Advice for Parents with a Child Entering Chicago Daycare for the First Time

So it’s time for a big change! Especially after the COVID-19 pandemic that kept millions of parents home, putting a child in daycare for the first time is going to be a massive change. It can feel traumatic for both parents and children.

But it doesn’t need to. Here are a few hints to help make it an easier, calmer process for everyone. With a little planning, everything will be just fine.

  1. Get familiar – “Imagine being dropped off to a completely new place with completely unfamiliar faces and all you see is mom wave bye and poof, that’s it,” Mel Bailey writes on When you put it that way, it’s scary for your little one. Visit the facility without your child once so you know where everything is, what room they’ll be in, etc. Then, visit with your child so they can see all the toys, the other children, and more. It will be just a little less foreign this way.
  2. Talk about it – This is going to be a life change for everyone. Talk to your child about it. Be excited. Make it clear that you’re excited. If they say they’re scared, reassure them. Let them know it’s all going to be fine, and you’re really excited for them.
  3. Changing sleep – Nap times will probably be different in daycare than they are at home. Start making those changes now. Take naps, eat lunch, etc. on the same schedule as the daycare. That will make it easier when the first day comes; your child won’t be hungry or tired at the wrong times.
  4. Labels and packing – Put labels on everything you’re taking to daycare. Food containers, clothes, diapers, coats, everything. This makes it easier when it’s time to pick your child up–the teachers will know exactly what belongs to whom. Take your time packing a bag a day or two ahead of time. The morning you’re getting ready to leave for work/daycare is going to be crazy. You might be in the middle of a child meltdown, and you don’t want to be too distracted to remember diapers or a juice box.
  5. Separate a little – Try to get some time apart before doing a whole day apart while your child’s at daycare. If you can schedule some play dates with friends or drop your child off with a family member, time apart will teach them you’ll be back. “If possible, let your child ease into daycare by starting him off with a part-time schedule,” writes Rose Gordon Sala for A part-time schedule allows you to get used to the idea of not being with your baby every minute of the day too. There’s a lot to do in Chicago to keep you busy for half a day, even if you aren’t going to work right away.
  6. Eating solo – If you’ve been helping your little one for a long time, it’s time to let them feed themselves. When they sit down to have lunch with all the other children, it’s important they can feed themselves easily. To get started, let them eat with you. Try to have the same type of foods they’ll get at daycare. If you’re sending sandwiches and fruit, have sandwiches and fruit for a couple of weeks before the first day of daycare.  “Show them how to use a spoon and fork and introduce the expectation that we sit while we eat. Having these skills before they begin at daycare will make them feel confident at mealtime,” writes Teresa Smith for the Huffington Post.
  7. Breathe – This seems like an odd piece of advice, but it’s important for you to breathe and stay calm. Your child knows if you’re upset. Prepare yourself by imagining what this day will be like, so when it happens, you have a plan. If you’ve been right next to your child since birth, this can be as tough on you as it is for them. Have your breakdown in the car. Try not to let your child see you getting upset or crying. You’re their strength. If you’re scared, they’re scared.
  8. Have a goodbye ritual – Have a fun way of saying goodbye the two of you share. It can be a funny kiss, a little dance, or just a big hug and “I love you.” Whatever it is, having a ritual will make this goodbye seem like all the others. Children like to have predictability. If you said goodbye in a funny duck voice for a month and always came back, they know you’ll come back this time too
  9. Plan ahead – Chicago, like most major cities, can be a monster in the morning. The commute and traffic can make it hard to be on time. Plan ahead by taking the route a couple of times before you need to be on time. It’s not the same drive on a Sunday afternoon as it is on a Tuesday morning.
  10. Bring something familiar – You might not want to choose their favorite stuffed animal, but their second favorite would be good to send them to daycare with. A small toy figurine, a Cubs ball cap, or even a favorite book will be perfect. You want them to have something that lets them know everything is still normal. It’s wise to not choose their most precious toy. If leaving their favorite stuffed giraffe is going to be an issue, set Giraffy up to watch TV while everyone goes out for the day.
  11. No surprise visits – As tempting as it is to drop in, especially on your lunch break, you’re setting a precedent they won’t forget. If you show up on day one and don’t on day two, you’re making things more difficult for the teachers for the second half of the day. At best, they have a kid who’s staring at the door. At worst, they’re going to get a temper tantrum. Set the pattern that life will be from day one, and it will all be okay.

Going to daycare for the first time can feel traumatic. This seems to be doubly so for all the children and parents who’ve been in lockdown for the last year.

Plan ahead. Take a deep breath. Everything’s going to be great as long as you plan a bit and know that your child is going to a great facility run by good people.

About Sandra Chiu

Sandra Chiu works as Director at LadyBug & Friends Daycare and Preschool. She’s helped hundreds of parents get through their first day at daycare.