Toddler Unhappy at Daycare

Archived Q&A and Reviews


2 year old unhappy - bad fit or hard adjustment?

March 2012

My 2 year old just started day care part time (20 hours/week over 3 days). She's a very mellow kid who easily adapts. Prior to this she was home with my husband full time, with occasional periods of time when she would be watched by a friend a few hours a week.

As expected, she has been crying a lot when she gets there and has been clingy with my husband the rest of the days/times she is with him. She is happy when she is there, playing well, and calming down after 10 minutes or less. However, 2 weeks later she is still saying she doesn't want to go and crying whenever we talk about it. She seems worried on weekends that she's going to be taken there, even though we communicate to her when she will and will not go. We even created a little book for her that talks about the days she goes to day care and the days she doesn't so she knows what's coming.

I'm not sure what to do to make it better. We are comforting her a lot, but at what point is this a ''bad fit'' over a ''transition period''? It's also disrupting our sleep - she naps (now) 2.5-3 hours at day care, and wakes up multiple times in the middle of the night.

I like where she is going. Since my husband does all the drop offs and pickups while I'm at work, I'm pretty removed. That really upsets me, since I feel very helpless. I can't drop in on the day care provider or even see how she interacts with my daughter--my husband has to make all these calls. I have a history of irrational fears when it comes to child care providers. I'm distrustful of them and worried they'll do something terrible to my baby girl even if she loves them and there are absolutely NO red flags. Later I come to know them and trust them completely. I don't really know what to do to help my baby and it is heartbreaking how hard it is for her.

I'm completely confused on how to handle this! Mama Bear

It could really ease your mind to take a couple hours off of work to meet with your child's primary daycare teachers and check in. It would be helpful for you to understand directly from them how they think your child is doing during the day to help you feel more connected.

Even if the school is a great fit for you and your child, the transtion for some kids at this age could take many weeks. You mention she is fine after you leave, which is a great sign. I think it's totally normal at that age to have tears/clinging to parents at drop off, even if they love daycare otherwise.

The sleep thing sounds like a separate issue that could be helped by shortning her naps at daycare. You could try asking them to wake your daughter from after a certain time to see if that helps her sleep better at night. Best of luck!

Transitions can be hard and with some kids last a long time. I hope this experience will help you. In our Nanny share there was a boy who started when he was around one and a half years old. Previously, he was cared for by his stay at home father. When they joined our share this little boy cried and made such a fuss every day for almost 8 weeks when he was dropped off. He cried for 20 minutes or more after the parents left. My husband and I discussed how I would have already pulled my child from the share if our daughter had done this after a couple weeks, because I would have had to believe that something was seriously wrong. Well, I know that our Nanny was/is amazing (I work from home and had experiences of walking by her in the park with them unseen, etc.) and years later I know even more how amazing our Nanny was. (I would do anything to have her available to hire again.) These parents stuck with it, and their son eventually loved our Nanny as much as our daughter did. The point is, transitions can take a long time for some kids. And I wouldn't be surprised at all if it affected night sleep. Are there windows at the daycare? Can you take a half day off or something and drop in without being seen and just observe? I can't really speak to your fears, but for some kids transitions are long and painful. -good luck

Hi, my 2.5 yr old son just started at preschool at the beginning of January. It took a good 5-6 weeks before he really stopped protesting being left there- even though he had a great time while there, and usually stopped crying within minutes of me leaving. Now he's usually excited to go, though occasionally he doesn't want to. I know it's hard, especially since you don't feel able to see for yourself what is happening. Hang in there a little longer. If she still really resists after being there a few months, maybe reconsider things then. And maybe you could make special arrangements a couple of days so that you can drop her off/ pick her up, just to feel a little more connected for your own sake. Also, maybe you could ask the daycare to wake her from nap after 1.5 hrs, so she sleeps better at night. anon

I had to transition my son to a more structured day care just past the age of 2 and then again around the age of 3 (due to logistical issues--nothing with the daycare). Both times, the transition took forever. At the age of 2, there were so many changes like taking away his bottle and potty training him so it was expected. Teachers would sometimes need to hold him so I could leave. But he was happy there and I believe in my heart it was very good for him. At the other preschool, he has just recently stopped the drama in the morning--and that has been 7 months. But again, I know that he is happy there and thriving.

If there are no red flags, some of it may be the drama they go through at that age--there is no question that it is so very hard---but not necessarily unusual. Not sure if that helps---good luck!! anon

