Many parents wonder whether there is such a thing as the perfect age to start childcare. Is there a golden age at which your children will settle quickly and thrive with their new independence?
Parental emotions at the start of the daycare journey can be mixed. On the one hand, you might be looking forward to returning to your career and enjoying some uninterrupted adult conversation.
On the other hand, though, if you’re not returning to work, you might be looking forward to some quiet time to get jobs done away from the demands of motherhood.
You could also be feeling nervous and guilty about leaving your little ones in child care. Will they be ok when you’re gone?
What if they get upset and cry for you? You might have lots of niggling worries at the back of your mind when your child starts daycare.
Many parents find the transition to daycare an emotional one. Even if your child skips happily into the daycare center, you might cry in the car park!
Best age to start daycare
Realistically, the best age for your child to start daycare is whenever you need it. For example, if you are due back at work by your child’s first birthday, that’s the best time for your family.
However, if you have options about when and how you return to work, you might be interested in what research says is the best age to start childcare.
Consider your child’s personality; if she is pretty confident and sociable, she might thrive no matter what age she starts daycare.
If you can delay daycare until after your child’s third birthday, this might help keep the child’s cortisol levels low.
However, it’s also important to remember that a young child benefits from happy parents.
If your career (or the associated paychecks) are important and/or necessary to you, early childcare might not be a bad thing for your family.
Worst age to start daycare
If you are returning to work, you might not get much say in when your child starts daycare. Sometimes, your child’s age might not be something you can consider if you need childcare to return to work.
However, if you can be flexible, there are some things to think about.
Although separation anxiety is a normal and expected part of infant development, it can make the transition to childcare more difficult.
Separation anxiety can start as early as six months and varies for each individual.
In addition, your child might go through clingy phases throughout childhood, so determining when to begin daycare can be tricky.
Some believe that the younger the child is, the bigger impact daycare will have.
For example, younger children are more likely to get upset when separated from their primary caregiver, and they might struggle more in large group settings.
Here are some things you can do to help your child settle in at daycare:
- Opt for a more extended settling-in period.
Don’t rush the process; instead, provide plenty of opportunities for your child to settle in at daycare. Start with short sessions and gradually build up the time your child spends there.
The critical thing is to reassure your child you will return to collect her at the end of the day
- Stagger your return to work.
Don’t go back to work the moment your child starts daycare. Instead, give yourself a couple of weeks to focus on your child’s transition.
This will help you be fully attuned to how your child feels rather than being distracted by your own transition back to work.
- Choose your childcare setting carefully.
Visit the childcare provider and ask lots of questions. Observe the children in the setting; do they seem happy?
Is problematic behavior being dealt with positively? Do the children seem to have bonded with the key workers?
Speak to the parents of the kids there. Are they happy with the setting?
The benefits of daycare
Child care provides plenty of benefits, including child-free time for you. Whether you use that time to work or have a massage, time away from your child can be good for you.
Other benefits include the variety of activities your child will undertake at daycare. Whether it’s painting, baking, sticking and dressing up, daycare providers aren’t afraid to get messy.
Your child will make friends at daycare, and you’ll probably hear the same names over and over again. It can be exciting to hear about your child’s life outside of the home.
The cons of daycare
If you’re worried about how daycare will affect your child’s development, you might be wary about childcare. One of the biggest cons of daycare is the cost.
Childcare costs in some countries are much higher than in others and it is something you’ll have to consider carefully when choosing a childcare setting for your child.
Child care centres can be overwhelming places for young children, especially in large group settings where your child might feel nervous about being with other children.
For this reason, selecting a daycare you feel suits your child’s unique personality is important.
One complaint many parents share is the risk of bugs. Your child will most likely come into contact with lots of colds, sickness bugs and more at nursery.
Although this is a positive, because it will help to give your child a good immune system, it can be frustrating when they come down with bug after bug during the winter months.
How many hours should a child be in daycare?
