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16 Tips for the First Day of Day Care

Experts offer advice for surviving the first day of day care.

Once you find a day care center or family child care center, the real fun can begin!

The first day of day care marks a significant transition for your family. To help both you and your child navigate this change, we spoke with Leana Greene, founder and CEO of Kids in the House, Elizabeth Pantley, author of "The No-Cry Separation Anxiety Solution," and Renee Thompson, director of education at Kiddie Academy. Their advice will help you begin your day care experience with maximum success and minimum tears.

Before the First Day:

  1. Go Over the Schedule
    Prepare your child for what he'll experience at day care. "Be as detailed as possible," advises Greene, and explain these things to your child again and again.

  2. Adjust to the New Routine
    Give your family a few days to get used to any new sleep schedule that day care will require. Pantley encourages, "Begin to get up at the time you'll need to awaken on day care days, and set -- and keep -- an appropriate bedtime for a good night's sleep."

  3. Visit the Center
    Visit the day care with your child at least once ahead of time. Having you nearby during the experience will give her a sense of security as she warms up to this new environment. But make sure to give her some space to explore on her own.

    Thompson suggests even doing a practice day. "See if the day care will accommodate a shadow day prior to the official start. This is a way for parents and children to get a feel for what to expect day one."

    While you're there, be inspired by the 7 Questions to Ask When Touring a Day Care Center 

  4. Trust Your Caregiver
    Greene counsels, "Make sure that you trust the people who are taking care of your child." If you're confident about the day care and the caregivers, your child will also be confident. On the other hand, if you're anxious, that will rub off on your child.

    Learn about the 10 Signs of a Safe Day Care 

  5. Make a Special Purchase
    Remember the excitement of getting a new outfit for the first day of school? A back-to-school gift is an exciting way to gear up for the first day. "You can call this item the big boy backpack or big girl shoes and make them even more special," suggests Greene.

    What do you think? Back-to-School Gifts for Kids: Yes or No? 

The First Morning:

  1. Give Everyone Plenty of Time
    Hurrying on the first day will make everyone feel stressed. "Wake your child early enough so that he can adjust to the day before being whisked off into the car. Don't rush in the morning," reminds Pantley.

  2. Send Something from Home
    A special memento can help your child feel more comfortable in her new environment. Greene's suggests packing a photograph of your family or a special toy that she can keep nearby in a pocket or a cubby.

    Read up on what you should -- and shouldn't -- pack in Your Day Care Backpack 

  3. Help Your Child Settle in
    Arrive at the center early enough so that you have time to stick around for a few minutes. "Let your child take you on a tour of the classroom when you drop her off. Let her tell you what she sees," says Thompson.

    Pantley encourages parents to "Ask: 'Is there something you'd like to show me before I leave in five minutes?'" However, don't linger; as she says, "Your goodbye should be short and sweet."

    If you're nervous, Thompson suggests you "call the day care and check on your child. The facility should be more than happy to give you first day updates during the day."

  4. Start a Goodbye Routine
    Establishing a very specific goodbye routine will help your child be more comfortable at drop-off time, so begin one the first day. Pantley gives an example: "Park in the same area, enter through the same door, approach the cubby, hang the coat, check the job chart and comment on the day's assignment, give two hugs and two kisses and say, 'See ya later little alligator!'"

    Even if your child is upset, stay calm. A confident attitude will help reassure your little one that everything will be okay. Once you leave, don't come back. He may cry for a while, but as Greene says, this is an "opportunity for your child to bond with a caregiver." Plus, it will probably take only a few minutes for the crying to subside.

  5. Spoil Yourself
    After you drop your child off, treat yourself with a special breakfast treat of specialty coffee. "This is a big day for parents, as well as children," reminds Thompson.

  6. Talk to Your Employer
    The first week of day care involves an adjustment for you, as well as your child. Make sure your employer is aware of your situation, because you might need a little extra flexibility in your schedule over the next few days.

    Read about the 10 Things to Ask HR for Today 

At the End of the Day:

  1. Arrive on Time
    It's important to pick up your child right on time at the end of the first day. Greene strongly encourages parents to make sure they're on time for pick up for the whole first week. In fact, it's best to come back at the same time every day. Pantley explains, "It's comforting for a child to know you will be there every day following a specific activity, such as afternoon snack time."

  2. Start a Going-Home Routine
    When you arrive at the day care, "Have your child show you around the classroom, suggests Thompson. "Ask her to show you something she did/made that day."

    Then give your child a sign that it's time to wrap up the fun of day care and head home. "Use a fun indicator, such as a tickle on the neck," suggests Pantley. Play games on the way to the car, like counting steps or cars.

  3. Give Your Child Something to Look Forward to at Home
    Help your child transition to home time by talking about what you'll do in the afternoon or evening. "Mention something that your child can look forward to at home, such as reading the new library books or Grandpa coming over for dinner," advises Pantley.

  4. Plan Extra Bonding Time
    Greene emphasizes the importance of finding "extra time to bond with the child" after pickup. With a baby, plan on extra snuggling or breastfeeding. For older children, consider visiting the library together or playing at the park.

  5. Validate Feelings
    Despite your best efforts to make the day go smoothly, your child may still have some struggles with the new arrangement. "Make sure you validate her feelings," counsels Greene; for example, reassure her: "It's normal that you're feeling a little scared, but you can get through this, and you're going to be okay."

    Use these 9 Tips for Getting Kids to Talk About Their Day

In fact, your whole family is going to get through this just fine. From start to finish, your child's first day of day care can be a positive experience and the first of many happy times at your new child care center.


Meghan Ross is a freelance writer with a background in child development, education and family life. Her work can be found here.


My son is very fussy and has a lot of separation anxiety, so while I'm looking for a daycare center for him I really appreciate your tips on how to prepare him for that first day. Taking him to the center beforehand is a great idea, and I'll definitely ask about a shadow day to see if I can get him used to the new place without the extra anxiety of my being gone. Waking up and getting ready early the first day is definitely something I'll try, as well, in case he ends up being fussy again and it takes longer than expected to get him out the door. http://www.worldofknowledgene....

March 16, 2016

I've been looking for day care advice that my wife and I can use and your site has a lot of info that will be useful. I appreciate the info you provided for the first day, first morning, and the day after. I think I will be using montessori but I will have to apply you advice.

March 9, 2016

These are really great tips for a child's first day of daycare. I've seen with relatives kids how a first day of daycare can be very stressful for some kids, so doing things like establishing a routine and giving the kid something to look forward to would help them ease into the transition, I think. I'll be using this advice in the future.

Nov. 5, 2015

Thanks for the tip about validating a child's feelings. My wife and I are considering daycare so she can go to work in order to help pay off some student loans. Our daughter Annie is really having a hard time with the idea. I'll have to try some of these techniques. Thanks for the help.

Feb. 27, 2015

My wife and I are looking for child care programs. One of our cousins have asked us to find a good program for their children. My cousin and his wife are working full time, and need to have their children in a child care services.

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