27 month old crys at daycare dropoff

March 2009

Our 27 month old son has been going to a daycare on Tues & thurs full days since the beginning of January. EVERY morning he crys from the time we're getting him dressed to when the teacher is physically pulling him out of our arms. We put him school mainly to socialize & to give my MIL a break. Also she tends to stay in the house so this is our way of getting him to do activities during the day and not get stir crazy. He is what i would call a bit of a grouchy child - crys when we try to change his diaper, when we try to put him in the shower - pretty much with transitions. His teachers say that he's fine once we leave but i get the feeling that even though he's fine, he's not happy and smiling. He laughs and plays a lot at home (other than the grouchy transition times) and i know they're not seeing that side of him. At school he stays to himself mainly, and likes to stay with the teachers. I can tell though that his attitude is wearing on his main teacher, but i can't really blame her. We'd like to put him in school more often and for half the day so that he can get a routine going - one week we were able to and by that friday it seemed a lot better - but the daycare doesn't have room right now to take him every day all the time. I guess i'm wondering if at this point we should pull him out until he gets older or until they have room for him every day half day? Is this normal behavior - I know kids take a while to get used to school but it's been almost 3 months! There are other 2 year olds there so i'm hesitant to think he's too young - but maybe he's just not ready. Has anyone else had a child like this and did they grow out of it? Or maybe any advice on how to make the dropoff and his day a little better? we've tried talking about school in the morning, not talking about school, having the teacher visit, and the teachers even made him a nice book with all their pictures in it so we can look through it while we're at home. Also want to point out that the teacher is going to move him to the 3 year old class because that's where his speech level is and they think he's socialize more there. Though i can't imagine he's already ''bored'' at school at his age. I'm afraid all this means he's going to grow up to be an intelligent, but socially awkward child, which is fine with me as long as that's what makes him happy. But i so don't want him to be unhappy sad kid and mom

OK, first, it's crIEs. Sorry, pet peeve. Secondly, did you just say you don't mind if he's intelligent and awkward socially, if that's what he wants? Did you really just say that? ''Hey, mom, I'm two, and want to grow up to be awkward!'' ?Uh, no. I think your son is telling you quite point blank what he wants. You're ignoring it based on what you think is socially normal. I think you know that's true. So, now, the question is, are you going to follow your maternal instinct, or keep denying it? just in case he wants to grow up to be socially awkward, you'll have dutifully provided him the opportunity? C'mon, now. The kid hates going. Does he cry for the MIL? If not, give the poor child his childhood. Our society's idea of ''socializing' is so backwards!! It's a ''get used to it now, it's a cruel world'' philosophy. Very sad, only on the earth for two years, and this is the message? Think about it. anon

You are your son's mom, listen to your intuition. I am sure that you are sensing it would be so much easier if he were happy when dropped off at childcare and that things were going smoothly for the teachers and your son at the facility. Life would continue on without a hitch. However, you do sense that your son is truly unhappy. You might want to consider that 2 full days might be a long time for him to be away from his primary caregiver. It sounds like this care situation is to offer relief to a MIL. Perhaps 2 half days would offer relief and not be so stressful to your son? Just thinking of your little one

Lots of kids do better when they are at school more days out of the week because it becomes more routine. I know some preschools that don't do 2-day schedules just for that reason. Maybe try 3 half days? One kid in my daughter's preschool cried every day for 3 months, then one day he was totally fine, so hang in there. a pediatrician


2yr old suddenly hates day care

May 2008

My 2 yr old son has been in his day care for 5 months now. It almost took 2 months for him to get used to it, but since then he was happy and didn't want to go home at the end of the day. But suddenly, it started about 2 weeks ago, he really hates to go to the day care and cries like end of the world every morning. We asked the teachers but they said he is okay during the day, but when we pick him up, usually he wanted to stay longer, now he is just running towards us and wants to go home. He also became very clingy so asks to hold him all the time. He seems happy when he is at home and eats well and physically healthy. We didn't really like our current day care anyway, so we are actually in the process of switching (he will start new day care starting next month), but we are really worried that what makes him suddenly hate his day care and turns him clingy. Is this normal behavior in 2 yr old? or the feeling of transition again makes him anxious? Any advice will be sincerely appreciated. Thanks! -worried mom We just went through the exact same thing about a month and a half ago. Our daughter has been at the same daycare for more than a year, but all of a sudden, she was very upset and clingy. In her case, I'm pretty sure it was a combination of separation anxiety (which comes on strong around this age), a small change in routine (the sister of our daycare provider came to visit), and primarily, not feeling well (she was teething and also had a sinus-like infection). Once the sinus infection cleared up, everything went back to normal. Since her molars have come in, she's also been much happier in general.

It was a little mysterious at the time, because she was SO inconsolable with them yet when I kept her home with me she was happy and playful. Anyway, I think it's not uncommon at this age for developmental and hidden physical reasons, and if you have the flexibility to give a little extra love/attention, it will resolve itself. --drooling is a sure sign of teething

2 year old cries when I leave him at preschool

April 2008

My son, who turned two in March, started attending preschool twice a week on April 1. Prior to that, we visited the class several times where I stayed with him for the entire morning so that he could familiarize himself with the routine, the teachers and the other kids. Since officially starting, he didn't cry for the first two days when I left him, but cried later in the day during playground time and wanted to come inside. This is from a kid who is normally happy and outgoing and LOVES playing outside. Since then, he cries when I leave him at preschool - this morning off and on for at least 15 minutes (I was outside the door listening for as long as I could before I had to go) and refuses to even go outside. The teachers allow him to stay inside. My question is, is his behavior a normal part of the adjustment process, or should I be concerned that he's not ready or this is not the right preschool for him? Granted, it has only been a few weeks since he's started so I'm aware that I may just be jumping the gun in being overly concerned. I've talked about preschool to him in very positive terms and I make our goodbyes short and sweet - a hug and kiss, and a ''mama will be back to pick you up right after lunch''. His teachers haven't pointed out any red flags, during playground time or otherwise, and have a ''let's wait and see'' approach. Any advice about whether this adjustment is within the normal spectrum, as well as what, if anything, I could be doing differently to make this a more positive experience, is appreciated! Wants my kid to like preschool

Perhaps she's just too young for preschool. Not all kids are ready then, can you take her out and try again in 6 months, 1 year? wait a little

I think your son's reaction is totally normal and he just needs more time before he is completely comfortable there. My daughter, whose pre-school we LOVED and she LOVED, cried hard and loud at drop-off every day for 6 weeks when she started (at age 3). If you are comfortable with the school and have no concerns about its ''fit'' with your child, I think he just needs some more time to adjust. Even though 2 days a week is not much, it is almost harder than going every day, a scenario in which he would probably adjust more quickly. Liz O.

