Toddlers a Little Person Emerges : Is My Child Ready? Venturing into the wider world

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Q: Should I stay at home with my son or take him to day care?
A: Many parents feel guilty and worried about taking their child to day care or leaving them with a nanny. However, good-quality childcare, balanced with loving and nurturing time at home, can bring huge benefits. At this age your child is increasingly interested in other children and will be starting to play more cooperatively with them (rather than in parallel alongside them). Children learn through play, so being with other children helps them develop. Research suggests that children who go to day care may be better at sharing, working together, and understanding others’ feelings. This time will also help to develop your child’s confidence and independence in preparation for school.

Childcare (whether day care or a nanny) provides a much-needed break for parents, so you will have plenty of time and energy for your child when he returns. Many parents now choose to take their child to day care or hire a nanny for part of the week even if they are not returning to work. However, if you do choose to stay at home with your child, make sure that you give him plenty of opportunities to be around other children of his age.

Q: My daughter cries and says she won’t go to day care without her favorite bear. Should I let her take it?
A: Leaving the comfort, safety, and security of home to spend time at a new place with unfamiliar people makes some children anxious at first. Holding onto an object from home will help your daughter feel safe and allow her to cope better with this change. If she insists on bringing her teddy bear long after she has settled in, or if it prevents her from joining in with activities, you may want to help her leave it at home. Don’t ask her to give it up immediately, which may make her even more anxious. Speak to the day-care providers and see if they can find somewhere for your daughter to put teddy away when she is settled. As she becomes more confident, encourage her to hand her teddy bear to a staff member as you arrive, then the next week to leave it with you at the door, and eventually to say good-bye to him at home. To avoid any upset, you may want to purchase an identical teddy for home—just in case hers gets lost.
Q: It is so hard to say good-bye to my son. What might help?
A: Having spent so much time together at home, it’s bound to be difficult when you have to wave to your child and leave them in someone else’s care—particularly if your child is upset, too. With emotions running high for both of you, it can be difficult to say good-bye properly. However, a consistent routine will help both of you cope better with the separation and allow your son to get on with the important task of having fun. So don’t sneak off without saying good-bye leaving him to worry where you’ve gone, and don’t drop your son at the door and then leave quickly. Take a few minutes to settle him in when you arrive, then give him a hug and kiss, and say clearly, “I’m going now”—but let your son know when you will be back to get him. When you have left, avoid the temptation to watch him through the window. However difficult saying good-bye may be at first, saying hello at the end of the day will more than make up for any upset in the morning.
Q: My child is very unsettled at day care and says he does not want to go. Should I make him?
A: Starting at day care is often the first major transition that a child needs to deal with. We are all different in terms of how well we cope with these life events, and how long it takes us to adjust and move on. Your son could just be getting used to things at his own pace. If he is as upset now as the day he started, there may be issues at day care that are making him unhappy. Ask your son what he likes and dislikes about school, and speak to his main caregiver to get her view on how things are going. Find out how he spends his time there—what activities does he like best? Does he play with the other children? Having one or two children that he gets along well with can really help, so see if there are any opportunities to meet up with other families on the weekends. At home, remind your son about the fun things he does there. Keep the lines of communication open with staff, and ask for a regular update on his progress—out of your son’s earshot. If things don’t improve, it might be that the day care is not meeting his needs, and you may want to consider an alternative setting.
Q: I want to potty train my son. How will I know if he is ready?
A: Starting potty training too early will result in frustration and upset for you and your child, so ask yourself these questions to see if he is ready to begin. Does your child have control of his bowels at night? Does he have the balance and coordination needed to squat down on a potty and get up again, or to climb up and hold himself on a toilet seat? Can he pull his pants up and down without help? Does he tell you in words or gestures when he wants to urinate or defecate? If the answer to these questions is yes, then your son is probably ready to take the next step. Start off by letting him pick out a potty or child toilet seat that he likes. Adult toilet seats are too large and can intimidate children. Children’s seats are the right size for a toddler, and some also have handles for extra security. If you are using a potty, leave it out in the same place. Get into a routine of sitting your son on the potty or toilet for a few minutes when you are changing his diaper. Providing a small step will allow your child to get on to the toilet independently. Give him lots of praise and encouragement—good sitting and results will follow! Make sure your son has plenty to drink and allow him some time without a diaper on. This will give him lots of practice and make it easier for him to go when he needs to. Most importantly, stay calm when things get messy. If your child feels pressured to get it right first time, he will hold back from performing, so support your child’s efforts when things don’t quite go according to plan. Allow him to learn at his own pace, and it should all fall into place eventually.
Q: I don’t want my daughter to go to day care because I’m scared I’ll miss her growing up. Is this silly?
A: Whether your daughter goes to day care or not, the truth is that children develop so fast at this age that, try as you might, you are bound to miss at least one new achievement. Day-care staff will be prepared for this, and usually provide you with a record of your child’s progress. They may even be able to record events on video, or you could buy a disposable camera and leave it with them—just in case your daughter decides to do something momentous in your absence! It is rather frustrating to find out that you put in all the hard work only for someone else to reap the benefit of seeing your child do something for the first time. However, your daughter will take great delight in showing off her new skills, and in years to come you will witness many more of her achievements than you miss.
Q: My child has a very settled routine. Will going to day care or a nanny upset it?
A: It is quite likely that, whichever childcare arrangement you choose, some of the caregiver’s daily routines for feeding, sleeping, playing, and resting will be different from your own. This does not mean that all of your hard work was in vain, since your child will still benefit from the security of clear boundaries and a consistent approach. Speak to the day-care center in advance to let them know about any important routines you have at home, and to find out how their practice differs from what your child is used to. You may want to think about changing some of your routines to fit more with the routine at day care to help your child settle in more quickly. If you choose a family day care, you may be able to request that they follow your own routine if there are only a few children there. Don’t forget that your child will be one of a group, all doing the same thing, and their growing interest in copying others’ behavior can make it much easier to establish new routines.
Q: My son gets upset if I leave him for even a minute. How will he cope when he starts school?
A: Your son may be sensitive to change in his social environment and need longer to adjust to new routines. If he is anxious about meeting new people or being in unfamiliar places, his instinctive reaction will be to stay as close to you as possible because he knows that you will protect him. To help prepare him for school, let him spend time with friends and family to gain some positive separation experiences. Games of peek-a-boo can help him learn to tolerate disappearances and expect reunions. As he comes to realize that being apart from you always ends with your return, his anxiety and clingy behavior will reduce. Give him plenty of notice before taking him out—tell him where he is going, who he will see, and what he will do there. Take along some favorite toys to occupy him and to provide familiar activity. Once he is playing happily, withdraw quietly, but don’t go too far at first. Check back in with him regularly so he can see you are still around if he needs you.

