Daycare Blues, Separation Anxiety — you are not alone!

When my son started daycare, it was not an easy transition. I was 4 months pregnant and I knew that this had to be done now. I knew once my daughter was born I would need some time alone with her, and I feared that if I wait, James would think he is being sent away because of her. I wanted to keep these two major milestones (the arrival of his baby sister, and the start of daycare) separate in order to give him time to adjust.

Until his enrolment at the daycare, James was always with me and I knew this would not be an easy step for him. A mama’s boy with major separation anxiety, use to his bed, his blanky and his routine; but we had spent the last winter cooped up inside and I felt he needed more stimulation, interaction and exercise.

The first few days were rough but I stayed with  him as he began to familiarize himself with his new classroom, and the school encouraged this as well. By day three, the teachers had asked me to step out and as difficult as it was to leave my screaming baby behind, I was willing to give it a try. I didn’t go far. Just to a local Starbucks where I  waited for that call where the administration would beg me to pick him up, but it never came. Being the worrisome mother I was, I called instead and  to my surprise James had gone down for his nap.  I picked him up shortly after. He saw me and burst into tears running towards me as if he never thought he would see me again, and suddenly there I was, to rescue him!  For the first several weeks, James cried hysterically every morning and every afternoon when I picked him up.

At his age (18 months old) he was not big on socializing.  He would stay to himself playing with his cars and I’d often find him playing quietly in a corner while the rest of the class was huddled together for a group activity. This would break my heart. My bright and smiley little boy would have his agenda marked as “moderate” for humour, and “little” for group interaction.

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Most days, the tears would begin as we got closer to his daycare. He had begun to recognize the route. I’d walk him to class, the educators would pull him away from me and with a heavy heart I would head back to my car, wondering if I’m doing the right thing.

It went on this way for several weeks. By the third or fourth week I started to see more smiles in his agenda and that made me feel great. Soon he started to bring home artwork, refer to other kids by their names and the tears suddenly went away. This was his routine now. Every morning he walked to his classroom head down, with his shy face on, and every afternoon, upon seeing me at the door, he’d shriek, run to hug me, run back to put his toys away and hug his teacher goodbye.

The worst was over. His daycare was now a bright place full of toys and familiar friends. All the while, what kept me going was that I knew this was for his benefit. He would learn, explore and socialize all pushing his personal development. I also felt confident that his daycare was equipped with the tools to give him all of these things and would provide a safe and loving environment.

By the time my daughter was born we kept up with his routine and he eagerly went to see his teachers and constantly spoke of his little sister “Toria” that he loves so much.

For all the mothers reaching this milestone with their children, here is a few things you need to know.

  1. For most children, the first few weeks will be hard. They will cry every time you drop them off and every time you pick them up. This does not mean they cried the entire time you left them. Chances are the tears stopped shortly after you left in the morning because the educators work hard at distracting your child with new toys and fun activities.Tip: Send your child with his or her favourite toy or “lovey” to hold onto for comfort.
  2. The difficult times will resonate at home. For those first few weeks you child may seem more needy than ever. My son constantly wanted to be picked up, and became extremely clingy  as if fearing that I may leave him at any moment. After speaking to a few other mothers I realized this was normal behaviour but it will get better!Tip: Give the educators a family photo that your child can look at when they miss you. James’ class had a “family wall” and James loved seeing Mommy and Daddy there.
  3. Assuming you’ve done your research and you have full trust in the daycare you have chosen for your child, trust that this is the best thing for them. Keep that in mind when you leave your crying baby and remind yourself that this is for their benefit. Within weeks you will be surprised by their expanding vocabulary, social skills and all the new things that they learn.

In the end this transition will be just as hard on you as it is on your child. But whether you are going back to work, pregnant,  or simply want your child to socialize, it is a milestone we all have to face.  At times I felt like giving up, just taking him home and trying again when he’s older. Now, I am so glad I enrolled him when I did. Victoria was born 5 months later, and by then James’ daycare had become part of his routine, his teachers, part of his family and he showed no resentment towards his little sister.

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