Grown ups

Child care: when your child isn't settling

Child care: when your child isn't settling

About settling in at child care

Some children settle happily in their new child care setting within a few days or weeks. Others get upset and cry, even after the first few weeks. And some children settle at first and then get upset later - often when the novelty of the new environment has worn off.

It might help to know that most children stop crying shortly after mum or dad goes. And most children settle eventually.

Separation anxiety is a normal part of child development. The difficulty is that it often starts about the time that families are starting child care. It will pass in its own time, and your child's educators will probably have plenty of ideas for supporting your child.

Sharing information: a key way to help children who aren't settling at child care

Sharing information with your child's educators and carers is really important to helping your child settle into child care.

For example, you could say, 'Ramon doesn't like a blanket during nap time'. Or you could tell them about things you do at home, like a special song you sing when you change a nappy.

It's also a good idea to share what's going on at home and how your child is feeling. For example, your child might be excited about a birthday, or sad and not sleeping well because Mum is away on a business trip.

A chat with educators at the beginning and end of each day gives you the chance to find out how your child is settling. It also helps you build relationships with your child's educators.

You can check with the child care setting if it's OK for you to call during the day to ask how your child has settled. This can really help your peace of mind. Most care settings welcome these calls.

Building your child's relationships with educators

Children feel safe with people they know well and trust. So one of the best things you can do is help your child build trusting relationships with her educators. Here are some ideas:

  • Show your child that you trust the educators - for example, let him see you talking comfortably with them.
  • Talk to your child about the educators in the same way you talk about friends of your family. Say positive things and use the educators' names.
  • Display photos of the educators at home and give the service photos of you so they can talk about you with your child. Or you could put photos in a book for your child. This helps your child make a connection between home and child care.

Saying goodbye: tips to help children who aren't settling at child care

Here are some ideas you can try to make it easier for you and your child to say goodbye at child care:

  • Acknowledge your child's feelings, give her words to help express herself, and comfort her. For example, 'I know you feel sad. It's hard to say goodbye. But Clare's got some pretty leaves to show you'.
  • Talk about an activity you and your child will do together when you get home or when you come to pick him up, like playing in the garden or reading a story.
  • Have a goodbye routine, like three kisses and a bear hug, high-fives or some other special thing that's meaningful to your child.
  • Let your child know that you or another familiar grown-up will be back to pick her up at a particular time, or after an event that your child understands, like sleep or snack time.
  • Keep your goodbyes brief. Staying around to comfort your upset child can sometimes make things worse. But it's a good idea to make sure the educator is nearby to comfort your child when you go.
  • Try to stay positive, both when you say goodbye and at home. Otherwise your child might pick up on your anxious feelings and feel more worried or unsafe.

Always say goodbye, even if your child looks busy and happy when it's time for you to leave. Leaving without a goodbye can make children more upset when they realise you've gone. It's best to let your child know you're going and say that you'll be back later.

When to change child care or seek help because your child isn't settling

Sometimes, despite your best efforts to establish nurturing relationships between your child and his educators, you might feel that the care setting just isn't right for your child.

If that's the case, you might want to think again about the type of care you want for your child, and your reasons for needing care. It's important for your child to learn to build relationships with others. But all children learn this in different ways, and your child's care setting just might not suit her at this point in her life. You might want to think about finding a different centre, or a different type of child care.

If you don't know why your child is unsettled and you think the problem could be more than just your child's stage of development or the child care setting, you might want to seek professional help. Your child and family health nurse is a good place to start.