Is there a second pre-school you could take your son to? Then, he can have the choice of which pre-school he prefers to attend. If there is a problem at the current pre-school, employees might not be the most reliable source of information about a problem, since they obviously want to keep your business. Cautious

Our daughter also started in a preschool program when she had just turned two, and the transition took a couple of months. Only you know if this is the right time for your son, ultimately, and different things work for different kids. I.e. perhaps this is just not the right time for him? Or perhaps the place is not the right fit? Only you will know this. Our experience was that our daughter, who had been in a small in-home care environment 2 days/week for a year prior to starting in this much larger environment, and is a super ''social'' kid, took about two months to really settle into this new place. She would cry when we left, and a bit at nap time, for the first couple of weeks. This time was really hard on us all, especially because we had spent quite a bit of time there together when we were checking it out. It's really different when you leave, though, and also often the second week or two is harder as they know this is ''for real.'' We wondered daily if this was the right choice, especially if she was too young. I felt like I couldn't focus on work and like I was the one going through the transition (as parents, we are). The most important thing for me was feeling comfortable with the teachers there and having a clear sense of how they were caring for her and what her day was like. Is there a way you can meet with them or talk to them on the phone when your son is not around so you can have an in-depth conversation about it? You might feel reassured that how they are responding to your son's sadness works for him and for you, or you might get insight into something that you don't think is working. Can you call the teachers during the day to hear how he's doing? We did that a few times and it was just reassuring mostly. Our teachers encouraged us to have her there 3-4 days/week. It can be harder for kids to integrate into the place and the group dynamic if they are there two days, and we had experienced that with her prior care situation, where she never really integrated and always cried when we left her at home day care. I see that with her current group with kids who are there less frequently. So we ended up having her at preschool more than we had planned (or needed) during the transition so she could have consistency. Now we are with her a day or two/week, as her relationships are more solid, and she reintegrates fine. It could be that this is making it harder for him.

We also came to pick up our daughter and saw many a time that she was really engaged in what she was doing, and after a couple of weeks she didn't want to leave, would stall to show us things and generally started being much more comfortable there. She needed lots of close time with us, wanted to be held a lot more than usual when around us, and I made sure that every afternoon we had really good quality time together, mostly at home doing calm, soothing things (water play, reading, walks). We talked about preschool and often she would want to draw it (try crayons in the bath, we told many a story about it by drawing in the bath). At the same time, I felt that it was important to shield her from our own anxiety during the transition, so also didn't want to ''push'' the topic. It is a huge transition, no matter when a child goes through it. Trust your instinct, but know that it has been a bigger transition than this family ever anticipated, and our daughter, a few months in, is thriving more than we could have ever imagined. ... but it will (likely) get better


2.5 year old now doesn't want to go to daycare

Aug 2005

My 2-1/2 year old daughter has been attending the same Kindercare daycare center since she was 6-months old. Her slow- to-warm personality resulted in her taking awhile at first to adjust to the setting, but for the past 2 years or so, she has seemed happy and well-adjusted at her school, despite some teacher and student turn-overs. The problem is that starting in the past week, she has resisted going to the school, citing reasons of wanting to stay with mommmy/daddy. This results in a difficult struggle and battle every morning. I have asked her teachers about this behavior, and they report that they have not noticed any changes and that she seems just as happy as always when at school. This report is consistent with the fact that she seems fine at pick-up and happily reports on her day's activities. Could there be something going on with her developmentally, at school, at home, that we're missing? Is this just a phase that she'll, hopefully, outgrow soon? What's the best way to handle this in the meantime? Concerned parent

It's a phase, and your daughter will outgrow it. It is indeed developmental, and she may well go through a couple more phases like it (my son did one at daycare, and one at preschool, and he's outgrown both of them after a couple of months). As long as she's fine during school, when you pick her up, and in the evening, I wouldn't worry. It helps if you can believe, and project to your daughter, that you are doing the right thing. Be sympathetic and firm, tell her ''I know it's hard for mommy to leave in the morning, but I will come to pick you up (after nap or whenever), like I always do.'' And absolutely don't change your routine in response to her upset, or the behavior will last longer. Of course, she'd rather stay with you and daddy than anything else in the world -- but that isn't possible now, and it won't be when she's in school. Talking about it at times when she's calm can help. I found that saying things like ''Wouldn't it be nice if we could just go to the park together, every day?'' really seemed to help my son express how he felt. He still uses that expression to express wishes that he knows can't come true. With some kids (my son was one) books like ''The Kissing Hand'' help too. Karen


