My neighbour and I recently started our three-year-olds at occasional care together. I don’t why, but starting Birdy in daycare was a really big deal for me. I was sooo anxious about it I nearly cancelled the whole thing. I suppose you could say I had a bit of separation anxiety.
We were supposed to go down to the daycare centre for a trial the day before Birdy started. In my mind, I secretly hoped that smiling saint-like pre-school teachers would greet us by name at the gate, emanating peace and light and blessed assurance; that Birdy would be instantly drawn into some amazing creative activity and that all my anxieties about leaving my daughter with a total stranger would melt away.
Errr… maybe not. We stayed for about an hour, and the whole time not one staff member spoke to Birdy or tried to engage her in any activity. I think they took the attitude that we were just there to observe. But by the time we left, I was beside myself, thinking, ‘how can I leave my child with people she’s never even met?’ It’s not that I thought Birdy wasn’t ready for daycare. It was more that I wasn’t ready for it. I wasn’t ready to forfeit the luxury of knowing my daughter spends all day every day with somebody who cares deeply about her. Fortunately, my husband convinced me to give it another chance or two.
So the next day I dropped Birdy off with fear and trembling, reminding myself that I was only leaving her for a few hours. Even if she didn’t have close, personal attention for those hours, she would still have her little friend with her. This time the staff were far more attentive and although there were a few tears, overall she coped fairly well. The second week the goodbyes were far more traumatic as the teacher wrestled my thrashing, weeping child off me so I could get out the gate. However, I couldn’t leave her like that. I had to keep going back in and giving her more kisses and cuddles until she was ready to let me go.
Now, five weeks later, I’m so glad I stuck it out. I’ve seen Birdy growing in confidence and in her social skills. I’ve seen her joining in more with other children, showing more maturity and listening to instructions – all skills that will be useful for starting school. Last week, she was actually excited when we arrived, and when I picked her up she was having so much fun she didn’t want to leave.
I think I can safely say that Birdy has settled in at daycare. I actually feel quite proud of her for how well she’s coped. I’m sure it helped that she started at the same time as her little friend. So far, we’re still only doing one half-day a week. We’ll probably add another half-day when Mummy gets used to the idea.
Do you remember how you felt when your child started daycare or pre-school for the first time? Was it a big deal for you? How did your child cope? Do you think there is a ‘right’ age to start? Was there anything you did that helped your child to settle in? Or if your child didn’t settle well, how did you deal with that?