Question: In a few weeks, I will be returning to my job outside the home and will be putting my 10-month-old daughter in child care. How can I help to make the transition less stressful for her?
Answer: You are wise in planning for this transition ahead of time. A 10-month-old is at the height of the attachment stage, where separations from parents can cause a great deal of anxiety. Babies this age often want to keep mom or dad in sight almost constantly. There are bound to be tears as your baby learns to deal with this daily separation and begins to adapt to the new environment of the child care center. But there are some ways that you can help to make this go more smoothly.
If at all possible, arrange for your daughter to spend some time at the center to get familiar with the environment before you go back to work full time. Would they allow you and your daughter to spend some time there together over the next few weeks? Or could you leave her there for a brief time while you go shopping once or twice?
Does your baby have a special blanket or teddy bear that provides comfort when you’re not around? If not, you might want to encourage her to take on such a transitional object. Hold a stuffed animal or small blanket when you play with your baby or when you rock her to sleep. Help your daughter begin to associate it with you and the comfort you provide. Having a favorite comfort object at the child care center can help your child feel more secure.
Let the caregivers at the center know what your baby likes best as well as her sleeping patterns and her favorite foods, books and toys. Also let the know what comforts her most when she is upset.
When it is time to actually leave her at the center, allow time to help her get settled in at the center, then give her a warm hug and kiss before you go out the door. If you sneak out, you may shake her trust in you. And if you drag out your goodbye, you may overdramatize the significance of leaving her. Show her with your words and behavior that you trust that she will be OK and that you look forward to seeing her later.
Don’t forget that this is a big change for you too! The biggest factor in how your daughter handles the separation from you will be how you are when you are with her. So take care of yourself so that you can continue to take good care of your daughter: Connect with other parents in similar circumstances; treat yourself to a walk or a hot bath in the evening; and remind yourself that no one ever died from a few crumbs on the table or a messy living room!