2.5 year old's rough transition to daycare

Sept 2004


My 2 1/2 year old son recently started attending a small-ish day care - about 12 kids ages 2-4. He is there from 8 to about 5, four days a week. His prior care was a nanny who looked after him along with his 10 mn old brother. She is a great nanny for infants, but he definitely started to need something more. The first week of day care went great, but after that, its been downhill. The drop offs kill me. He claims he doesnt want to go to ''school'' starting the moment he wakes up and realizes that is what he is doing that day. He clings to me when I drop him off, and 50% of the time he cries when I leave. The teacher says he is fine a minute or so after I leave, (and always leaves me a message at work about how things went after I left) he sleeps well there, and his dad says he always looks very happy and is playing with the other kids when he picks him up. To a certain extent, I expected a rough transition period; he is not a mellow kid. But its been about 5 weeks since he started and the drop offs are not getting better. How long should I give it before I can't chalk it up to a ''transition period''? anon

your situation describes mine exactly. my 2 1/2 year old daughter has been attending her new (and first) daycare since june, and yesterday was the first day in which she didn't cry when i dropped her off. it's taken four months! in the past few weeks when i pick her up, we talk about the drop-off from that morning. she tells me, ''i cried a little bit this morning, mama.'' i would then encourage her to try not to cry at all when i leave and to remind her that i will pick her up in the afternoon. on the day that she didn't cry for the first time, i told her daycare provider that my daughter was trying very hard not to cry this morning, right in front of my daughter, so that she could hear us supporting her. for my daughter, i've just had to accept that it's taken a long time for her to adjust. the daycare providers reassure me that she's happy very soon after i leave and that this behavior is common for kids who have been home for the first two years of their lives.

two other things that have helped: her father and i remind her the night before that she is going to ''school'' the next day, and we pick out her outfit before she goes to bed. also, at the daycare, we have a good-bye routine where one of the ''teachers'' carries her so that she can blow kisses to me through the window. i think most importantly, we've just had to give it time, and i've had to show that i was proud of her for the little progress she made each time. hang in there; it will get better! pamela


15-month-old cries a lot - is it unavoidable?

Oct 2003


We started our 15 months old at a daycare last week, for 3 hours a day. It's a group with 4 caregivers and 13 toddlers (of which at any given moment about 5-10 are present). It's been a mixed experience, and much more emotional on all sides than I had expected (even though I had received enough warnings...).

I keep hearing that the process of starting daycare is harder on the parents than on the children, and that it's all good for them in the long run. I would like to hear more about that. Obviously, we neither want to restrict her to a nest forever, nor would we like her to feel deserted.

Our daughter is very keen on getting out of the appartment in the morning to go to the daycare, and there are periods where she enjoys the other kids, the toys, the lunch etc. But there is a lot of crying, too. She bonded with one of the caregivers, and is often fine in her arms (where she cannot be 3 hours on a stretch). She usually runs into the building on her own, but once in the foyer of the daycare she prefers to walk around (older kids classrooms, bathroom etc.) rather than going into her classroom. This could be her desire to explore or her understanding that once in her classroom we will leave her...

To prepare her, we walked by the building with her and read picture books about daycare, talked about it a lot and spent time there with her. Then, we left her there increasing amount of time. We keep the bye ritual rather short and we tell her that we will come back.

We usually get along with our daughter very well, and there is hardly any crying in our lives, even so she already has a very strong will. Is daycare now a moment where we have to go through a period of crying, contrary to our usual practice? Is it really unavoidable, or is it much easier for them to separate at an older age or in differnt conditions? Will the child learn how to deal with separation, or is he/she just toughening up and learning that he/she is not supposed to show or even feel his/her sadness anymore? And, what are the signs to look for in the child to understand how he/she takes it?

I would love to hear any kind of experience of other parents, positive and negative ones, and any advice on how to help the kids adjusting and the parents to interpret and tolerate some amount of crying. How long did it take for your child to adjust? Or if your child didn't, I would also like to hear about that.

I found some advice in the archives, but it was mostly about 2+ year olds, which is already a quite different phase from the early toddlerhood (in particular because of the language development). Julia Juila

Your message about day care really hit home for me. My daughter is younger than yours (10 months) but we started in half-day care with Berkeley's infact toddler center about two months ago. It was a hard experience because she had just moved into a separation anxiety stage. Ideally I would have waited, but in this program, you start when school starts and the time is pretty inflexible. In any case, my daughter had a lot of ups and downs in the first 4 to 5 weeks. Some days she would be fairly happy all day, but others she would cry when we left and spend most of the day unhappy. She, too, would be fine in one of her teacher's arms, but as you noted they have three kids per teacher and she simply couldn't spend three or four hours in her arms. I was so traumatized by the experience -- my daughter also very rarely cries -- that I was seconds away from taking her out of day care, when all of a sudden she was fine. And we haven't had a bad day since. When we arrive at day care she starts waving excitedly, she loves her teachers, and she loves playing with the older kids. She still cries when we leave, but before I'm even out of the door she has stopped. She plays, eats and naps regularly, and my sense is that she is really happy.

When I was really struggling, the teachers suggested that it often takes kids 6 weeks to adjust. First, I had a hard time beliveing it would happen, and also six weeks is a really long time when you feel the anguish that I know you are experiencing. But, I'm really happy that I waited it out b/c I think this is the best experience I could have hoped for.

