toddler daycare adjustment: Dad with toddler read books in daycare

Stepping into the world of toddler daycare is a big leap for our little ones, and we're here to make it a joyous journey! In this guide, we'll explore the exciting activities awaiting toddlers at daycare, share tips on preparing your little explorer for this new chapter of their lives, and offer insights into introducing them to the vibrant daycare community. Let's navigate this transition together, ensuring every toddler embraces daycare with giggles, curiosity, and a heart full of happiness.

It’s usual for parents to enrol their kids in a daycare programme as it not only offers a practical solution to childcare but also serves as an avenue for toddlers to become more independent, develop life skills, and hit various milestones. But, as common as daycare sounds, remember that it’s a giant step for your little one. Hence, they need to gradually settle into it.

In this article, we'll discuss various measures parents can take to help their toddlers adjust well to the daycare setting. We'll cover:

toddler daycare adjustment: Mom plays with toddler

As you get ready to entrust your little one to new caregivers, mixed feelings emerge for both you and your child. From handling separation worries to anticipating new friendships, the beginning of daycare sets the stage for your toddler's early social and emotional growth. By establishing a reassuring routine, fostering open communication with caregivers, and making gradual adjustments, parents and caregivers can do so much to help their toddler settle into their new daycare environment.

Preparing Your Toddler for Daycare

It's common for kids to step into daycare during their toddler years. But, parents, make no mistake, daycare is a whole new world for your little one. Hence, they need to transition into it.

Here are two things you can do to help with toddler daycare adjustment:

  1. Set your child’s expectations in a simple and reassuring manner. Let them know what to look forward to in terms of activities and the presence of new friends and caregivers.

  2. Help them get familiar with the new schedule. Share details about daily routines, including playtime, meals, and nap schedules.

  3. Join them for the first few visits so that they can gain confidence being with others in a new environment. Encourage them to explore and interact.

Acknowledging daycare for what it is – a milestone - helps your toddler adapt confidently to the new, exciting setting.

Introducing Your Toddler to Daycare1,2

Toddler daycare adjustment ideally starts way before your child enrols. This gives you more time to choose the right daycare centre. Generally, the right daycare centre should:

  • Prioritise your child’s safety (Are the facilities clean and in good working condition?)

  • Have daycare activities for toddlers that help in their development (Do they have toys that allow children to problem-solve and play-pretend. Do they have art materials? Do they have nap-time schedules?)

  • Employ teachers or caregivers who are patient; and who communicate with toddlers in a gentle and playful tone.

Preparing your toddler for daycare requires gradual changeover to allow them to adjust. Here are some steps you can take:

  • Gently ease into the subject and introduce them to daycare, reiterating at all times how the activities there are similar to what you do at home. For example, while eating, you may say, “Guess what happens at daycare? They have special times for yummy meals where you get to sit with your friends. And, oh, the adventures in books! You'll listen to exciting stories where friends have a lot of fun and learn cool things, just like you do at home”3.

  • Teach them some of the basic tasks, or “chores” they'll do in daycare as well. At home, ask them to pack their toys after playing, then remind them that in daycare, children also help clean up at the end of the day.  

  • Visit the daycare together and introduce your toddler to the caregivers.

  • Ask if it's possible for your toddler to sit in a few times for short periods to help them familiarise.

  • Help them get excited; allow them to choose their bag, outfit, and snacks.


Helping Your Toddler Adjust to Daycare

Building a consistent routine4 can contribute to smoother toddler daycare adjustment, as it helps the child feel secure and familiar with daily expectations. Why not have a morning routine? You can have breakfast together and go through a to-do or to-pack checklist.

Of course, it would help to ensure that the time and place for drop-off and pick-up remain the same.

A parting routine is another essential; this could range from a happy kiss, a warm hug, to a small wave. Likewise, consider giving your child a comfort item from home, such as a teddy or a picture of you together. These particularly help toddlers who are still easing out of their separation anxiety.

Finally, don’t forget to provide positive reinforcement. As mentioned earlier, daycare is a huge step for toddlers. They are venturing from the comforts of home into another, unfamiliar setting. Whether they patiently wait for you at pick-up or successfully make a new friend, help build their confidence by acknowledging their efforts.


