Updated: Apr 25, 2022
How can we support babies and children who are starting childcare, school or daycare during the global pandemic.
As a result of various lockdowns, our children have arguably never spent more time at home with their parents than during recent months. Their little worlds are smaller than they have ever been. Parent and baby classes cancelled, playdates postponed, family visits minimized. The daily routines of parents coming and going have been at a standstill and, as a result, our little ones have had fewer experiences of being apart from their key people, fewer experiences of being around other children, fewer experiences of loud and busy spaces.
Returning to work and transitioning the care of our little ones has always been an emotional step for families. Undeniably, it is an even bigger ask within the context of the current global pandemic. In addition to our little one's cocooned beginnings, there are also procedures in place within daycare centers to keep our families and our childcare workers safe. These include restrictions such as parents no longer being allowed on site. These restrictions are causing many parents to worry as they undeniably make successful separations even more challenging for some little ones, and may act as significant barriers to successful separations.
Because our most effective tool in ensuring our children transition safely and securely into the care of another, is by ensuring our child has had adequate opportunity to establish a relationship with that person prior to any separations from their primary caregiver taking place.
We need to get creative in the ways that we give our child the message that this new person is someone that we trust, so they can accept this person as someone that they trust to take care of them when we are not there. We want our child to accept this person into their inner circle, and that’s a lot harder right now.
So what can we do?
Meet the key worker with your child. Ideally, this would happen inside the nursery or, many settings are holding these initial meet and greets in the family's own home (which I kind of love actually). If neither of these are feasible then suggest that your child has the opportunity to meet with their keyworker and you outside. Preferably more than once. Remember that these meetings are about your child getting to know this new person, and seeing you interact with this person in a positive way.
Take photos of this special person (with your child if they are enjoying an interaction together). Display these photos somewhere where your child can touch and explore them, like on the fridge. In the lead-up to the transition you want to talk to your child about their keyworker fondly, as you would an extended member of the family or a close friend. Use their name and use little details...
"I thought it was so thoughtful that Miss Lauren had animals out for you to play with. She must love animals as much as you do!"
"That's a big smile on Miss Lauren's face! She looks very happy that she will be taking care of you."
Request little videos of your child's new key adult. Ask them to personalise the videos by using your child's name. Suggest that they talk about things they might enjoy together with your child (what is your child's love language? Trucks? Water table? Sand?). Ask them to sing your child's favourite song on video, or read your little one a favourite story.
If your child is old enough, make little drawings and artwork for your child to "give" to their new person. It doesn't matter whether they give these gifts of not, but in creating them we are nurturing a connection between this person and our little one. We are giving our child the message that this person is important to our family.
The second really important thing that we can do to support successful separations for our little ones? Build up time apart gradually.
In light of covid-19 restrictions, we cannot be as physically available to our child while this new relationship is being established. It's therefore even more important that we keep separations brief initially, to ensure that they are as stress free as possible for our child. Initially, the parent should remain nearby (even sat outside in their car) so that they are available to calm and soothe their little one if required. Short separations will give our child the opportunity to get to know their new caregiver gradually. To build their relationship organically. To gain experience of the ebb and flow of separating and reuniting.
And finally, take some time to reflect on your feelings around this transition. Parenting during a global pandemic has been intense and exhausting. Returning to work or transitioning your little one to the care of another adult can bring up so many emotions in us. Try to find some space for self care through all of this... as impossible as that may seem. When we nurture ourselves, we are better able to nurture our children.
PsyD Child, Adolescent and Educational Psychology