One thing that made it possible for me to wait it out was that my daughter seemed the same outside of the experience. In other words, she might have a hard time in the few hours at day care, but once with us she was happy, smiling, eating and sleeping regularly. It made me feel like it wasn't so stressful on her that it was getting into all other aspects of her life.

I hope that things get better for all of you and good luck! I know that it is not easy! Megan

Perhaps a good test on how your child is doing is to find out how she is 15 minutes and half an hour after you leave. Some kids do cry more than others at drop of time. Some kids do better with a long transition time at drop off, and some are much happier (although it may be harder on the parents) with a brief drop off transition. Then of course, it can varry day to day! Our kids generally did well if we brought them in to the room where they were to be (and didn't let them wander all over), got them engaged with a book or toy or person so that we weren't the focus, and then left. A big meaningful good bye was actually harder on them. As our kids got older, they could do the symbolic ''push us out the gate'' and feel like they had control over the situation. I know that each kid is different. One child we know who was in day care (like our kids) since infancy, none the less cried on and off for the first week of preschool, even 'though she knew the preschool environs quite well! Best of luck. If you child seems happy, I'd say stick with it. You'll get through it, too. anon mom

We've used some daycare since our kids were babies, as we have no little family around. I've seen our kids thrive on it, getting to play with other children and be loved by other adults. I remember feeling so guilty and worried at first, and now, as I look back (my kids are 3 and 5) I see a great deal of enrichment from the experiences. I think the main important aspect is that they are being loved and taken care of well. With that ingrediant, I see the childcare providers as an extended family. That's my opinion. Good luck. Irene

I am surprized to hear that you have come across information stating daycare for a child of 15 months is ''good for them in the long run'' All of the information and research I have come across (and in my own experience as a childcare provider) has stated just the opposite. It can be very traumatic for a young toddler. I know your child is only part-time but children in full time daycare from an early age tend to develope behavoral problems more readily than children who are not. A teacher friend of mine said that she can identify, on the first day of school, which children are in full-time daycare and those who are not.

If you must put your child into the care of another person before preschool age maybe hire a loving nany or babysitter who is willing to take your child to things like Gymboree, park playgrounds, & toddler/parent music classes so that she will have the benifit of interacting with other tots, but only have to relate with one adult caring for her. and she will have downtime at home. Some babies handle daycare better than others. There is nothing wrong with her crying. It is her way of venting her unease. It would seem appropriate to pay head to your childs distress. anon

I want to caution against comments like ''children in full time daycare from an early age tend to develope behavoral problems more readily than children who are not'' A)I am not sure the jury is out on this topic, and I feel uncomfortable suggesting such a correlation; and B) there are many reasons that children go into childcare early, and some of those reasons may have the result that it is better for the child than staying at home. A perfect nanny would be ideal for some, but for others, factors such as costs, legalities (paying cash vs. taxes) oversight of the nanny, etc. may make daycare a better option. defensively anonymous

In the previous newsletter, one person referred to her experience and alluded to research she had read that suggested that it's traumatic for kids to be in daycare at a young age, and that their behavior later is noticeably the worse for it later. I'll pipe in here to say that my observations show the opposite in many cases, and I'll allude to research I've read that supports the impact of group experience on positive behavior development. I know stay-at-home kids that behave well and behave badly, and I know daycare-early kids that behave well and behave badly. I don't think it's black and white, although the poster would have you believe it is. What is the quality of the daycare? What is the personality of the child? What is the consistency of the parenting? And, for goodness' sake, can we stop guilt-tripping women who must or who wish to work? If there are studies, cite them. We all know that we can find studies with findings to support our opinions. How reputable was the study? Was there an agenda behind the research? People need to be able to judge these things. Otherwise, notice that you're expressing a judgmental opinion and ask yourself if it's appropriate to present it as something that's carved in stone. a mom with a daycare child whose behavior is wonderful

Er, I don't know about the story that early daycare causes behavioral problems. Are you sure about that? Certainly has not been my experience. My oldest started fulltime daycare at 6 months and cried, cried, cried every single morning when I dropped him off till he was about 2 and a half. He was just that kind of kid. (He also had terrible colic for the first 4 months.) After 5-10 minutes he was fine, but those first few minutes were hell! Now he is 21 and I guarantee you, you'd NEVER guess this self-assured, confident, happy young man had such a hard time in daycare. Never had any behavior problems, at least not so far! His younger brother is the one who gave me headaches about behavior, and that one was home with mom till he went to preschool. Thinking about 21 years' worth of watching their friends grow up, there's no way early daycare is a predictor of bad behavior later, or any other kind of behavior for that matter. Of all their friends, the kid that proved most troublesome later on had a stay-at-home mom (who in my BIASED opinion did not have very good parenting skills! Perhaps daycare would have had a beneficial effect! Who knows?) I think if you talk to parents of older kids, most of them will tell you that daycare vs. no daycare just does not have much to do with later behavior. They would not be able to tell you which kids had daycare and which didn't, just going on their behavior. There are plenty of other things to feel guilty about as you muddle your way though parenting so don't worry about this one! G

I didn't see this mentioned in the other responses: My daughter started daycare at 16 months and she is now 3.5 and in preschool. She cries only when I drop her off (and then for only about 2 minutes). If dad, a friend, or another relative drops her off she is fine. It also depends on which teacher is there to greet her, with some she cries and with others not. It is not due to unease, but due to from whom she can get sympathy and attention (which I completely understand and sympathsize with). Another factor is whether she has gotten a good night's sleep and eaten breakfast. LC

