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How To Prepare Your Toddler For The New Normal At Day Care, According To Experts

Heading back to day care after a simple holiday break can be stressful, so going back after a months-long lockdown to a facility wrought with new procedures is likely to be even more disruptive. Knowing how to prepare your child for the new normal at day care is paramount.

"Parents may feel overwhelmed thinking about the new regulations, but remember, children are amazingly resilient and they will adjust to new routines relatively quickly," Dr. Laura Gray, clinical psychologist at Children’s National Hospital tells Romper. "When talking about the plan to return to day care, parents should focus on the positives and avoid talking about their own stress or worry with the plan or the regulations."

Dr. Gray explains that focusing on your child's excitement about playing with new toys and seeing friends and teachers, while also explaining new behaviors like waving instead of hugging, can help ease stress. Instead of giving kids a long list of behaviors to remember, this can be done through the course of normal conversation while talking about how eager your child is to return to day care.

"Remember, for kids who have been out of day care for several months, they may not remember the prior daycare routines and may feel nervous about return to a new routine," Gray says. "Parents should prepare children for this transition just as they normally prepare for transitions, adding the current procedures as a part of that preparation."

Before you can jump into a conversation with your child about what their new normal will look like, you need to know exactly what to expect from your facility, as well as whether or not your child is healthy enough to return. "The first thing to do is to consult the child care facility to understand what are the safety precautions they will be implementing," Dr. Sanam Hafeez, Psy.D., a neuropsychologist in New York City, tells Romper. "Talk to your child’s physician to make sure they have a green light to return in terms of the child’s health."

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As states continue to open back up following lockdowns and many parents begin to leave the home to return to the workplace, more child care facilities are re-opening. However, the changes brought about by the spread of COVID-19 through communities will be numerous. Even those day cares who have stayed open for essential workers have changed their processes and procedures — sometimes dramatically.

Limiting drop off and pick ups to only one parent per child during staggered time windows, temperature checks, mask-wearing, hand-washing, and social distancing are just a few new elements that some day care providers have added to help keep everyone safe. These steps are especially important for parents of babies and toddlers who won't be able to fully grasp or implement certain changes.

"Consider that a toddler or infant will be much harder to trust, as they can place their fingers in their mouths or touch their eyes without understanding precautions," Hafeez tells Romper. "So the preventative measures really belong to the facility with toddlers and infants."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has published a myriad of resources to help child care facilities decide when it is safe to re-open and how to go about protecting students and faculty from transmitting or contracting COVID-19. National child care advocacy groups like Child Care Aware of America continue to monitor the evolving processes and procedures, updating parents and caregivers with resources like new fact sheets every step of the way.

"While the child care field has come together to ensure public health guidance is followed, that care is available for frontline workers, and that additional reopening of the sector is approached appropriately, more is needed to ensure that child care programs, both center-based and family child care, survive in the long term," a representative form Child Care Aware of America tells Romper. "Without meaningful federal investment in child care, there will be barriers for parents as they return to work. As our country moves through the various phases of recovery and reopening the economy, no industry will be able to restart if the child care industry collapses."

While it is of the utmost importance to prepare your child for a return to their new normal at day care, it is also beneficial to consider how your child's facility will continue to keep up with their new health and safety regimens. The organization urges parents and caregivers concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on child care to advocate for their family's needs by contacting their legislators.

Every day care is handing the coronavirus outbreak differently, so the regulations might look a bit different depending on where you're located. Preparing your child for what they might encounter upon a return to the facility should be top priority for parents, as well as preparing for the emotional response a child might have.

Gray says that parents can prepare their child for a return to day care by continuing to emphasize how to properly wash their hands with soap and water for 20 seconds at home, showing examples of social distancing on neighborhood walks, and practicing wearing a face mask for short periods of time (for kids over age 2) if necessary. She also suggests reading books or drawing with your children to help them work out their feelings about a return to day care, explaining that it's OK for them to feel however they do.

"Especially for children feeling worried, parents can talk about how the new plans are to help keep everyone safe and identify what kids can do to stay safe," Dr. Gray says, adding that anxious kids can focus on following their new rules, as well as encouraging their friends to follow the rules.

"Listen to your child and any questions that they may have without ignoring their concerns," Dr. Hafeez tells Romper. "Children have their own perspective of what has been going on for the past few months and the abrupt changes everyone has had to go through. This is why it is important to adjust how we speak to them about possibly returning to the day care or school to how they have felt."


Dr. Laura Gray, clinical psychologist at Children’s National Hospital

Dr. Sanam Hafeez, PsyD., a neuropsychologist in New York City, faculty member at Columbia University