I can vividly recall my son's first day of day care. I was back in graduate school, he was just 2 years old, and it felt like someone was pulling my heart out of my chest each time I dropped him off with the caregivers at my school's day care. It all felt raw, and like it was happening too fast. But my little guy, in spite of a few bumps, handled it like a champ. He was obviously more ready than I was, and I wish I would've known some signs your child is ready for day care. They probably could've helped me with the transition.
Like it or not, for many, day care is the only option. It feels like a complete leap of faith as you drop your loved ones off for the first time, and it is. You're trusting them with pieces of your heart that live outside your body. It's a lot to ask of them, and a lot to ask of you. But there are real, measurable benefits to sending our children to day care. James Griffin of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development at the NIH institute told Reuters that “high quality child care appears to provide a small boost to academic performance, perhaps by fostering the early acquisition of school readiness skills.” Not to mention all of the positive social interactions they experience. But how can you tell if your child is ready? Because unless the day care has strictures in place surrounding age and potty training, there really isn't a concrete metric by which to measure day care readiness.
I contacted Roz Adler, a former licensed childcare provider from The Empowered Provider, a website dedicated to the open communication between childcare professionals and parents. She tells Romper that parents first need to understand what day care can provide, and if that makes sense for them. "Every parent has the ability to decide whether or not they would like their child enrolled in a child care program. It is a very personal decision and is not a one-size-fits all approach."
The next step, according to Adler, is to "take your child places where they have an opportunity to interact with other kids their age such as parks, and open gym or the library. Observe how they respond in these environments." Obviously, this is not going to apply to parents of young infants looking to put their children in day care, but rather for slightly older children. She says you should be observing. "Do they gravitate toward the group or cling to you? Do they seem genuinely interested in other children? If so, do they know how to initiate play?" These are huge clues as to whether or not your child will be comfortable in a day care or preschool environment.
The clues that tell you that your child is really ready for day care simply do not exist, notes Adler. She says that they become accustomed to the change, because it's not something that there's a lot of prep for. They get there and they get ready by being there. Adler says that the best thing you can do is make sure you're comfortable with the program, and that it meets your standards. She says you need to ask yourself what kind of program you want them in, what environment you think is appropriate, and if you're impressed with the caregivers. After that, it's just a matter of helping your child transition.
It's never going to be easy to drop your child off in day care that first time, and sometimes not even the fifteenth. But it's the reality for many parents, so you just have to find the best one you can, and do it. Your kids will be fine, and so will you.