6 ways to help ease your child’s transition to daycare

As a Montessori teacher, I have a lot of experience helping young children ease into life at school. Starting my own son in a Montessori baby program last month, though, gave me a whole new perspective.

It was hard. Really hard.

And I had a pretty ideal setup. He’s at the same school where I teach. I know and trust his teachers. He’s only there half the day. Yet even with all of these factors on our side, both of our lives felt disrupted in a major way, and things are just now starting to feel normal six weeks later.

This got me thinking about the things we can do help our little ones adjust to group care.

Whether it’s their very first time being away without you or just a transition to a new school, here are six things you can do to make the change a little bit easier, for both of you:

1. Visit together

Especially if you have a younger child, ask the school if you can visit together and spend some time either in his classroom or on the playground. This will help both you and your child feel safe and comfortable as he explores his new environment for the first time.

If joint visits are not allowed by the school, try driving to the school on a Saturday and just showing your child the outside. This is especially helpful if you can see the playground from the parking lot, as many children will be excited to check out the new equipment they’ll get to enjoy.

2. Transition gradually

If the school or daycare allows it, do a gradual transition where your child stays a little bit longer each day.

If it’s your child’s very first time being away from you, start with just an hour. Based on how she reacts to the new environment, work with her teachers to find a transition timeline that will push her a little more each day so that she’s comfortable.

3. Tell your child what to expect

Hyping things up too much can backfire—children see through us so easily. Telling your child he’ll have the best day ever and going on about how fun school is while you’re actually anxious about how he’ll handle it won’t work.

This approach can also be problematic because if you tell your child he’ll love school, and then he doesn’t, he may be confused or feel like he can’t trust what you say. Instead, try talking to him about the specifics of his day. Tell him the name of his teacher and tell him a few details about the daily schedule.

For example, try something like, “When you get to your classroom, you’ll see Ms. Jones. You’ll play inside for an hour, then play on the playground, and then eat lunch. Then I’ll come and take you home.”

Understanding what will happen while he’s at school or daycare will help him feel more comfortable. As the day progresses, he will see that what you told him is indeed happening and that will help him feel safe.

4. Adjust your schedule at home

Request a copy of your child’s schedule and try to follow it as closely as possible at home the week before he starts group care. For example, if the class eats lunch at 11am and naps at 12pm, try adjusting your home schedule to match.

Being away from you in a new environment is a lot of change as it is. Adjusting your schedule ahead of time will help the rhythms of the school day feel more natural to your child.

5. Clear your calendar

It can be tempting to try to make up for lost time and do *all the things* when you pick your child up from school or on the weekends.

Even if your child loves school or daycare right away though, it is a huge change and takes a mental toll. Try to keep life at home as simple as possible for the first few weeks of this transition. Plenty of time for open-ended play at home will give your child the opportunity to decompress and process everything that is happening.

6. Say goodbye with confidence

The number one suggestion I have for parents starting a child in our classroom is to say a quick, confident goodbye.

There are few things harder than leaving your child crying and screaming for you. The thing is, if you stay and try to comfort your child, she gets stuck in a sort of limbo and can’t move on. As long as you’re still there, part of her wonders if she can convince you to stay, and that makes it very hard to calm down.

Most children calm down very soon after their parents leave. If you’re concerned about leaving your child crying, ask the school to call you if he’s still upset in 30 minutes so you can come up with a plan.

Saying goodbye with confidence also shows your child that she is safe. If you seem anxious or upset to leave her, her anxiety will likely increase as it signals that it’s not okay for her to be left there.

Starting group care is a huge adjustment, both for the parent and the child. No matter what you do, it will likely be a bumpy road for a little while. Taking some time to prepare your child ahead of time, though, will help you both feel a little more comfortable with all of the changes to come.

You might also like:

A very important letter for new mamas

Listen, mom-guilt is a dirty liar. Yes, it's your job to fill your little human's needs, but you matter too. Don't forget to take care of yourself. Hang out with friends, take a drive blaring 90's hip hop or shower without interruptions—trust me, you'll be a better person (and mom) because of it.

Dear new mom,

You will shave again someday. Today is not that day.

Set expectations low, my friend, and set your partner's lower—at least where body hair and overall hygiene are concerned.

