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Child care: when your child isn’t settling

Is your child not settling at child care? Here are some ways that you can handle problems with separation, settling, saying goodbye and more.

Not settling at child care: how sharing information helps

When it comes to helping your child settle into child care, sharing information with your child’s carers is really important.

Often your child care setting will take this information when you enrol your child, but it’s OK to remind them. For example, ‘Ramon doesn’t like a blanket during nap time’. Your child is likely to feel more comfortable and to settle in more easily if his carers are meeting his needs.

A chat with carers at the beginning and end of each day gives you the chance to find out how your child is settling into her new child care setting. For example, you could talk about:

  • how your child’s progress will be recorded and how carers will let you know how she’s going
  • whether it’s OK for you to call during the day to check that your child has settled 
  • how your child sleeps during the day and what she eats 
  • how your child seems to be feeling and whether she’s getting on with other children 
  • what activities your child likes (so you can try these with her at home).

If you find that the beginning and end of the day are too busy for a quick chat, you could give a note to your child’s carer or make a quick call during the day. This might take a bit of time at first as you, your child and your child’s carers get to know one another.

Sharing information about what’s going on at home and how your child is feeling is also a good idea. For example, your child might be excited about a trip to the zoo, or sad and not sleeping well because Mum is away on a business trip. If your child’s carers know about these things, they can help him with the ups and downs of life.

In your child’s first few weeks, calling during the day is really important for your peace of mind. Most care settings welcome these calls.

When settling takes longer

Your child might settle happily in her new child care setting within a few days or few weeks. Some children keep getting upset, even after the first few weeks. And others might settle at first and then get upset later – often when the novelty of the new environment has worn off.

Whatever the situation, it’s best if you can stay calm, let your child express his feelings and listen to what he’s saying.

Is your child showing signs of separation anxiety? If so, she might just need some time to adjust. If you let the carers know what’s going on, you can work together to develop settling strategies that you and the carers are comfortable with. The director should be able to suggest some ideas that have helped other children in the past.

As difficult as it might be, try to stay positive about your child’s transition to child care.

Sometimes, it might be that the care setting just isn’t right for your child. For example, he might seem afraid of the care setting or a carer, or be going backward in his development. 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 the child care experience, you might want to seek professional help. Speaking with your child and family health nurse is a good place to start.

Problems separating from you: tips

Despite your best preparations, your child might still find it difficult to separate from you. She might get upset and start crying.

You can help by acknowledging your child’s feelings, giving him words to help express himself and comforting him.

You could also try the following tips:

  • Talk about an activity you and your child will do together when you get home, such as playing in the garden or reading a story. 
  • Have a goodbye routine, such as 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, such as sleep or snack time. 
  • Keep the goodbye brief. After your goodbye routine, say goodbye to your child and leave. Staying around to comfort your upset child can sometimes make things worse.
  • Let your child’s carer gently lead him away to do something he enjoys, such as feeding the fish or watering the garden.

If you’re feeling distressed after seeing your child upset, call the centre about half an hour after you leave to see how your child is. Most children stop crying shortly after mum or dad goes.

If your child is distracted when it’s time for you to leave, you might feel tempted to sneak out without her noticing. This can make children more upset. They realise you’ve gone and haven’t had a chance to say goodbye. It’s best to let your child know you’re going and say that you’ll be back later.

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Last updated or reviewed
05-12-2014

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Raising Children Network is supported by the Australian Government. Member organisations are the Parenting Research Centre and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute with The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health.

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