Friday, October 21, 2011

How to Create a 'Village' for Your Child at Day Care

You've no doubt heard the saying, 
"it takes a village to raise a child"

Many working or studying mums have no choice but to have their children spend many hours a week in long day care, and this can be a great source of stress, worry and guilt. 

I stressed myself sick about starting this Teaching Prac that I'm on at the moment, because it is 4 weeks of 9 hour days, 5 days a week. I felt like I was letting WildChild down, I felt like I was a traitor to attachment parenting, and most of all I worried that it would affect our relationship negatively. I worried that we would lose our closeness, that our bond would weaken, I thought I'd never get any time to enjoy my daughter's company, and I'd become "one of those mums" who seem always too busy for their children. 
I pretty much thought it was the apocalypse.

However, I have come to realise that not only do I have no choice (unless I quit my course, which I'm not going to do), but also that worrying is a completely pointless exercise. The best course of action is to take that energy that I would have wasted on stress, and use it for something practical. 

So I have started trying to foster more of a connection between myself and WildChild's Daycare, in the hope that, instead of feeling like she's missing out on time with her mother, it will be more like she is gaining time with a whole "village". Here's how I think I can do it:

 Don't Rush
One of the best ways to help children feel more secure about leaving their parents at drop-off time is to make sure it's a relaxed affair.
I've been trying to get organised 10 minutes earlier so that when we arrive at her Daycare, it's not a mad rush to get in, throw her into one of the teachers' arms and rush out again. Now we have time to stroll around her classroom, looking at yesterday's artworks and admiring the displays that the teachers have put a lot of effort into making. We put her bag in her locker together, and her lunch in the fridge together, and stop to chat to whoever we meet along the way.
Think about how it must feel for a child to have their parent get in and out as quickly as possible. I personally would feel like I'm being being left in a place that my parent doesn't like to be in. Having extra time to enjoy the atmosphere, and connect with the place, sends children a strong message that this is a desirable place to be. This is a fun place and a beautiful place and somewhere to be comforable, relaxed and happy. 

Know the Staff
In the same vein, if you want a child to respond to and like their teachers, you need to model that behaviour. 
One day last week my phone decided to get me up an hour early (I live very close to a state border, and my phone believed it was in the state that has daylight savings, when really we are in the state that doesn't), so completely by accident I had an entire hour to hang out with WildChild at her Daycare when I dropped her. I got to chatting with a few of the teachers and found out lots of interesting things, and lots of things that we have in common. This turned out to be an excellent mistake on the part of my phone, because now when I'm doing the drop-off or pick-up, I feel much more comfortable chatting about how WC is feeling that day or what the class will get up to later. As well as miscellaneous things like what we did on the weekend, which gyms they've tried, or where is good for lunch.
 It might seem pointless, but these little snippets of information help teachers know the children, which helps them connect and teach more effectively. It also helps you appreciate their work, and the effort and forethought that goes into the 'fun activities'. And lastly, it helps you feel that instead of leaving your child with strangers, you are leaving your child with people that you know and trust.
In a traditional environment, the adults would all have strong relationships with each other and transitions between parent and temporary carer would be very fluid and natural.
Try going over to a teacher and starting a conversation. It doesn't need to be anything particularly
"How has your morning been so far?"
"I see the kids are really into the sandpit today."
"Ooh, I like your shoes." 
...Really, anything. You are just showing your child that this adult person is a friend. They are a nice person and someone you can both trust. Your little one can be more comfortable with their teachers, because you are.

Make Friends
This is probably the Early Childhood (student) Teacher in me, but I find children to be just as unique and interesting as adults are.
WildChild has found herself a best friend at Daycare, called Katie*. Whenever we arrive, Katie rushes over with the biggest smile on her face to give WC a big hug and a kiss. I started making sure that I say hi to Katie whenever I see her, and having 'conversations' (as you do with barely verbal toddlers) about what her likes and interests. Now it's to the point that three or four children will wander over when we arrive to greet WildChild and to tell us both about whatever is important to them at that moment (this often involves where their parents are at the present moment, and/or shoes). It makes me feel so warm and fuzzy to see my little girl being greeted excitedly by her peers, and it helps her begin her day more naturally when her friends come over for a chat and then whisk her off to play.
I met Katie's mum this morning too. We had a lovely chat about the things we had seen our daughters do to show how much they care about each other.
Take an interest in your child's social life, even when they're small. It helps them develop closer, stronger friendships (and I hope it will help when she's a teenager and her social life is a little more frightening for me).

The reality of modern life is that our personal 'villages' are not physical, and there may be little overlap between ours and that of our next-door neighbour's. It's easy to forget the multitudes of lives that are linked to yours. 
When your child is in daycare they are not in a vacuum of suspended animation, they are relating to people, they are learning and they are growing. Not being present for the entire day, does not have to mean that you can't still be part of it. You can make sure that you are linked to these people and these places and these lessons, and it will only prove beneficial for your child.