Tips for Helping an 18-Month-Old Adjust to Daycare

Thank you to readers, old and new, for your thoughtful answers to my question about Israeli parenting. If you haven’t been following the discussion I suggest taking a look.

Now I’d like help with ideas for a reader and mother of four returning to the working world:

Any tips on how to make this transition [back to work] least traumatic on my very attached 18 month old? She has always been home with me and I’m now getting her used to the daycare setting.

I’ll start off:

Remember that all transitions are stressful, even if things go smoothly. Your baby will likely demand more of your time, as will your other kids. Even without the concern for your daughter, having to compress or eliminate activities you usually do during the day will be a challenge. Finally, listen to suggestions from other mothers, but don’t let anyone tell you not to worry or that it’s no big deal. It is. But you will get through it in the end. And you won’t regret the strong connection you have formed with all your children.

Readers, please share more thoughts in the comments.


  1. Routine for both of you: Try to keep the drop off and pickup times as consistent as possible, even if your schedule is varies. Kids love routine, no matter if they are spending their days at home or at daycare. So, if you finish whatever you have to do an hour or two early, while it may be tempting to pick her up early to spend more time with her, it will make her transition a lot harder in the long run.

    Dropoff with a smile, and make it snappy: If she sees you’re upset that she’s upset, it makes it alot harder and it will also probably make her nervous. Kids are very sensitive to their parents emotions. If she sees you’re positive and secure with her daycare, it will make her feel the same way.

    Also, in my experience (having just gone through the adjustment with my 16 month old), shlepping out dropoff trying to find the perfect way for her not to cry when you separate also makes the adjustment harder. For the first few days with my baby, I sat and played with him for 15 minutes. But after the first few days, once I saw that he bonded to his caregiver, I handed him off, even with some tears. After a few days, I was able to sit him on the floor playing and now he happily goes to his caregiver (she does a little welcome dance and hug with him that he really likes).

    Good luck!

  2. When my wife gets home I will have her post a comment. She ran a daycare for a few years…

  3. As a daycare worker, I agree with everything Abbi said. Talk to the staff and let them know if you’re a little anxious, but remember that the child picks up on that & will find it harder to acclimatise. If you’ve got good staff, who don’t mind you phoning once or twice during the day and are willing to help you, then it’ll be okay.

    Remember too that each of us has a different temperament and some people adjust quickly to new situations, others don’t. This applies to little ones as well.

    And of course make sure that you spend some good quality time with your child – even though you’ll have other pressures as a working mother.

  4. sylvia_rachel says

    Mine (who is now 7) started daycare at 13 months, which of course is different from 18 months, but here are some things that helped for us:

    – routine, routine, routine! “First you’ll have breakfast, then you’ll play outside, then … and then you’ll have a nap, and then Mommy will come to pick you up!” — but, of course, never make promises you know you can’t keep.
    – nursing when I arrived in the afternoon helped us reconnect
    – a comfort object from home (a blanket, stuffed animal, doll, whatever)
    – never, ever sneak out without saying goodbye, even if she cries when you say goodbye!
    – try to *give* her to a caregiver rather than having the caregiver *take* her from you
    – we spent some time together at the daycare centre before I went back to work, and then she spent an hour there by herself “to play”, and the next day a few hours, so that the transition was less abrupt.
    – it was also really helpful if the caregivers could immediately get her involved in some activity, whether eating breakfast or squishing playdough or whatever, to give her something to think about besides freaking out because I was leaving. (The teachers at our daycare were very big on hugs and cuddles, and that helped a lot because my daughter was a very “high touch” baby!)
    – when she was a little older (18 mos – 2 years or so) it helped to have a snack to eat on the way there and on the way home (we had a long commute) which she could then sit down and finish eating when she got there — again, it gave her something to do other than freak out because I was leaving.
    – this may not be the case for other kids, but I found that drop-off worked better when I had time to stay for 5-10 minutes before leaving and she could see me talking calmly and in a friendly way to the staff, and again when I came to pick her up so she could show me some toys or her “art” projects or whatever and I didn’t have to rush her away from whatever she was involved in. (This is still true, come to think of it…)
    – if there’s something (a blanket, a stuffed toy, a pillow) that she likes to sleep with at home, see if she can take it to daycare for nap time.
    – we were still co-sleeping full time then, and I found that when I went back to work my daughter started to nurse at night A LOT. It was a bit tiring, but we went with it, and looking back I think that was a good thing. When I added up the time we spent together, a lot of it was either sleep time or commuting-on-the-bus time, and I was happy that we had that time at night even though we were mostly asleep. I know it’s different when you have an only child, though.

  5. Lots of good advice here. I will add, that 18mo is a great age for involving her actively in your household tasks. It is usually faster to do housework without her “help”, so it can be tempting to try to occupy her while you work. But you can have quality time with her while you work if you are willing to work very slowly with her “help”. This way, you and she are better able to maintain your strong connection and have as much time together as possible.

  6. mominisrael says

    Thanks to everyone for the great comments.

  7. drop and run…

    I find, even with my very calm and adjusted child, that the minute I tried to stay, even talking to the metepelet, she suddenly began to cling and cry. Also, I would always make sure she started doing something, either go to the caregiver, or sit her down with a game, or sit her down to eat, to start doing…

    Other thing is to prepare them. I always talk about what we are going to do, and what will happen. You will go to day care, then Mommy will bring you home, then we will go to the park. Telling them the expectations and what will happen, helps very much, especially when they find out that generally things happen as you say!

