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Why Does My Child Cry At Day Care Drop Off?

Written by Genie Price

Are my baby’s day-care days over, though we have only just begun?

It’s a new, yet challenging experience when you’re a parent considering childcare for the first time. Children bring so much joy and laughter, yet also an overwhelming sense of responsibility and often, tears too. There is no manual to parenting, especially when it comes time to let your little ones go and explore a place so wild, such as day-care.
So, why does your child cry at daycare drop off?

1. Stranger anxiety

Children with stranger anxiety may cry when an unfamiliar person, in an also unfamiliar place – approaches them. This type of anxiety is normal when:

  • It begins at about age 8 to 9 months.
  • It resolves by age 2 years.

Stranger anxiety is related to when infants’ learn to distinguish the familiar from the unfamiliar. How strong these reactions are and how long it lasts will differ greatly. Research by the Australian Psychological Institute indicates that 90% of infants, aged from 10-months are likely to become upset, and many babies will react negatively to what is unfamiliar, therefore may display stranger anxiety by crying in these circumstances.
Only 50% of those children will become upset if they are given adequate time to become familiar with the new surroundings first. Anne Stonehouse, a leading expert in education explains in her journal entry for Child Australia how stranger anxiety is a developmentally appropriate milestone, which reveals that important cognitive skills are beginning to cultivate and is also a signal that secure attachments with the adults in a child’s life have developed.

2. Little concept of time

Very young children do not have a good concept of time, and how long things take.  Telling a young baby to be patient is unfair, let alone incredibly difficult for them to understand because for them, waiting for things always seems to take forever - regardless of whether it’s for 2 minutes or 20 minutes.

Adults however, are aware of the length of a separation, and until a child reaches around the age of 3, they will require a series of consistent, repetitive experiences where they are left by a parent, and the parent again returns before they can understand the separation is only temporary.

Deborah Jepsen from the School Psychology Services of Melbourne Child Psychology, recommends instead of telling your child that you “will be back soon”, phrases such as “Mummy will be back after lunch”, are more appropriate terms for helping your child to start making predictions about time and routine.

3. The day-care doesn’t meet the needs of your child

It’s important the care service you choose has a curriculum which is full of interesting, varied activities for your child to engage in. Under the National Quality Standards section 2: Childrens Health and Safety, it clearly indicates all service providers should implement a program which is responsive of all babies, infant and young children’s individual needs and interests, as well as each child’s individual comforts must be accommodated for throughout the program.

4. Separation Anxiety

You leave the room, and suddenly your baby is inconsolable. Adapting to new care arrangements can be a difficult time for children and this can lead to separation anxiety. Separation anxiety is a stage of normal development also. During this stage, your child may develop anxiety when they are separated from you, an important person or primary Educator. Once separated from these important people, they begin to feel threatened and unsafe.

Kids Matter Australia suggests many children may experience separation anxiety in some form. It is a stage which first develops at about 7 months of age, once object permanence has been established by your child. It is at its strongest at 10-18 months of age and usually subsides by 3 years of age.

The combination of fear of parents not returning, mixed with little understanding of time can result in a particularly challenging situation.

So, why is separating difficult?
Strong, secure relationships are the foundation for future health and well-being, and the attachments made – particularly within the first twelve months of life – become the most important to your child.

Even after these people and places become familiar, separation can still be tough. It’s important to acknowledge these feelings, for both yourselves, and your child. Acknowledgement can be achieved by understanding the cause of distress and then learning to respond with care. There are some ways in which you can help your child get through this challenging time.

Tips for a successful drop off:

  • Choose a service where you feel comfortable. Your child will pick up on any anxieties you have on leaving them. If you are happy with the setting, then baby can feel settled here too.
  • Show that you trust and like the Educators, it will help your child to know it is safe.
  • Use the orientation process to visit as often as needed before you start full-time. This will help with the transition of leaving your child in the hands of this service.
  • Always say goodbye, even if you have to go while your child is upset. This builds trust. Sneaking out or trying to get away is not recommended, and may prompt feelings of mistrust.
  • Once you have said “goodbye” do not prolong your departure by hanging around. This is unlikely to be helpful.
  • Leave your child with family or friends occasionally to “practice” being apart from you.
  • Games like Peek-a-Boo and Hide and Seek can support separations also, as they help your baby understand that you will come back.
  • Build on your child’s sense of security by allowing them to take something from home, a comforter – a dummy, teddy or blanket, to help ease the farewell.
  • Be reliable. Always come back when you say you will. If for some reason you can’t get back on time, let the centre know, so that your child will be made aware where appropriate.
  • Try to adjust your routine so that you can give them extra time with you in the evenings.
  • At some point in life, separations are experienced, but these situations can be overcome with careful, considerate responses.
  • Your child will soon learn to enjoy others, explore the world and thrive in the day-care environment, just as you had hoped.

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