Daycare Activities for Toddlers

Parents play a crucial role in supporting toddler daycare adjustment by introducing the child to activities they will eventually participate in at the daycare centre.

Socialisation and play are at the forefront of these activities, so give them opportunities to interact and play with other children. You may invite kids over at home for playtime or set up a make-believe classroom where you or an older sibling can be the “teacher.”

Also, remember that toddlers learn and develop through creative activities that involve arts and crafts, storytelling, drama, and music5, so keep them in mind when you arrange playdates or play with your little one.

Finally, practice having the routine you plan to establish once they are enrolled. This helps give a sense of stability and predictability, helping your toddler feel secure in their environment.


Effective Communication with the Daycare Provider

Toddler daycare adjustment runs smoothly when you build a strong parent-provider relationship. Seeing you trust the caregiver helps your toddler feel secure.6

Sharing essential information, updates, and feedback also supports toddler development and learning. Don't hesitate to ask the caregiver or teacher if your child is having difficulty in any aspect, such as interacting with others or following directions. Likewise, provide crucial information, like the activities your little one is interested in, things that scare them or make them feel sad.

Consistent, open communication between you and the provider creates a well-rounded experience that supports toddlers' social, cognitive, and emotional growth.


Monitoring Your Toddler's Progress 

According to experts, moving to daycare for toddlers is a big shift from the secure surroundings of home, so,  you may expect some frustration 7. Of course, there’s also the issue of separation anxiety, which may peak anytime, anywhere between 9 and 18 months.

A child who’s adjusting well to daycare will be less frustrated as the days go by. They will express happiness and enthusiasm about going to the centre and participating in the daycare activities for toddlers. You'll hear more stories about their friends, what they did for the day, and what they plan to do next. They will appear more independent and eventually have limited separation anxiety.

A child who is not adjusting well may remain frustrated or constantly worried about daycare. In this case, don’t hesitate to schedule a meeting with the daycare provider. Discuss what could be causing these challenges and how the child can best cope.

Of course, don’t forget to celebrate milestones! Daycare, after all, is a place where toddlers learn and develop. Maybe today your little one begins to sort shapes and colours? Perhaps the teacher said they were able to follow a 2- to 3-step instruction? However simple the achievement is, be sure to celebrate it with your child.

What to Do When Your Toddler is Unable to Settle into Daycare

Sometimes, even with your best efforts to help your child adjust well, they may still find it difficult to settle into daycare. If this happens, you may want to rethink your options. Perhaps, your child needs more time before they enrol in a daycare program or maybe they would thrive in a different centre.

Finally, if you have reason to believe that your toddler isn’t settling in because of a developmental issue, please get in touch with a healthcare professional.

What to Consider When Choosing a Daycare8

When shopping around for the perfect daycare, an important aspect not to overlook is the daycare’s curriculum for your child’s level.

Parents may be thinking that it’s too early or that their child is too young to be following a “strict” curriculum. However, knowing the school’s approach to child learning is critical, especially when considering that you are choosing your partner in your child’s development. The activities that your toddler does at daycare complement the learning experiences they have at home.

When choosing a daycare, check whether their curriculum or daily activities help nurture these 4 main domains of child development.10

1. Physical development

  • Does the schedule include both outdoor and indoor components?
    Studies indicate that when a child has appropriate outdoor exploratory play, he or she performs significantly better.

  • Are there spaces for outdoor play where students can walk, run, and play with others? 
    These activities improve gross motor capabilities as well as motor coordination and problem solving abilities. An added benefit is sunlight, which contributes to an increase in vitamin D and strengthens bones.

  • Indoor play then shifts focus to other areas of development. Fine motor abilities are developed through hand-skill activities and visual-perceptual toys.

2. Cognitive development

-   What types of brain-building activities and lessons do they have prepared?

-   What is the learning setup like in the classroom? Do they encourage learning with games, toys, art, and the like?

When choosing a daycare, the focus should be on fostering growth through engaging activities and stimulating environments:

  • Although perceived as not the most critical, cognition is a necessary component in daycare settings. An exploratory and immersive learning environment gives children the opportunity to develop their skills.

