Changing caregivers can be stressful, especially because the process is often combined with other life transitions such as a move to a new town, a job change, or a less-than-ideal current daycare situation. Whatever your reason, it’s important to remember two things as you begin your hunt for a new care provider. First, take heart that, in almost all circumstances, this transition will be as difficult or more difficult, emotionally speaking, for the parent than for the child. Children adapt remarkably well, and although some kids need more time to adjust than others, almost all will tolerate a change of this nature. Second, keep in mind that many fantastic caregivers are out there, and a special, truly wonderful situation for you and your child could be waiting right around the corner. Let your heart be open to welcoming that opportunity and that new person or group of people into your and your child’s life.
Here are four ways you can make the switch as smooth as possible.
1. Do your research, early and thoroughly. Start as soon as you are considering a move. In fact, it’s good to stay aware of your options even if you’re happy with your current daycare situation. Research means polling other moms you’re close with, asking current caregivers (discreetly, if necessary, and only those people whose opinion you really trust), and hunting online, not simply on Google, but also on Angie’s List, Care.com and with local and national organizations such as naeyc.org (the National Association for the Education of Young People). Create a chart of your priorities (cost? proximity to home? home-like environment? structure? Experience with kids your child’s age? Whatever your priorities are, jot them down them across the top of the page) and refer to it with every new place you investigate. Call each of the centers or in-home providers that you’re interested in, ask about availability, pricing and anything else that’s on your priority list. Set up a meeting with any of the caregivers hat pique your interest and see how closely they meet your needs and priorities. If a place that sounds great doesn’t have an opening, consider checking it out anyway, because that status can change tomorrow, and you’ll be able to jump on it if the opportunity is right.
Why this works: Having a clear picture of your options will give you confidence and peace of mind once you’ve chosen a place. You’ll feel settled knowing that the caregiver you selected was the closest fit with your priorities.
2. Introduce your child gradually to the new environment. Starting a week or two before your child’s first full day at the new place, arrange with the child’s new teacher or caregiver for a gradual introduction. On the first day, if you have a child under the age of 1, stay with him or her for an hour or two. If you have a preschooler, leave for a little while and them come back. The next time, stretch out the time you spend away. No matter what, always say goodbye, then slip out quietly and cheerfully. Never “sneak out” – your child will need to learn to trust that you won’t disappear on a moment’s notice.
Why this works: Change can be traumatic and frightening for humans of all ages. Minimizing the abruptness of a change can reduce the associated trauma. And being clear and honest when its time to say goodbye will help you build a positive, trusting relationship with your child.
3. Keep your baby feeling comforted and connected to you. Bring along the child’s favorite blanket or toy to the new daycare provider, if allowed. Your baby may also love to have the scent or sight of you near. Consider wearing a scarf or soft t-shirt frequently during the week leading up to the first day with the new childcare provider, then without washing it, give it to the teacher or center for your child to hold close while you’re away. A laminated photo of you and/or your spouse and family might also be appreciated.
Why this works: Studies have shown that familiar sights and smells can cause marked differences in a person’s brain waves and neurological and physical activity. In our brains, the olfactory system, that which governs smell, is located very close to the hippocampus, the region responsible for storing memories, so its not surprising that a whiff of something familiar can conjure up distinct memories. Don’t overlook the power of a familiar smell when trying to help your child acclimate to a new environment.
4. Stay positive. Go into the new childcare situation with a positive, welcome and open mind, and your child will be more likely to adapt faster. If that requires you to do some thinking and pep talks in front of the mirror first, so be it. When its time to visit the new childcare provider together for the first time, you’ll be able to project positive, enthusiastic energy, vibes that both your child and the caregiver will appreciate.
Why this works: Children are naturally empathetic — a newborn will cry when they hear other babies crying in the nursery, and a toddler might offer a pacifier or blanket to Daddy if they notice that he looks upset. Whatever your mood, your child will pick up on your cues. So as Bobby McFerrin might say, don’t worry, be happy!