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3 Steps for Starting Daycare (+ Tips for Sleep at Daycare)

Updated: Nov 6, 2023

Whether your little one is starting daycare at 6-weeks old, 6-months old, or 16-months old, you will probably have some feels about it.

It’s a big step for parents to have their baby in someone else’s care - I GET IT! As both a mom, and a former childcare director and early childhood teacher, I’ve experienced both sides, and can shed a little light on how to make this transition as easy as possible.

I’ve compiled a few steps you can follow to help it go smoothly.

Step 1: Ask Questions and Communicate

As you’re researching potential providers, have a list of questions ready to go to help you rule out places that might be the best fit. Scour their websites to see if you can find answers there first, then, I highly recommend reaching out and actually talking to the director.

Here are a few you might want to consider asking:

  • What ages do you serve and how are the “classrooms” organized?

  • What are the ratios of staff to children at each age level?

  • What do I need to provide and what is included in my fees or tuition?

  • What can you share about the staff…their backgrounds, education, turnover rate, etc.?

  • What does a typical day look like in the classroom my child would be in?

  • How is the classroom set up?

  • Can I send in a sleep sack and sound machine from home for naptimes?

  • How often are feedings given?

  • Can I come in and breastfeed or give a bottle on my lunch break?

  • How often are naps offered?

  • What are the safe sleep guidelines you follow?

  • What if my child doesn’t fall asleep?

  • What time do you open and close for the day?

  • How are payments made?

Simply having a conversation will give you a lot of information, and even some intuition about if this particular provider seems like a good fit.

If at all you feel like something is “off” during your conversation, it’s in the best interest of your child to move on and keep searching.

If you decide this place would be a good fit, then it’s time to ask about registration fees and paperwork, waitlists, and thank them for their time in answering all your questions.

Moving forward, it’s also important to always have open and honest communication. Setting the tone from the start, before your child is even officially enrolled, will help if there are any future issues you need to address or discuss with the provider.

Step 2: Share Gratitude and Show Appreciation

Speaking of sharing gratitude and showing appreciation…

Simply saying “Thank you for your time,” and “Thank you for all that information,” will start the beginning of a hopefully beautiful and long relationship.

In any capacity and in any job, it’s nice to be recognized for the work you do. It’s the same for daycare providers. These staff often find themselves in the lowest paying margin of childcare and education, but, at least in my opinion, are doing some of the most important work!

Children learn more about the world around them and the foundations for who they will become the most in those first three years of life. THIS IS A BIG DEAL, especially from a developmental perspective.

I’d even argue that your child’s first few teachers and caregivers will have a bigger impact on them than a college professor.

Make sure the care providers know you appreciate all the little things they do to care for your child when you can’t be there.

Step 3: Collaboration is Key

Inevitably, things will come up, simply due to the nature of child development.

Maybe your child is going through a sleep regression. Maybe the staff notice there’s a delay with your child’s speech development. Maybe you’re going to be starting to potty train your child!

Regardless of what’s going on, it’s in the best interest of your child to get everyone on board with a plan.

Whenever that something does come up, you’ve already laid the groundwork with your open and honest communication and with sharing your gratitude on the regular.

Then, when there’s something that seems like a bigger deal, it’s not too difficult to bring up.

First, talk about what you’re experiencing at home - “I noticed Sophia was waking up at night more than usual…how have her naps here been?”

Then, if you’ve found a solution, share it! “When she naps at home and is having a hard time staying asleep for more than 20 minutes, I give her about 5 minutes before I go over to her to see if she’ll fall back to sleep - she’s been finding a way to resettle all on her own more often than not.”

And if you haven’t found a solution, ask if they have. “What’s working for you here?”

You’re in this together, after all. And if you can make everyone’s lives a bit easier, it’s a win-win!

What about sleep at daycare?

Luckily, your child will probably do a fairly good job of distinguishing between sleep at daycare and at home.

Control what you can control at home and try not to worry too much about the rest.

However, if you find that they’re really struggling with sleep at daycare and it’s causing issues for you at home - maybe they’re overtired and you find that you need to put them to bed at 5:30 every night, or they’re napping too long at daycare and it’s pushing their bedtime too late - then it’s time to chat to find out what you can do together to troubleshoot.

Find out if you can provide a sleep sack, sound machine, lovey (if baby is older than 12 months), and maybe even a SlumberPod (for babies older than 4-months) for your little one to sleep with while at daycare.

Find out in your state’s regulations what providers must do in regards to sleep at daycare. Advocate for your child if they tell you something different.

Let’s say you’ve found that the daycare is only offering one naps a day and your baby, at this point in time, needs two naps. You’re not getting anywhere when you share your concerns.

If necessary, you can request that your child’s pediatrician outlines in a letter the recommended amount of sleep and a schedule for your child that you can then share with your provider. Something from a sleep consultant may help too!

Present it to them and say, “I’ve noticed Sophia is super cranky and tired when I pick her up. I’m not sure she’s getting enough naps in during the day, and I’ve had to put her to bed super early the past few nights to make up for it. Her doctor has outlined the amount of sleep she needs each day to ensure that you have good days with her and we have good evenings with her before she has to go to bed each night. Better sleep during the day promotes better sleep at night, and vice versa. Thank you for taking the time to read this letter from her pediatrician, and let me know if you have any questions.”

Do you see how it’s a “you-help-me, I-help-you” situation when presented like this, and one party is not dictating the other? Collaboration is key!

Maybe your baby can catch a catnap in the car on the way home. I know this isn’t always ideal, but it can help in some situations.

What about if you’re in the process of sleep training?? It’s the same with potty training. Share with the provider what it is you’re doing. If you have a sleep plan, print out a copy for them to review. Ask if they can comply with all - or at least some of it - to ensure consistency between home and daycare during the duration of your sleep training. Most daycare providers will do what they can to support you.

And, when it comes down to it, control what you can control, and let go of the rest. You’ve got this!

Want help with your child’s transition to daycare? Set up a 30-minute session with us here.

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