first day of daycare is stressful and confusing for children at that age. From their perspective, you’re leaving them alone in a new environment to fend for themselves against absolute strangers. No wonder they may be shy or outright angry that first day. If at all possible, have you and your 18-month-old visit the daycare before that first day. Let them roam around the classroom, playground, even bathroom to help them get a good feel of their new environment.
Many daycares host an open house or give you a chance to sit in on a class before the first day of classes to answer any of your questions and to meet your toddler. These events give you a time to talk to the teachers and daycare workers to help ease your concerns, as well as to give your child time to feel more comfortable with the room and daycare employees making the daycare transition easier.
Develop a Morning Routine
Mornings are a chaotic time. Getting everyone dressed, fed, and out the door can make even the most seasoned parent beg for rest. Even before your 18-month-old’s first day of daycare, you should have a morning routine in place to make the transition to daycare as manageable as possible.
Figure out what the most time-intensive or stressful part of your morning is, and figure out how to streamline the process.
- Your kid might put up a fight about what you picked out for them to wear that day, so try letting them pick out some parts of their outfit—this can give them a sense of independence and personal confidence.
- If you get bogged down during breakfast, prepping meals the day before can make mornings quicker and less stressful.
- Struggling to locate backpacks, shoes, or other items while rushing out the door? Create a designated place in your home where they will always stay so you won’t forget them.
Even if you aren’t in the best mood in the mornings, don’t let it rub off on your child and follow them for the rest of their day. It may take a while to get everyone in a routine. But after you all figure out what needs to be done every morning, your child will have less stressful and happier mornings that will follow them to daycare.
Create a Goodbye Ritual
Saying goodbye at drop off can be hard for both you and your child. Some parents like the long, drawn-out goodbyes, and others prefer to rip off the BandAid and leave quickly. Whatever side of the spectrum you like, creating a goodbye ritual will help your 18-month-old easily transition from parent-time to daycare-time.
The goodbye ritual doesn’t have to be complex. You can make it as simple as a secret goodbye handshake or saying “I love you” to each other. Once that ritual is completed, they will begin to understand that daycare is the next step of their day.
Let Them Bring a Toy From Home
Even with all your prepping and planning, your child may still be nervous about being at daycare the majority of the day. Transitioning from home to daycare is the biggest change in your toddler’s routine at this point in their lives. Let them bring an object or toy from home they’re familiar with. This will help make them feel more comfortable and secure while at daycare. It could be a stuffed animal, a security blanket, a favorite book, or a picture of your family.
Just because they’re in a new environment doesn’t mean they have to be disconnected from their parents or home the entire day. Even if it’s a subtle reminder like a small toy, that connection to their family and the familiar can make their daycare experience a positive one.
Daycare should be an exciting experience for you and your 18-month-old. It’s where they first learn how to become more independent, develop social skills, and grow into their own personalities. It may be difficult for them to get into a new rhythm at first—you shouldn’t expect them to feel completely comfortable that first day or even the first few weeks. But if you prepare them in advance and give them all the necessary support, it won’t be long until they adjust and can’t wait to get to daycare every single day.
Alissa Zorn is an author, and founder of the website Overthought This. She's a coach and cartoonist passionate about helping people overcome perfectionism and shame to build authentic, joyful lives. Alissa is certified through the International Coach Federation and got her Trauma-Informed Coaching certification from Moving the Human Spirit. She wrote Bounceback Parenting: A Field Guide for Creating Connection, Not Perfection, and is always following curiosity to find her next creative endeavor.