That conversation could go something like this: “From now on let's not consider shaving a “standard," but more like a gift that happens on birthdays and the first day of summer."

Voila, you are a gift-giving genius. You know what else is a gift? Shaving the inch and a half of skin that is between your skinny jeans and your boots. You're welcome world.

You will not be perfect at parenting.


I have yet to meet a perfect mother, but when I do, she's going to be a tiger who is insanely good at making up songs. (Daniel Tiger's mom, we salute you.)

Keep reading Show less

Motherly editors’ 7 favorite hacks for organizing their diaper bags

Make frantically fishing around for a diaper a thing of the past!

As any parent knows, the term "diaper bag" only scratches the surface. In reality, this catchall holds so much more: a change of clothes, bottles, snacks, wipes and probably about a dozen more essential items.

Which makes finding the exact item you need, when you need it (read: A diaper when you're in public with a blowout on your hands) kind of tricky.

That's why organization is the name of the game when it comes to outings with your littles. We pooled the Motherly team of editors to learn some favorite hacks for organizing diaper bags. Here are our top tips.

1. Divide and conquer with small bags

Here's a tip we heard more than a few times: Use smaller storage bags to organize your stuff. Not only is this helpful for keeping related items together, but it can also help keep things from floating around in the expanse of the larger diaper bag. These bags don't have to be anything particularly fancy: an unused toiletry bag, pencil case or even plastic baggies will work.

2. Have an emergency changing kit

When you're dealing with a diaper blowout situation, it's not the time to go searching for a pack of wipes. Instead, assemble an emergency changing kit ahead of time by bundling a change of baby clothes, a fresh diaper, plenty of wipes and hand sanitizer in a bag you can quickly grab. We're partial to pop-top wipes that don't dry out or get dirty inside the diaper bag.

3. Simplify bottle prep

Organization isn't just being able to find what you need, but also having what you need. For formula-feeding on the go, keep an extra bottle with the formula you need measured out along with water to mix it up. You never know when your outing will take longer than expected—especially with a baby in the mix!

4. Get resealable snacks

When getting out with toddlers and older kids, snacks are the key to success. Still, it isn't fun to constantly dig crumbs out of the bottom of your diaper bag. Our editors love pouches with resealable caps and snacks that come in their own sealable containers. Travel-sized snacks like freeze-dried fruit crisps or meal-ready pouches can get an unfair reputation for being more expensive, but that isn't the case with the budget-friendly Comforts line.

5. Keep a carabiner on your keychain

You'll think a lot about what your child needs for an outing, but you can't forget this must-have: your keys. Add a carabiner to your keychain so you can hook them onto a loop inside your diaper bag. Trust us when we say it's a much better option than dumping out the bag's contents on your front step to find your house key!

6. Bundle your essentials

If your diaper bag doubles as your purse (and we bet it does) you're going to want easy access to your essentials, too. Dedicate a smaller storage bag of your diaper bag to items like your phone, wallet and lip balm. Then, when you're ready to transfer your items to a real purse, you don't have to look for them individually.

7. Keep wipes in an outer compartment

Baby wipes aren't just for diaper changes: They're also great for cleaning up messy faces, wiping off smudges, touching up your makeup and more. Since you'll be reaching for them time and time again, keep a container of sensitive baby wipes in an easily accessible outer compartment of your bag.

Another great tip? Shop the Comforts line on to find premium baby products for a fraction of competitors' prices. Or, follow @comfortsforbaby for more information!

This article was sponsored by The Kroger Co. Thank you for supporting the brands that supporting Motherly and mamas.

Our Partners

It's science: Why your baby stops crying when you stand up

A fascinating study explains why.

When your baby is crying, it feels nearly instinctual to stand up to rock, sway and soothe them. That's because standing up to calm babies is instinctual—driven by centuries of positive feedback from calmed babies, researchers have found.

"Infants under 6 months of age carried by a walking mother immediately stopped voluntary movement and crying and exhibited a rapid heart rate decrease, compared with holding by a sitting mother," say authors of a 2013 study published in Current Biology.

Even more striking: This coordinated set of actions—the mother standing and the baby calming—is observed in other mammal species, too. Using pharmacologic and genetic interventions with mice, the authors say, "We identified strikingly similar responses in mouse pups as defined by immobility and diminished ultrasonic vocalizations and heart rate."

Keep reading Show less