After being on both sides of the parent and provider spectrum, there are definitely some things that I wish I had known and also some things that I wish parents would do when preparing their child for daycare. So, I’ve compiled a list of the biggest things that parents should work on with their newborn and young child from the beginning (or as soon as you read this, because it’s never too late!)
#1 Feeding a Bottle
Regardless of if you’re breastfeeding, formula-feeding, or combination feeding, your child will need to be taking a bottle good and well before their first day of daycare. If your child is exclusively breast-fed with no bottle feeding, you will need to work with your child on taking a bottle to be able to go to daycare. A provider cannot breastfeed a child and it’s not fair to the child to be hungry and unable to get their nourishment from a bottle. Both provider and baby suffer in this situation. A provider may need to call for pickup if the baby cannot or will not eat from the bottle. So please… put the work in at home to get your child fully acclimated to a bottle at least 2 weeks before their first day of daycare.
At daycare, regulations for sleep can be quite rigorous and they need to be. Regulated providers (ie: licensed and registered providers) are required to sleep children on a firm, flat surface with no bedding or blankets, stuffed animals, etc. in the crib. A pacifier is permitted but that’s it. So while it might be great to use a rock-n-play at home, to bed share, to have baby fall asleep on you/in your arms/at your breast, in a carseat, stroller, etc. a childcare provider legally cannot do these things.
There have been so many reported deaths from unsafe sleeping practices at daycares that follow safe sleep procedures 80% of the time or even at unregulated daycares where this percentage is a lot less and where unsafe sleep is the norm. While it might be easier for a child to sleep in your arms (in terms of less fuss and protesting), it doesn’t help the child in any way transition to daycare. To go from sleeping in someone’s arms to being alone in a pack-n-play with no one around is a major transition shock and is possibly even frightening.
I encourage you to work with your baby from as early on as you can to be able to lay them down, alone, in their sleeping area, give them a kiss goodnight, and to leave the room. Or to work on getting to that point if you’re not there yet. A work in progress is better than keeping a bad habit. Because at daycare, your provider will have 3-7 other children to care for and they simply cannot lay next to your child until they fall asleep. Or hold a baby until they fall asleep. Or walk around with a child in a stroller to get them to sleep. It’s a lot harder to do this transition to good sleep habits with a 1 year old than it is with a young infant.
Regardless of if you’re into baby-led weaning or into feeding baby food/purees, there are a few things you have to understand about daycare and feeding. There are regulations in place for how much and how often a baby must be fed breastmilk/formula and also for at what age a baby needs to be eating something else. Regardless of parental preferences, providers have to follow feeding laws if they are a regulated provider. We cannot restrict breastmilk or food for a child just because the parent requests it of us. That’s neglect. Essentially, if a child is hungry, they need to be able to eat.
Encourage your child to self-feed from as young an age as possible. If a child is particularly interested in food, they may be able to self-feed as young as 6-7 months old. It can be messy, but children and their clothing are washable. Self-feeding is beneficial in many ways but especially in a group care setting, a child who self-feeds can eat at the pace they like and stop when full and they aren’t waiting on the provider to spoon-feed them. It’s also good for developing independence, autonomy (the “do it yourself” mentality, which toddlers LOVE!), and ensuring that we can keep to a schedule at daycare. While it may be tempting to offer your child puree pouches and easy foods like that, they will still need to learn to eat table food and eventually use silverware. I’ve found that most children who are on purees too long (like still eating them at 9 months or so unless a medical reason) are more likely to be picky and have texture aversions. If you’re nervous about choking, then I highly recommend taking a CPR/First Aid/AED course. They are offered through the Red Cross in-person or can look up an online course.
At daycare, when it’s mealtime there is 1 thing served for everyone. It might be a casserole with ingredients all mixed together, it might be an assortment of 3-4 separate things on the plate, or it might be a blended smoothie. A daycare provider can’t (and likely won’t) make an alternate meal because 1 child has a dietary restriction or “doesn’t like” something that is being served. For a documented allergy, then the parent can likely opt to provide food if the daycare cannot accommodate the child’s allergy with their menu offerings. Special diets can be expensive and take extra time to plan menus.
It’s not likely that a child will not eat, unless they have been conditioned at home to be the one calling the shots. A child should decide how much and if they eat and it’s up to the adults in their life to give them what to eat, where (ie: high chair or picnic al fresco), and when. If you’re going out to eat, that’s the perfect time for your little one to order what he/she wants. At home, though? Not so much. Just tell your child that today for breakfast you’re having “xyz”. Leave it at that. Avoid the temptation to have them “take just a bite” or similar. If they don’t want to eat, then that’s ok. Let them know that they will not be having anything else until the next meal (lunch) in a few hours and keep to your word. Avoid having a food war.
#4 Play and Exploration
Children at daycare are encouraged to play, to explore, and to learn. It’s essential that they are in an environment where they can touch things, look at books, play outside in a safe area, and explore a playground. I believe that children as young as 10 months can start exploring a playground. Maybe they’re only interested in the grass or dirt, but it’s still good for them.
I’ve seen too many children hesitant to play and dive into their surroundings for whichever reason but I encourage them to play and explore! My daycare is set up in a way where everything is child-friendly, touchable, and explorable. It’s vital to children’s health and mental well-being that they be in an environment that is mostly touchable.
#5 Following Policies and Rules
I am a firm believer in respect and of following the rules. If a daycare has a policy about “no outside food or drinks”, then you need to abide by that. If they require 2 weeks’ notice to terminate the contract, then you need to give that. A business has these things in place for a reason and anyone agreeing to service agrees to the terms in which the business operates. Don’t sign on with a program if you don’t agree with how they do things, if you don’t agree with their policies, time off, closures, etc. Save yourself (and them) the headache of dealing with these issues later on. Find the right place the first time.