There is no golden number of hours your child should be in daycare. Realistically, your child will need to be in daycare for as many hours as you need to focus on work or life admin.
Some babies go full-time and others do part-time. There’s no right answer.
If your toddler is older and you hope daycare will help them learn social skills and prepare them for school, you might wonder how many hours they need to do.
If you have the time to transition them gradually, it’s worth starting with shorter sessions and slowly building up the time your child spends at daycare.
Daycare allows your child to be around others, but it’s important to remember that childcare is not the only way to achieve this.
For example, you can take your child to playgroups, parks and other public spaces to socialize and encourage them to interact with other children.
Which childcare options can I choose from?
Most people find their childcare options are limited by budget and convenience. For example, there might be a fantastic childcare setting an hour away, but it’s too inconvenient to travel to each day.
Or perhaps you’d love to hire Mary Poppins but can’t afford her rates. Whatever your budget, you should have a few options to choose from when it comes to childcare.
Here are some examples:
Daycare is often one of the most cost-effective options. Your children will be cared for at a daycare setting alongside other children of the same age.
They will spend their day playing with toys, doing arts and crafts, listening to stories and singing.
At some daycare centers, children will spend more time outside than others, so ask questions about how the children spend their days.
Your children will be assigned an educator who will care for them at the daycare center. This will be the adult they spend the most time with, and they will probably develop a strong bond.
It’s worth asking about staff turnover, because it’s a good idea to pick a nursery where bonds are built to last.
If you can afford it, a nanny is an excellent childcare option. A nanny will look after your child in your home, allowing her to benefit from the home environment even while you’re working.
In addition, a nanny will provide your child with one-to-one attention that will help them develop a strong relationship with one another.
A nanny can be pricey but it’s worth getting in touch, to find out whether there are affordable options, such as a part-time nanny or the possibility of a nanny share with another family.
Some people are lucky enough to have other family members on hand to provide free child care. If you have family willing to help, your child will benefit from a strong bond with the extended family.
You’ll benefit from the flexibility and affordability offered by family childcare, and the grandparents will benefit from a stronger bond with their grandkids.
However, there can be teething problems when it comes to free child care from family, so it’s worth setting some ground rules in advance.
For more advice about how to choose, look at 5 Important Things To Consider When Choosing Childcare.
Is childcare good for toddlers?
A 2014 study conducted in Norway investigated the link between hours in childcare and externalizing problems. Examples of externalizing problems are defiance, disruptive behaviors and aggression.
1000 toddlers participated in the study to determine the impact daycare hours had on behavior.
Researchers found that time spent in daycare did not increase externalizing problems and therefore concluded that childcare is a family-friendly option.
Norway also has high standards in providing childcare settings, which might have contributed to the findings.
A 2010 analysis by McCartney et al found that children were most likely to exhibit externalizing behaviors if their childcare setting was of lower quality.
For this reason, choosing a daycare center you feel happy with is essential.
Be sure to ask other local parents, seek out personal recommendations and ask to see inspection reports before deciding on a setting for your child.
This study also identified time spent in large groups as a risk factor for externalizing problems. For this reason, you might want to seek out a childcare setting that focuses on small groups.
High-quality daycare provides a clean and safe environment that mimics the parent-child attachment.
Although your children won’t have one on one attention, they will have an educator who can focus on their needs.
In addition, high-quality daycare services pay attention to feeding and sleep patterns and ensure they meet the needs of all the children in their care.
Why you shouldn’t feel guilty for putting your child in daycare
In this modern age, it is a radical act to free yourself from mom guilt. You shouldn’t feel guilty about using childcare or not using childcare.
Instead, parents on both sides feel guilty that they’re doing the wrong thing. The critical thing to remember is that there is no wrong thing.
You need to decide what works best for your family and then go for it – guilt-free.
If the guilt does creep in, remind yourself that you are not alone. Be gone guilt, be gone.