Jun 10, 2021 8 min read

First Day of Daycare: What to Expect

Procare By: Procare

The date is quickly approaching: your child’s first day of daycare. If you’re like most parents, you’re a nervous wreck. You’re scared to leave your baby with someone you’re not related to. You don’t know what to expect on the “big day” and it’s driving you crazy. Sound familiar?

We’ve got you! In this article, we’ll give you 10 tips to help ease your child’s transition into daycare and make sure their first day goes as well as it possibly can.

1. Research Daycares Thoroughly

The first step is to research as many daycares in your area as possible. Read online reviews and testimonials, ask your friends and family if they have any experience with local child care centers—do what you have to to get the information you need.

Once you’ve narrowed your list of potential daycares down to a few top options, call and talk to the staff. If possible, schedule visits to see each location in person.

How will you benefit from all of this effort? Three words: peace of mind.

We’ll be honest: the first day of daycare is tough. You and your child will go through a lot of different emotions, many of them unpleasant. These emotions will be much easier to deal with if you’re confident you’ve chosen the best possible center for your child.

2. Encourage Independence

In all likelihood, your child’s first day of daycare won’t be a surprise. You’ll have planned and prepared for it for weeks, if not months. Part of your preparation should include independence training, i.e. teaching your child to play by themselves for stretches of time.

Even the best child care provider in the world won’t be able to give your kid 100% of their attention. They have too many other children to watch at the same time.

The more your child can do by themselves, the easier their transition to daycare will be. Do your kid a favor and help them learn to play, eat, wash their hands, etc. by themselves.

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3. Practice Separation

If you have young children, you probably spend a lot of time with them every day. In fact, it might be hard to pinpoint the last time you weren’t holding, playing with or feeding them.

While it’s fantastic that you’re such a loving, hands-on parent, separation from your child will happen as soon as you enroll them in daycare. Because of this, we suggest practicing being away from each other for short periods of time before their first day.

Arrange for a trusted adult to watch your kiddo for a few hours while you and your significant other go on a date. They’ll learn independence and begin to accept that you’ll always return after being away. Plus, you’ll get a well-deserved break.

Pro Tip: If your child has separation anxiety, practice leaving them for short periods of time—just 30 minutes or so. As they grow more independent, extend the time you’re away until they (and you!) are comfortable enough for daycare.

4. Build Excitement in Your Child

Your child’s first day of daycare should NOT be a surprise to them. Explain to your kids what will happen in the weeks leading up to day one. Better yet, get them excited about it!

Talk to your child about all of the fun things they’ll get to do at daycare: playing with toys, painting pictures, meeting new friends and singing songs. Describe daycare in an honest way that will be appealing to them so that they’re excited to attend.

One of the best ways to build excitement is to visit your daycare center in advance. This will give them a chance to meet their teachers, see the fun activities they’ll get to participate in and grow comfortable with the new environment before they’re officially enrolled.

5. Adjust Your Child’s Schedule

Daycare centers aren’t able to cater to the individual schedules of every child. So we recommend learning about your center’s routine and adjusting your child’s to match before their first day of daycare. That way they’re fully prepared.

Eating and sleeping schedules are the two main things you’ll need to adjust. Just make sure you do it gradually. A sudden departure from a set routine can be jarring.

Pro Tip: Your toddler might have a hard time sleeping in a room full of other children—at least at first. To help them, send them to daycare with comfy bedding or a favorite stuffed animal. This will help them relax during nap time and get the rest they need.

6. (Over)pack the Essentials

What you pack for daycare will depend on the age of your child. If you have a baby, pack multiple changes of clothes in case of blowouts and messy meal times. Make sure to pack bottle supplies, breast milk or formula, and plenty of diapers (if not provided), too.

For toddlers on up, you won’t have to pack nearly as much. A single change of clothes (don’t forget underwear!) will probably be sufficient, but you know your child best.

Regardless of your kid’s age, consider packing familiar household items for them on their first day of daycare as well: a favorite toy, comfy blanket and bedtime books. Just remember to label everything you leave with your child so it doesn’t get lost.

7. Create a Goodbye Routine

A consistent goodbye routine will make parting with your child on their first day of daycare (and all the days that follow) much easier. Your new routine can be anything that feels natural to you and your kid: a high-five, hug, kiss on the cheek—whatever works for you.

Make sure that if part of your goodbye routine is telling your child you’ll be back for them at a specific time; for example, after a nap, you’re waiting for them when they wake up.

If you don’t follow through on this promise, your child will begin to doubt what you say and separating from you will be harder than it already is. On the other hand, keeping your promise will help them realize that going to daycare isn’t a big deal.

8. Don’t Linger During Drop-Off

You’ve arrived at your kid’s child care center for their first day of daycare, given their pack of stuff to the center’s staff and completed your goodbye routine. Now it’s time to leave.

You’ll probably be tempted to comfort your child if they cry. Or peek in on them a few minutes after drop-off to make sure they’re adjusting to their new environment. Don’t! This will only make it harder for your son or daughter to accept the situation and make the best of it.

A professional child care provider should be able to comfort your child and engage them in a fun activity that soothes their nerves. And since you did your research before enrolling your kid in daycare, the providers you leave your child with will be the best of the best, right?

9. Don’t Be Afraid to Check In

Children aren’t the only ones who have trouble on the “big day.” Parents are often emotional, too, after sending their kids to daycare for the first time. To help, feel free to call your daycare provider to make sure everything is going smoothly.

Additionally, ask your provider for updates when you pick your child up at the end of the day. They’ll probably have advice you can use to ease your family’s transition.

Pro Tip: Some daycare centers use apps like Procare to give mom and dad updates on their children throughout the day. Imagine receiving pictures of your smiling kid or snapshots of the artwork they just made while you’re at work. If this sounds like something you want, make sure the daycare you enroll your child in offers this level of parent engagement.

10. Commit to the Process

Finally, realize that your child’s first day of daycare will be hard—even if you’ve been preparing for it ahead of time. The second day might not be much better. But if you’re patient and commit to the process, eventually you and your kid will adjust successfully.

It’s important to remember the benefits of enrolling your child in daycare.

First, it allows you to work, earn money and provide for your family. Second, it helps your child learn valuable social skills they might not be able to learn at home, such as sharing, taking turns and more. Third, it’s usually easier for children who attend daycare to successfully transition to going to school because they’ve already overcome their separation anxiety.

Prepare For the Big Day

Leaving your child for the first time is stressful—for both you and your kiddo. But the tips in this article will help you overcome the stress and successfully adjust to daycare life.

If your child’s first day of daycare is approaching, start preparing for it now. By encouraging independence, practicing separation, adjusting your child’s schedule, etc., you’ll make sure they’re as ready as possible for the approaching life changes.

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