Sorry to beat a dead horse, but I wanted to weigh in. My 16 month old son has been in what I consider to be a top-flight daycare program since he was 3 months old. He is cared for by people who have studied early childhood development and who are committed to making every day one of discovery and adventure for him. He also gets plenty of affection and fresh air, and is surrounded by peers from whom he can learn. Occasionally, there are days when saying goodbye in the morning is difficult for him, but they are the rare exception, and I imagine the same could happen with a nanny hand-off as well. Another pro-daycare parent

Thanks & our experience

Two months after posting this question I want to thank everybody who answered. In the meantime, we witnessed the process of our daughter adjusting to daycare. I would like to share this experience with you and future parents reading the archives.

The first week was very difficult; the first day we left her there alone I got literally sick. After a few days she built an attachment with one of the teachers. After a few days she built an attachment with one of the teachers. In her arms she was fine, but whenever this particular teacher could not hold her for a little moment, she was in tears. While many people told me they would cry only as long as the parents are in sight, she did not stop that quickly. It was heartbreaking. We were full of doubts and constantly on the edge of giving up, even though all the teachers and the director of the daycare kept reinsuring us that everything goes just normal.

Two signs kept us on the path: 1. She behaved perfectly normal the rest of the time - no extra clinginess, no regression in any respect, no aggression, she actually seemed pretty happy. 2. She still wanted to go into the building every morning.

For another two weeks things were rather difficult. It did improve by little steps, though. Every day one little thing would get better. One day they said she liked the music, another day she liked the outdoor time.

One day she said ''hi!'' to everyone, another day it was ''bye''. Eventually her social behavior became more and more what we were used to from watching her around other children. At the same time, the way to daycare and even out of the house became a little more difficult - she anticipated what we were up to. One morning, she made clear she didn't want to go anywhere near the daycare, and, since she also had a cold, we decided to give in. We were worried that this would turn against us, that she would have learned she could change our plans permanently. Instead, the next day was easier than ever before.

After about three weeks the crying stopped. She still didn't seem to feel quite at home, but certainly comfortable, and she already had much more fun than sorrow. Still, after only three hours she was exhausted. She would sometimes fall asleep during lunch in a highchair, and for sure in the sling during the short way home. She would not eat her lunch at daycare, even though is usually is a very good eater. During these first three weeks we both observed her behaviour very attentively, and among us we hardly talked about anything but her dealing with daycare. It seemed like three months, and every day was different.

Now, after 2 months, things are entirely free of stress, she is less tired after we pick her up after lunch, and we consider increasing the hours. She didn't change fundamentally in any respect, but she learned a few things and she became again a little more social (she already was on the very social side within her age group). She now likes to direct actions when she is with us, such as getting us to form a circle holding hands and dance to music. Or sit in a row and read each of us his own book. She loves painting with watercolors, and asks to do that a dozen times at home every day.

I said in my original posting, that I didn't belief in letting young children cry as a useful, unavoidable or necessary part of learning processes (with the exception of short expressions of frustration). In the case of daycare, we did get where we wanted in a process that included periods of crying longer than we are used to, but I still disapprove of the crying part (while I am confident that the amount she had to do did not do serious damage). I see that as a serious drawback of starting with whatever caregiver following a schedule dictated by anyone else but the child.

The optimal process would happen on a child-driven time scale, like it could happen in a village setting with neighbors living in the child's view and walking distance, with older befriended children accompanying the child's gradual process of becoming independent while the parents are working at home, yard or nearby field. The very least we could do is to allow her as much as predictability and control over the situation as possible. Daily routines help, because after some time *she* becomes the one initiating them, for example: bye-bye kisses and hugs, packing the bag, putting on her hat. Allowing her to choose from a limited number of options helps her to feel respected, for example: what she wears (the shoes seem to be the most important), how she gets to the daycare (walking, slinging, stroller, babyseat on the bike - we went through all the options).

In daycare too, they established a routine what do to with her after bye-bye. First in arms, later in the chair (they let her choose which one) with a snack. A hint I got a little too late is that, prior to staying some time at the daycare *with* the child, that one should spend some time there *alone*. The idea being that most parents are slightly tense when visiting - and unavoidably still checking out - the daycare, and that the child feels that tension and adapts this attitude. Especially preverbal children are very sensitive to any emotions (unconciously) communicated to them by their parents.