Over time, as he grows in confidence, you will be able to withdraw more quickly and venture further afield, eventually leaving him in the care of someone you and your child both trust.

Separation anxiety

Separation anxiety is the distress shown by children when you leave them in the care of someone else. It begins at around six to nine months—the age when your child first becomes aware of strangers. Showing signs of separation anxiety is your child’s way of trying to keep you close to make sure her needs for food, warmth, protection, and loving care are met. Your child may cry inconsolably and cling onto you, begging you not to leave her. This can be very upsetting for parents and makes it difficult to say good-bye. Don’t be surprised if your child also cries when you return to pick her up. This does not mean that she has been terribly unhappy without you—her tears are simply a result of the rush of emotion she feels on being reunited.

Q: Is it normal?
A: All children experience some separation anxiety; how much depends on your child’s temperament, and on the strength of her bond with you. Children who are calm, confident, and securely bonded are more likely to cope better with change, and so settle more quickly when you leave them.
Q: What can I do to help?
  • Leave your child with family and friends so she has some practice at separating from you.

  • Prepare your child by driving past the building and talking about all the fun things she’ll get to do there.

  • Have at least two settling-in visits at day care, and stay with your child at first. Take along a favorite toy.

  • Say good-bye confidently, even if you feel distraught! Your child is sensitive to your emotions, and if she picks up on your anxiety she may be even more upset.

Choosing the best day care Things to think about

In most cities and towns, there are lots of day-care centers to choose from. Listen to personal recommendations from friends, then go and visit the ones you are interested in. Remember, the most expensive is not always the best. A happy, successful placement depends on four key things: the staff who will be working with your child, the activities available, the general atmosphere of the day-care center, and the environment itself.


Staff should be well trained, enthusiastic, friendly, and interested in your child. You may want to ask:

  • What is the ratio of staff to children?

  • What qualifications and training do staff members have?

  • How long have they been working there?

  • Do they enjoy working at the day care?

  • Will your child have one primary caregiver?

  • Will staff members record your child’s activities and achievements for you?

  • How is difficult behavior handled?


A good day care should offer a range of stimulating activities and have plenty of toys and equipment for your child to play with.

You may want to ask:

  • Are activities planned out each day?

  • Will your child be able to choose some of his or her activities?

  • What will your child eat and drink?

  • Is there an outside play area?

  • Are the children taken on trips?

General atmosphere

Your child’s time at day care should be all about learning through fun. Do the children (and staff) seem happy and content? Did you feel welcomed? Did staff members listen to you and answer your questions? How did your child react to the visit?


The building should be clean and safe for your child to play and explore. Location, access, and security are also important. All day care centers are regulated, so ensure that you ask for a copy of their most recent inspection report.

Checking it out

Your child should enjoy her time at day care, maximizing her learning. Watch how staff members interact with the children—do they pay attention to them and get involved with the activities, or stand back? Do they seem happy to be there? Inspect the resources and toys to make sure that they are clean, safe, and well cared for.

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