Settling Into a New Center

Key points

  • Help children make the transition to child care by starting slowly and getting support from child care educators.
  • Ease children into new routines, and make sure they have enough attention, rest and quiet play at home.
  • A good relationship with early childhood educators can help children settle in.

Making the transition to child care

Child care is a new environment for your child, with new people and new routines.

Your child’s transition to child care is more likely to go well if you start getting ready for child care well ahead of time.

Also, starting slowly is important. For example, if it works for your family, you could start with short days and stay at child care with your child. Then you could leave your child for short periods, building up to leaving your child for a whole day.

It’s also important to talk to your child’s early childhood educators about the best way to help your child with the transition. Educators have a lot of experience with settling young children into child care, and they’ll be able to suggest options for your child and family.

Child care is also known as early childhood education and care or early learning and care. Likewise, child care centres are sometimes called early childhood services or early learning centres. We usually talk about child care and child care centres or services in our articles.

Settling in at child care: tips for the early weeks

Get organised early
Taking care of practical things like lunches and clothes labels the night before (or earlier) will reduce the stress of trying to get out the door in the mornings. This means you can focus on your child and how they’re feeling on child care mornings. If your morning at home is calm, you’re both more likely to be calm when you say goodbye.

Allow plenty of down time at home
Child care is very stimulating. At the end of the day, your child will probably be tired and need recovery time at home. This might mean an earlier bedtime, longer naps or quiet play in a familiar environment.

Make special time at home with you
Now that you have less time with your child, you’ll want to make the most of the time you do have together.

Breastfeeding or bottle-feeding before and after child care can be a good way to connect. You might also be able to build special time into your evening routine, with songs and play at bath time or cuddles and stories at bedtime. Or plan for relaxed family time together on the weekends – for example, a regular play at the park.

Stay with your child
It’s good to make time to stay with your child as they get used to being without you at child care. You could read a book together, play quietly or watch your child do activities. As you and your child become more comfortable at child care, you’ll develop a drop-off routine that works for both of you.

Say goodbye
When it’s time to go, it’s important to let your child know you’re going and when you’ll be back. Give your child a hug and a kiss, say goodbye to your child’s educator and leave promptly. This makes it easier for your child to settle down with their educator.

Build a relationship with your child’s early childhood educators
Your child is more likely to feel secure at child care if they see that you have good relationships with early childhood educators. If your child can see that you trust their educator, your child is more likely to trust the educator too.

Plan for breastfeeding
If your child is still breastfeeding and if it’s possible for you, you might want to think about visiting the service during the day to feed your child. Many services encourage breastfeeding mothers to visit, and it might help your child settle into care.

Some children don’t want to leave child care. This shows that they feel safe in the care environment. If your child finds it difficult to change activities and go from child care to home, you can give your child a warning so they have time to adjust to the idea. For example, ‘Once we finish building this wall with the blocks, we need to go home and cook dinner’.

Settling children with disability, autism or additional needs into child care: tips

If your child with disability, autistic child or child with other additional needs is starting child care, you can adapt the ideas in this article to suit your child.

You might need to work closely with your child’s educators to help them develop skills for supporting your child and their specific needs. For example, you can let educators know how best to communicate with your child, or help your child move around, or guide your child’s behaviour, and so on.

Regular communication with educators is especially important if your child has additional needs.

The National Quality Framework (NQF) requires that early childhood services are inclusive. This means that every child who attends a child care service can take part in the service’s regular activities and routines and that every child feels confident and secure.

Settling children from diverse cultural and language backgrounds: tips

Your child might be going to a child care service that’s culturally different from your home. The educators and other children might come from cultural backgrounds that are different from your family’s, or they might speak different languages from yours.

These tips might help your child settle in:

  • Share some basic words in your child’s home language with the educators – for example, words for sleep, eat, stop, hello and goodbye.
  • Explain how much English your child can speak or understand.
  • Explain any customs for eating, dressing or behaviour that might affect your child’s activities at child care.
  • Lend or donate cultural items that help your child feel welcome – for example, traditional toys, books in your home language, woven or dyed cloth from your culture, or inexpensive cooking utensils to use in home corner.
  • Suggest that the service has regular events or activities to explore diverse cultures, including your child’s. You might even like to be involved in some way.

How do you know whether your child has settled well at child care?

Your child has probably settled well at child care if they:

  • are generally happy to go to child care
  • show you things they’ve made or done at child care
  • talk happily about their day (if they’re talking).

If you have any concerns about how your child is settling in at child care, it’s best to talk to your child’s early childhood educators.