Two other practical things. During the one or two weeks before we started daycare we often read a picture book about daycare together (''My First Day at School'' by Ruth Wickings and Erin B. Gathrid). We tried to teach her the meaning of ''Bye bye. I will come back'' by using that sentence at home and then leave the room and and stay out of her view for a short time. I also wanted to discuss the related topic - daycare versus nanny - the answers to my question branched off, but this has to wait for another week. Thanks again for your help and for your interest in the topic, Julia


17-month-old is crying a lot after a week at daycare

Sept 2002


My 17 month old child has had 5 half days at a family daycare. She's having a very hard time adjusting: crying alot, wanting to be held and carried. A few weeks prior to beginning, she developed separation anxiety but cheers up a few minutes after i leave her (with husband or grandparent). Not so at the daycare. We had a meeting where the providers suggested we institute various plans at home to help my child be more independent (less carrying, use words or pointing instead of crying, going to sleep alone,etc). In general, my toddler has enjoyed being carried, but also explores alone quite confidently and is generally intense. I know it's a hard adjustment, but i feel uneasy about changing my parenting style significantly in order for my child to fit in to the group. I have heard that group care can be really great for kids to start early on; how can i decide if this is the right time to push her to adjust, without inflicting too much trauma? anonymous

I have not been in your shoes, but I would first of all trust your instincts. I would not change my parenting style because the provider suggests you do and particularly not while the child is already making the big adjustment to daycare. Perhaps the transition needs to be more gradual. Perhaps there are comfort objects the child could bring with them for the day. Perhaps it is not the right setting for your child. You have probably considered all those possiblities. I definitely give my support for holding an 18th month a lot. We held my daughter a lot at her request. If they want to get down they let you know. Best of luck to you in navigating this transition. Karen

My son at 18 months transitioned to a family daycare with 5 other children, after being in a situation with one other baby cared for at their home by the mom. He had a hard time adjusting to the one-other-baby situation, and after a year still occasionally cried when I left him in the morning. With the larger daycare, he was SO unhappy, and cried all the way over in the car every morning. He was always a very sensitive and clingy baby. Though I knew he was fine, it really broke my heart to leave him there, but I didn't have any choice and it was the best situation I could afford. The crying continued for 4 months, every day. Finally I was able to figure out how to have a relative take care of him in our home, and he was a happy baby again. This was a terrible ordeal at the time, and I anguished a lot over it. But I did learn from it. I learned that he was just THAT kind of baby, not really suited to a daycare situation, and there was very little I could do about that other than to change the day care. My second child had no such issues. So don't beat yourself up about changing your parenting style - it probably will not change your child! My poor sensitive baby survived daycare, preschool, grammar school, and is in college now and has many friends and no problems at all that I can see in adjusting to new situations. So it only lasted for the first few years! I still feel guilty every time I think about it, but he doesn't even remember ever being in daycare. So if you do stick with your current situation, don't anguish over it too much. If she is safe and the daycare person is kind, she will come out OK. But I do think that YOU would be happier with a daycare person who is a little more sympathetic! A Mom

Please trust your instincts and find a day care situation that is a better fit for your child. as soon as possible. From what you say, your provider is expecting behavior from your child that is not appropriate for her age. Karen

Hi, For what it's worth: 1. Is there any way to start with less days and increase to 4 or 5 days if that is what you really need/want? 2. I think I'd also feel strongly against being asked to change my parenting style to suit a daycare. I guess I'd wonder why they don't want to hold your daughter for awhile longer- unless they have other kids that need holding too. Then, maybe this isn't the place for you. 3. What about a nanny share situation with an older child? Then your child would have more individual attention and being held wouldn't be such a big deal. Our daughter went to preschool 2 mornings starting at age 2. Up until then she had a nanny all to herself for about 20 hours a week while I worked. She cried for about 10-15 minutes the 1st day (and they held her) and a little less the following days and then seemed to really get attached to her teachers. That helped the transition and it really seemed good for her but all kids are different!! good luck LSG

You're the parent here, you hired them, and they should not be telling you how to parent your child so as to make things easier for them -- quite the contrary; their job is to make things easier for *you*. As for refusing to hold and carry a toddler and making him or her go to sleep alone, it's *highly* unlikely to result in a more independent child -- quite the contrary. (Don't you cling more tightly to something that's always in danger of being taken away?) I suspect you need a different daycare arrangement, not a different parenting style. Hire a nanny or find a family daycare provider who is responsive to you and your child, not one who tries to make you and your child fit their convenient mold. It's normal to have a bit of a rough adjustment period, but if the transition doesn't go smoothly, the daycare should be searching for ways *they* can change to help the child, not telling you how *you* should change. Holly

From my experience (I have a 17-month old who just joined family daycare for two hours per day after being cared for by her uncle and granny), I would change her daycare. If she's not happy, she may need more attention that she can't get where she is now. My daughter is happy and smiling when I pick her up from daycare. She cried a little when she was dropped off the first few days, but now she's comfortable and happy. There are generally no more than two other children at her daycare. The woman who takes care of her reminds me of my grandmother and I felt close to her instantly. If you and your baby don't feel completly comfortable in a few days, I say find another situation. It is not unreasonable to remove her, and there are plenty of listings in the Childcare Digest to try. You can find a good nanny share or family daycare situation that isn't costly where your baby will thrive. Christina

I sympathize! I was so unsure what to do when my now 16 month old son was taking an inordinately long time (several months) to adjust to his daycare. We finally hit upon the idea of my staying with him and helping the caretakers with the other children for the first several days of the week and leaving him the last two days. That did the trick. Within two weeks, he was fine. I don't have to stay anymore, now just he waves as I leave (''don't let the door hit you on the way out''). He is learning so much, so fast, and is so clearly having a ball, that it makes me very glad I persevered.

Although I'm sure that the caretakers at your daycare have good intentions, I wouldn't have wanted to change my (loosely) attachment-parenting style, especially at a time he was already upset.