  8. Nothing to do with this topic, brillant topic though as always! We leave soon for our 16 day trip to Israel and are wondering what to put on the “must see” list for our kids (18mth, 4 &6) obviously the Kotel & the City of David & Davidson center….but um, what else is a must or a no go?

    Would love some help as we make our lists! Thanks so much! love your blog, but nearly always have a child on the lap so nearly never comment!

    • mominisrael says

      WaysofZion: You’re welcome! Where else will you be besides Jerusalem? I think you’ve got the main ones there.

  9. i know that parenting always involved new challenges, but i’m still amazed when veteran parents ask for parenting advice. you mean after we think we’ve figured out everything with no. 1, no. 2 (or 12) can still throw us a curveball? it’s not encouraging for us novices.

    • mominisrael says

      LoZ, I have a friend with 9. She always says “my other babies/kids didn’t do this.” I think she forgets and sometimes repeats herself but it’s true. My little one is certainly challenging. For instance, she doesn’t always answer questions truthfully and none of my kids did this. I try not to ask her directly but it doesn’t always work. Finally last week she admitted that she just “stam” said something. So there is hope.

  10. WayOfZion

    was there last year with a 4-year-old boy
    there are some good zoos (biblical zoo, ramat gan safari, park ha-kofim)
    my son loved climbing on the tanks at yad la-shiryon (latrun)
    also the air force museum in beer sheva
    any shuk or midrachov
    many malls have play areas
    eretz bereshit (i think it’s a waste and way overpriced, but a lot of parents swear by it
    beaches, beaches, beaches

    (don’t forget travellers health insurance for the kids)

  11. WayOfZion

    also heard nice things about the children’s museum (holon or bat yam) but we couldn’t go because must be booked in advance.
    also never made it to ein yael
    jeep tours

    • mominisrael says

      The museum in Holon is very expensive, and some parts are only suitable for older kids (11+?)

  12. Ein Yael is only open to the public during school vacations.

  13. Mrs Mekubal here AKA Rabbi’s wife.
    As a daycare administrator I found that the best plan for transition varies with each child. Spending a day with your child at the center is usually a good idea so they can meet their (soon-to–be) new friends and teacher. Of course, if it’s in America, they tend to be more flexible about things like this, but I have found that to be less so in Israel. Establishing a routine at wake-up and pick up works well, but it can be varied if you let the child know what is going to happen. I think the most important thing you can do is always speak positively about the teachers and other children at the school, even when the other kids are “naughty” or when the teacher has done something you don’t like. Undermining that relationship is never a good thing, even if at some point your child in a fit of anger claims to like their teacher more than you. I can’t tell you how many times a child was forced to transition classes/schools/nanny whatever because the child got “too attached” for the mom’s comfort.

  14. LoZ: yes, new challenges with each kid, and even more as they reach different stages (middle school, high school). Fun, fun, fun.

  15. Wow! Thanks for the tips!

    I have spent most mornings this week hanging out at the new day care with dd. I left her alone for an hour yesterday. I did verbally prepare her (“Ima is going to go bye-bye and you are going to stay at moan” – not sure she totally understood). She played nicely and after a 1/2 hour became incosolable so I cut my errands short and ran back. We hugged and nursed and then she went back to playing. This morning I left her for 2 hours. This time she cried immediately and eventually calmed down and played. She freaked out when they started lunch but I walked in shortly after. We hugged and then she sat down to eat and then she played nicely for the rest of the morning. I consider that to be a successful visit. I employ the drop and method since I know that dawdling just postpones the inevitable. Tomorrow we’ll extend it for longer and we’ll she how she copes at meal time. Sunday will be a full day . I purposely picked a day care with a high adult/toddler ration so she can have the attention that she needs. We are still co-sleeping and she nurses through night anyways…

    I am worried about how we’ll all get out of the house every morning. Aruchat Eser to make, lunches to leave for big kids that will be home alone and for me. Plus its going to be much more challenging to stay on top of the housework. Dh chips in but I’m still nervous.

  16. Wow, Rabbi’s Wife, I’m really shocked that parents will switch daycares if the child gets too attached to the metapelet. I’m thrilled that my son attaches to his caregivers and I’d be upset if he didn’t. It’s important to me that he feel secure and loved by the women who take care of him and that he returns the feelings (which he does).

    Tziona, not that I do this myself ( I really should) but making sandwiches and lunch the night before makes the morning much easier. You can also delegate this job to your husband, because it can be done even if he gets home late. I’ve also started laying out my kids clothes the night before as well, so they can get dressed themselves first thing (my kids are early risers).

    Not sure what you’re income situation is, but I couldn’t manage without a once a week cleaner and I only work 80% and from home. There’s also the living-with-a-messy-house option, which we also do as well.

  17. abbi-
    while I was still in college I was “let go” after a year of part-time nannying because the girl was telling her parents that she loved me more than them. I really tried to discourage her in such things, but most of her waking hours were spent with me. I got her up every morning, took her to school, picked her up 3 days a week, and did at least one sleep-over weekend a month.
    One boy told his mom that he was going to go live with miss Joan because she never shouted at him. One 6-year old told his parents that we could control him better, so he would just live at Clubhouse (the school). I have stories that would curl your hair.

  18. Does anyone have advice regarding a child who won’t eat at gan? The child in question seems otherwise comfortable, is 13 months, but for the most part refuses to eat while there.

    • Maya: The teachers are probably very upset about it. I suggest talking to them and pointing out what the child does eat. Emphasize that you are not concerned and that you don’t blame them in any way. I don’t understand it but caretakers see themselves/are seen by parents as responsible for getting the child to eat. Their job is to offer food, the child will eat when s/he is hungry.