By Sabrina Rogers-Anderson
My three-year-old twins only recently settled into their new early learning centre after clinging to me and crying at every drop-off for a couple of months.
They’ve been going to child care since they were 15 months old, so it wasn’t a brand-new situation. But a series of unexpected events – sickness, holidays and an operation – prevented them from establishing a predictable routine at their new centre that made them feel safe and secure.
When we were finally able to send them for their full three days a week without any interruptions, their educators helped me create a smooth drop-off routine. They now wave happily and yell, “Bye, Mum!” as I leave.
So, what was the key to drop-off success? There were three main factors that made the process easy. If you apply these with the help of your child care centre’s educational team, you’ll have a stress-free drop-off routine in no time.
Prepare your child
After three children, I’ve understood that the key to smooth transitions is to prepare your child ahead of time. I used to just chuck my eldest daughter in the car without telling her where we were going or what we were doing, and then I was surprised when she had a tantrum because it wasn’t what she was expecting!
For three days before going back to their early learning centre, I told Estelle and Georgina all about the incredible things waiting for them at their centre. I reminded them about the cool spaces to play, adventure-filled outdoor areas, and friendly teachers and friends to play with! They were super-excited by the time we arrived and they settled in immediately.
It was so much easier this time around because I was able to provide them with the certainty and predictability they needed to feel safe in a new environment. I hadn’t been able to do that the first time around due to all the unforeseen circumstances, and it had caused them to feel uncertain and insecure.
Approach drop-offs confidently
Although I usually enter new situations with confidence, I realise now that I wasn’t at my best when I was trying to settle the girls into their centre the first time. I was nervous about Estelle’s operation to have her tonsils and adenoids removed and grommets inserted. I was still trying to settle my big girl into her first year of school. And I was trying to get work done in-between. Eek! When settling in didn’t happen easily, I became stressed about drop-offs and probably projected my feelings onto the girls without realising it. I felt guilty and they could sense it.
When we went back to our early learning centre, I took a very different approach. I decided to fake it until I made it! I told the twins it was going to be awesome and I explained to the educators that they love people and they’d settle in easily. I didn’t show any nervousness (even though I was feeling it!) and my confident vibe seemed to rub off on the girls.
The incredible educators picked up on what I was trying to do and took it from there. One of them played with Estelle in the dollhouse while the other had Georgie mesmerised by the outdoor play areas. I was amazed by their capacity to read the girls’ personalities and engage them in different learning experiences that were tailored to their interests. As I said goodbye, the girls barely looked up at me.
Confident mum + experienced and caring educators = smooth transition!
Create a predictable drop-off routine
Should you duck out when your child isn’t looking? Or stay until they stop crying? Experienced educators will tell you that neither extreme is ideal for your child and may lead to increased anxiety.
Your best bet is to create a predictable routine and stick to it. Some children only require a quick kiss goodbye before they run off to play with their friends. Others might need a little more settling-in time, so try reading a book or drawing with them before you go. I always do a short activity with my girls at their centre at home, so I stuck to this routine with the support of the educators and it worked.
Whether you choose a quick drop-and-go or a longer settling-in routine, the key is to give your child one last cuddle and leave when the set amount of time is up. If they’re upset, an educator will take them under their wing and support them to calm down. Most children stop crying within seconds of their parents leaving.
What to do when your child is struggling
If your child is struggling with drop-offs, ask their educators to help you create a smooth drop-off routine. They’re very knowledgeable and experienced when it comes to helping children with transitions, and they’ll be more than happy to help.
You can even create a story book with photos of your child doing all the steps they need to do at drop-off, such as putting their bag in their locker, putting their lunch in the fridge, doing one short activity with Mummy, and then saying goodbye. You can then read the book every morning before going to child care to remind your child of the routine.
Each child has individual needs and requires different amounts of time to settle in to a new centre, so resist the urge to compare your family with others who seem to have it all under control. Chances are they had a settling-in period too! Before you know it, your child will be waving to you over their shoulder as they run off to play.