Much like everything you tackle with a toddler, transitioning a toddler to a new daycare is a delicate dance. 4 weeks ago we moved our daughter to a new daycare after being a part of an in-home daycare for almost 2 and a half years. It was a big transition for our family, but I learned a lot about what our toddler and family can handle… and it’s a lot! As we move into our 5th week, I’m so incredibly proud of my daughter and the adjustment she’s gone through. We’re still adjusting to our new routine and schedule as a family, but it gets easier each day!
Preparing for Day 1
Our move to the new daycare happened fast, making it a lot like ripping off a Band-aid. Once we had found the new daycare for our daughter, after calling at least 25 daycare centers, I started talking to her about her new school. Being positive about the change was important for us, whether or not she picked up on it early on. I “talked up” going to a new school and meeting new friends. It was clear she didn’t understand that she would no longer be attending her old daycare, but helping her to understand the change that was coming was important.
The week leading up to her first day of daycare consisted of filling out lots of forms, getting copies of various medical documents, and buying a few required items for Magnolia. Some of the things I shopped for and packed included…
- Crib sheet to fit nap cot
- Blanket, pillow, and/or stuffed animal for nap time
- Diapers, wipes, and diaper cream
- An emergency bag (change of clothes, toy, family photo, and snack)
- Family photo for the class wall
- Backpack and lunch box
Although I had most things, I headed to Target with Magnolia to pick up a new crib sheet and backpack. Although I had a spare crib sheet, I knew it would be special for Magnolia to pick out a few new items that were just for school. It would have been easy for me to just buy sheets and a backpack, but having her pick out her favorites connected her with her school supplies. She picked out adorable heart sheets and a cute purple backpack, both of which she takes to school with joy and pride as they are hers.
One of the biggest changes for us was packing our daughter’s lunch. Our previous daycare provided lunch, so adding lunchboxes to our morning routine was a change. As simple as packing lunch is, I’ll admit that I was overwhelmed. What would she eat? What packed well? What was the most balanced of lunches?
I’ll tell you, the best thing I did was buy a pack of these containers for her lunches. I don’t have to worry about multiple containers and they really do help me to create her lunches. During my daughter’s first two weeks of school I tried out a number of different lunches. There were some she liked more than others, but I quickly learned that she loved various muffins (like these pizza muffins) and peanut butter sandwiches. Most days I’ll pack her either a sandwich or a few mini muffins, a cheese stick or yogurt, and a fruit or veggie (she love apples and baby carrots). I admit to over complicating lunches at first, but I quickly learned that she eats all of the simple lunches.
Establishing a Routine
Aside from the actual transition to the new daycare, our routine had to undergo a complete revamp. For years, I would wake up Magnolia around 7AM, get her dressed, put her in the car, and drive to daycare. She would eat breakfast at daycare, and since lunch was provided too, I never had to pack lunch. Our mornings were pretty easy.
I’m still learning which things I can do the night before, but for the most part, our routine has looked a little like this…
- I wake up around 5AM, shower, get dressed, make our lunches, and make breakfast, all by 6:15AM
- Neal gets up, gets himself ready, and takes care of Theodore (our pooch)
- We wake Magnolia up by 6:30AM if she isn’t already awake
- I get Magnolia dressed and then Neal takes over as I head out the door no later than 6:40AM.
- Neal makes Magnolia’s breakfast, puts her shoes and jacket on, and puts on an episode of Curious George
- Neal leaves for drop off around 7AM and then heads to work
- I’m at work by 7:30AM and leave work at 3:30PM for daycare pick up
The mornings I workout at OrangeTheory are a little different, but for the most part, we tag team. Last week when Neal was out of town, I had to prepare the night before instead of leaving everything until the morning. I laid out our clothes, made lunches, packed both of our bags, etc.
My new work schedule has me in the office by 7:30AM, but it’s great missing the thick of rush hour traffic, having Neal do drop off, and being able to pick up Magnolia a little early since I leave work at 3:30PM. I’ll admit that I didn’t think my commute would be all that different from our new daycare compared to our old daycare, but it tacked on 30 minutes to an hour depending on traffic! Working 8:30AM-4:30PM wasn’t going to work for us, so I was grateful to be able to change my schedule to 7:30AM-3:30PM.
Having a set routine, knowing what each of our roles are in the morning, and making the mornings a happy time, have really helped with our toddlers transition to a new daycare. Trust me, week one was a cluster and I’m just glad we made it through, but each week has gotten easier and we’ve settled into our new routine.
Conquering Drop Off
Drop off at a new daycare is really, really hard. Truth is, day 1 isn’t the hardest day. Day 2 and your second Monday are the hardest days. Day 1, your toddler will have no idea what’s about to happen, despite your positive warnings. New routine, new location, new friends/teachers… ok. Our daughter cried when we left her on day 1, but boy did she really cry on day 2 and 3. When we pulled up to daycare that second day she had the “Oh heck no!” look in her eyes and quickly lost it. I personally found that staying positive, telling her I would be back after the school day is over, and being as quick as possible helped. Trust me, I wanted to hold her, soothe her cries, and take her home, but being able to walk into daycare, put away her things, kiss her goodbye, and leave was the best thing for her.
We quickly learned that my new commute wasn’t going to work in the morning, so we actually switched to having my husband take her to daycare, which helped a lot. I think it’s harder for my daughter when I drop her off, so having my husband drop her off definitely helped with her transition.
Here’s the truth though. Our daughter cried every single day at drop off until day 19! It took her 19 days to be ok with us leaving her, but she hasn’t cried since her 18th day of daycare! Our daycare told us over and over again that it’s a hard transition for all kids and that some kids cry at drop off for months, but I think I was hopeful she’d only cry those first few days. If you’re switching to a new daycare, be prepared that it’ll take 1-2 months before your child adjusts to the new routine.
Relying on Teachers
My daughter’s teachers were my eyes and ears through her transition. I learned that I could best support my daughter by talking to her teachers; to see what was working and what she might need extra help with. I think one of the best things a parent can do is to build a relationship with the teachers early and I make sure they know you’re on their side. I knew Magnolia would struggle with drop off and that she’d have a tough time transitioning from an in-home (little structure) to a center (lots of structure). Being able to check in with them, to see how I could help, and to take their advice was really important through our transition.
When All Is Said and Done
Switching your entire routine, introducing your toddler to new friends and teachers, and leaving him/her at a foreign place is really difficult. It’s hard not only for the toddler, but it’s also hard for the parents. I personally struggled with mommy guilt, knowing that my daughter was crying and upset at this sudden change. What I had to hold true to was that A. She won’t remember this B. She’s in a safe setting C. She’s surrounded by teachers who truly care for her D. She’s going to have to go through a lot of changes/transitions over the years. Transitioning a toddler to a new daycare is not easy, but having gone through it, it’s really those first few weeks that are the hardest. Compared to our very first few days of daycare when she was 2 1/2 months old, the difference was she knew what was happening and she was able to express her emotions around the change. Sending a newborn to a daycare is hard for the mom (parents), hands down. Transitioning a toddler, well, that’s hard for everyone!
I learned to console my daughter in different ways, to talk to her about the changes, and to be kind to the both of us through the transition. Daddy didn’t struggle with the change at all, shocker, but I couldn’t have done it without his help and support. We are definitely a team when it comes to parenting!
As parents, we all do the best we can. Some transitions are easier than others, but I know parents try to make change as easy as possible for their kids. If we could take away their sadness, fear, anxiety, you name it, we would. All we can do is to prepare them for the change, to stay strong during the transition, and to be patient until the child settles into the new routine. What was once foreign will become their new norm, it just takes time!