  • While outdoor play introduces them early to nature and science, muddling with playdough, clay, and paint allows expression through their senses and helps develop art.

  • Music and language encourage dialect improvement and self expression.

  • Story-telling encourages participation and idea sequencing.

  • Lastly, academic instruction in a fun, engaging way allows for letter and number recognition using various components of memory such as muscle movements (big and small), visual, touch, and sound.

3. Social and emotional development

How do you build social skills? Some thoughts to bear in mind are:

-   How does daycare teach children about boundaries, consequences, and emotional regulation?

-   How do they help children on an individual level? In group settings?

Games and interactive activities are used to promote communication and cooperative play. Visual techniques, established boundaries and rules, and the use of clear instructions all contribute to a stable structure that aids with attention regulation. Affirmatory management, along with gentle discipline, is vital as children learn action and consequences to make choices while being guided towards better behaviour and emotional regulation.

4. Speech and language (linguistic) development

-   Does the daycare teach through storytelling and/or pretend play?

Speech and linguistic capabilities are developed through the employment of animation, storytelling, pretend, and role play. Speech and drama are used in both individual and group settings.

At this age, educators should also prioritise developing competencies and executive functioning, which are the foundation for all learning.

These competencies include:   

1. Attention

2. Memory

3. Self-regulation

4. Reasoning

5. Problem-solving

All these aspects and competencies overlap, interact, and have an impact on a child’s overall growth and development. Of course, due to your toddler's age, nurturing these aspects and competencies can be achieved through “joyful learning” and play. It cannot be emphasised enough how children must be given daily opportunities to play – by themselves, with others, indoors, and outdoors. 


Final Thoughts: Navigating the Transition with Confidence

Daycare is not just a practical solution for childcare, it is a dynamic environment that contributes significantly to your child's growth. It provides opportunities for valuable learning experiences and interactions with other kids, helping to nurture important life skills.

Despite your little one’s growing independence, your support is still indispensable. Reinforce the daycare routine at home to promote consistency and familiarity, and regularly check in with your child about their experiences and feelings.

In addition, provide them with the right nutrition that promotes toddler daycare adjustment. A well-balanced diet gives them the energy and nutrients they need to engage in activities that support their learning and development. Toddlers would also benefit from drinking milk with milk fat globule membrane (MFGM), a component that supports cognitive health.9

With a holistic approach, daycare might just be your little one's first step on their journey towards a bright future.

How can you better help your child thrive in daycare and beyond? Get access to a wide range of valuable parent resources when you join the Enfamama A+ Club. Get exclusive member deals, receive free samples, earn rewards, and access useful advice and tips in your journey as a parent.


Frequently Asked Questions on Toddler Daycare Adjustments

Looking for more information and tips to help your toddler adjust to daycare and other new environments? Learn more here.

1) Why is it important for toddlers to slowly transition into daycare?

Slowly introducing toddlers into the daycare system is crucial, as it allows them to adapt gradually to a new environment. This helps foster a sense of security and minimises separation anxiety.

2) What are some tips to help with toddler daycare adjustment?

Some of the steps to help with toddler daycare adjustment include short initial visits, familiarising them with caregivers or teachers, and maintaining a consistent routine to provide a reassuring structure.

3) Does nutrition play a role in helping a toddler adjust in a daycare setting?

Nutrition plays a significant role in helping children thrive in a daycare setting. After all, a well-balanced diet supports their physical and cognitive development, energy levels, and overall well-being.

4) What can parents do when their child isn’t settling into daycare well?

When a child isn't settling into daycare well, parents can ease the transition by maintaining a positive attitude, addressing concerns with daycare staff, creating a comforting routine at home, and gradually increasing the duration of daycare attendance. If these don’t work, and you feel that the issue has a connection with their development, please seek consultation with a healthcare professional.


Related articles:

  1. Flying With Your Toddler Is Easy

  2. The Trouble with Toddler Behavior

  3. Language Activities for Toddlers

  4. Help, My Toddler is a Picky Eater!


Expert Resource:
Dr Lian Wee Bin
MBBS (Singapore)
MMed (Paed), MRCP (UK)
FAMS (Paed)

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