How to Help Your Child Transition to New Childcare

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With several arrivals and departures of child care providers in our house this past year, I’m considering serving dinner on airport trays.

We had a bit of an interesting streak – will save the juicy details for another posting. Reasons unnecessary (although I did learn some good German language phrases after translating a Facebook page). The fact remains: for most families with child care assistance, it is the routine with babysitters, au pairs, nannies, and day care providers that the end must come. We say hello, and we say goodbye.

About a month ago, my cousin (also mom of twins) experienced a similar goodbye and asked me for advice. She was worried how her twins (2 years old) would react with not just one, but two, child care transitions within a few months.

So, what are Dr. Jen’s tips for the best possible adjustment when a child care provider is going to leave?

1. Be honest. Answer questions in an age appropriate yet up front manner. For one of our au pairs, my daughter asked, “Why is she leaving?” She was incredibly homesick and had a very hard time adjusting to being away from her family – from the first day. I answered, “Did you notice that S was crying a lot, from the very first day she came to our house? Well, S missed her mommy and her friends and those feelings were just way too much for her so she decided to go home.” My daughter asked, “Are you mad, Mommy?”, to which I answered, “Yes, I am upset that this happened and it does create a problem for me, but it’s a grownup problem that Mommy and Daddy will figure out and I promise you that you’ll be ok.”

2. When possible, have a short period of overlap between providers. I believe that a child seeing everyone getting along and a transition being inclusive of old and new providers helps in the transition. You may prefer short visits by the new provider for a few days, gradually lengthening each day. Our strategy has been week-long overlap (costly, but works for us) where both providers work together for a week and the new provider gradually takes over responsibilities.

3. If there is no possibility of overlap, be sure to MENTION the old provider and EXPLAIN what happened. It’s not a magic show (close your eyes and open them and your babysitter will look entirely different!). You child, whatever age, will KNOW there has been a change and needs you to acknowledge this.

4. Manage expectations with child care in general ahead of time. My husband and I say, “Teachers and babysitters will come and go. Some will be part of our lives forever – and be part of special family events and maybe we can even visit one day! But there are two people in your house that are not going anywhere – Mommy and Daddy. We don’t change.”

5. Guilt, Schmilt. I started my working mother journey vowing NEVER to have a nanny or au pair, preferring 100% day care and to do the rest myself. After three weeks back at work with my first set of twins and a ruptured appendix (yep, not fun!) that went out the window pretty fast. I embrace and accept that I (really, really, really) need help! My children view our child care providers as part of what it takes for our house to run smoothly. So, when a transition happens and it is STRESSFUL, it is ok to let the children know you feel stress and are taking steps to figure out a plan. Make the transition period a time when everyone needs to be really good and do a little extra and use it as an example to your children of how to solve problems.

6. Respond to questions and have your new provider do the same. It is normal for your child to ask “Where is Mary?” and even express jealous feelings if Mary is with a new family. Talk about it. Make sure your new provider understands this as well.

7. Repeat as necessary – consistency will be key. Understand that these goodbyes and hellos will, in part, form your child’s understanding of relationships and how to negotiate transitions in the future. Take a breath and think about your plan for a smooth(er) transition. When my cousin called to ask what I thought the best way to handle her transition was, I was so impressed that she made the effort and had the foresight to think about it.

8. Recognize that this transition may be hard on you, too! Pat yourself on the back for what may have been a very hard decision to make if you let a provider go. Or, pat yourself on the back again for figuring out a plan if your provider left on her own accord.

XOXO Dr. Jen

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