It can be nerve-wracking to start any new job, but when you’re working at a day care, it can feel even more crucial to succeed.
“Little people have big emotions, parents are trusting you with the most important things in their lives, and you will be busy, busy, busy,” says Sabrina Walters, director of U-GRO Learning Centres in York, Pennsylvania.
There are, however, some things you can do on the first day of the job that will set you up for quick learning and success. Use these tactics, recommended by day care directors and owners, to set up good rapport with parents, coworkers and kids — and start your day care job on the right foot.
1. Know the job expectations
“Familiarize yourself with company policies,” says Angela Wolfe, owner of Children’s Lighthouse of Little Elm, Texas.
You may have received a company handbook when you got hired. If so, review it so you know the major dos and don’ts. Asking a lot of questions during the interview process can help, too.
2. Dress comfortably
Think twice about wearing anything restrictive.
Whether you’re a preschool teacher or a caregiver in the infant room, the ability to move around is key. You might be playing with kids on the floor, changing diapers, doing art projects and/or spending time on the playground.
Some employers may ask you to wear scrubs or company tees. Others may have a general dress code or suggested attire. So forget dry-clean-only gear. If you’re a teacher required to wear business casual clothes, look for nice-looking pants and professional-looking tops that are stretchy or loose enough to move with you through the day while also being washable in case of a run-in with some finger paints or a yogurt explosion.
3. Arrive early
“Being on time is really important,” says Wolfe — not only on the first day but every day. “We have state ratios we have to abide by, and when someone isn’t there, it makes it really difficult to do our jobs.”
Give yourself extra time to get to work at least five to 10 minutes early the first day and get settled. Not only will you feel less rushed and frantic, but you’ll make a good impression on your new boss.
4. Introduce yourself to anyone and everyone
“On the first day, introduce yourself to all the employees,” Wolfe says. “I promise you they’ll love that you’re there.”
Break the ice with a simple introduction and also tell them you’re available to help out with anything they need. Just knowing you’re ready and willing to lend a hand can begin instill their confidence in you.
“Always get down on a child’s level and introduce yourself to them,” says Wolfe.
That means literally crouching down and talking to them at their eye level in a kind tone of voice. If you don’t set up a rapport with the little ones, they won’t understand that you’re their teacher and they won’t know they need to listen to you, says Wolfe.
Extend an intro to the parents at drop-off and/or pickup, as well. They’re going to want to know who’s caring for their kids all day, and a simple “Hey, I’m here to help and answer any questions you have” goes a long way toward easing their minds.
5. Be open-minded and positive
“Be and stay positive,” says Wolfe. “This job is incredibly physically and emotionally demanding.”
There will be a ton of new things to learn, understand and react to on that first day. It’s easy to start to feel overwhelmed. Just remember: You’re still learning. You, your coworkers and the families are still all getting used to each other.
“But as long as you stay open-minded and positive, you can learn and grow and build great relationships with those families, as well as your coworkers,” says Wolfe. “The more they trust you, the more smoothly your day will go.”
Show your enthusiasm and excitement for getting to know the kids and for doing activities, such as singing songs, reading books, playing with blocks or talking about the weather. You just might find the kids will, in turn, absorb some of that enthusiasm and that will make your day that much easier.
6. Ask lots of questions
“Be ready to interact with children and teachers alike and ask questions,” says James. “Each teacher has their own preferences [for how to do things], and the only way to get to know those preferences is to ask.”
This goes for everything you don’t know, from how to warm up breast milk to how to discipline a misbehaving preschooler.
“There are lots of ‘rules’ in licensed child care and you’ll only learn them if you put yourself out there to find out,” says Walters.
7. Expect the unexpected
“When you’re taking care of multiple children, there will be hectic days,” says Wolfe. “Remember that you’re working with children and you have got to be patient.”
You may — or, actually, probably will — experience kids misbehaving, vomiting, having potty accidents, having tantrums and on and on. And you’ve got to handle it all like a cool cucumber on the outside, even if, on the inside, you’re feeling rattled.
Wolfe encourages day care teachers and aides to communicate with their directors, letting them know when they’re feeling overwhelmed or unsure of how to handle a situation. A good manager will help you through any sticky situations, and you can use each hiccup as a learning experience on how to handle similar instances going forward.
Just like with anything else, caring for kids gets easier the more you do it. Start off with that positive, proactive attitude and keep it up, and you’ll be on the right track to impressing your employer and making kids and their parents happy and confident every day on the job.