It was hard for the people taking care of my son, but they were supportive. They just told me that it was hard for my son, and they held him more and gave him more attention. They didn't suggest that I should hold him less or sleep alone, etc. Perhaps they were more patient because we are in a daycare co-op with only 2.5 children per adult - (5 kids at a time, the same nanny 5 days a week working with a different parent each day).

If it doesn't work out with your current daycare, and you have the time, you may want to consider setting up a co-op or joining one through Bananas or here or the Neighborhood Parents Network. Good luck! mombo

I felt compelled to respond to your question. You don't say whether you need to have your child in care so that you can work (or have a little sanity time, or whatever). If you do need her to be there, you can skip my response, but I thought that your question dealt with ''whether'' childcare, not ''which''.

The only thing I want to say is, from the perspective of a mother of a 4 year old, and a 5 year old who just started kindergarten: if you can keep her home and you want to keep her home, I bet you won't be sorry if you do. I felt pressure with my first to ''get him socialized'' and provide him with some experiences with his peers, away from me, etc. In retrospect, I don't think it mattered at all for his development whether I had urged him toward independence or not. I now think that such a youngster will be no worse off for being closely dependent on his/her mother for a few years. As my eighty-year-old aunt told me years ago: they're completely yours for such a short time -- soon you'll have to share them with the world, and you'll never get to have this time back.

Once again, if I mis-read your question and you're really asking if this particular child care situation is the right one for you ... sorry! and nevermind! anonymous

Tearful Arrival at Daycare

I am posting this at the request of a desparing relative. A relative recently re-entered the job market and had to put their son in childcare 4 hrs/day. The mother is very upset because the boy cries every day that he doesn't want to go, the people aren't nice, kids bother him, etc. Nevertheless, once there he usually brightens up and runs off to get involved with the other children, though sometimes I'm told he will stand there with tears running down his face till the mother leaves. We've (family) all seen the boy and he doesn't have any visible signs of abuse, nor does he speak of improper things being done (other than some kid hit him or . . .). But the family is pained to see their son go through this daily. So, what experience(s) or advise can you provide for me to pass on? I've seen how children act/look like when their parents are dropping them off (anything from crying to glee at seeing other children) but I don't know what the parent(s) may have gone through prior to arriving at the childcare location. Jonathan

My outgoing daughter just turned two years old and this is her third week in a full-time child care center ever. She has not had much separation anxiety since she was born. I prepared for some crying before she started daycare. However, the first two days in her new day care, she did not even notice my leaving her in the morning and when I went to pick her up in the afternoon, she did not want to leave. Things started to change from the third day on. She started to show some unhappiness for my leaving her there and was thrilled to see me in the afternoon. The unwillingness to go to day care progressed to whining or crying in the morning before we walk to the car. The situation improved somewhat lately resulting probably from my continuous coaching/persuading/coercing. Therefore, I was able to forestall any crying and sneak out in the morning. According to the teachers, she is doing well after I leave. After I pick her up, however, she continues to be in a bad mood for an hour to two (making dinner time difficult), which is very different from her usual self.

I wonder whether her unwillingness/bad mood after day care has anything to do with the quality of the day care or the way she is treated. I have not been able to observe her during the day because I am afraid she will start to cry if she sees me there and does not want me to leave. From the short-time observation during drop-off and pick-up and my interaction with the teachers, the daycare seems to be a good one.

All kids cry when their parent's leave, but quickly adjust and get on with having fun. I hear this all the time and then when the parents come to pick up at the end of the day, they can't get their child to leave. A good childcare will reassure the parents that the child is fine. I know it's difficult, though, to leave your crying child. Toby

My technique, learned from a friend in Philly, was to tell the child at the appropriate time (whether that's right away, after a book, after 2 minutes of duplo, etc.) to push mommy out the door. In psycho-speak, this empowers the child to make the break himself/herself. In mommy-speak, the kids have so much fun doing this, you leave them with a giggle. Both my kids did this, and it took about 3 days to get it painlessly as part of our ritual. Note - when my son did it, he barely touched me, but I would leap out the door. My daughter would push me hard enough that I didn't have to fake it. So much for the aggressive boy/passive girl stereotype! Wendy

Hi, as a former toddler class and 4-yr-old class teacher, (and as the parent of a toddler) I can say that it's *totally* normal for kids to cry like the world is going to end, until the parent finally leaves (and a little bit afterwards, like 5-10 minutes, maybe 20 for a persistent one). It often helps to have a quick and participatory good-bye session (Mommy is leaving now. Will you wave to me from the window there? Can you blow me a kiss from the window?) Sometimes, it's just that the kid doesn't like transitions. Other times, the kid picks up on the parent feeling insecure, and feels like if mommy is nervous about this, maybe it's something that I should be nervous about too. There are two things I'd look for. First, what is the kid like at the *end* of the school day? If they're reasonably happy (or if they don't want to leave school), they're fine. If they're falling apart, I'd look further into what's going on. If they consistently, and *spontaneously* say they hate school at the *end* of the day (or after arriving home), there could be a problem. If they are doing that, you might ask the teacher if there have been any particular incidents of other kids treating yours badly. Or if there is a hidden observation gallery where you can watch the classroom without the kids being able to see you, you can observe your kid. (It doesn't count though if the parent keeps asking with a concerned look, How was school today? Do you still hate school? Kids are better at responding to the underlying worry than to the literal question.) Second, if the kid has started to be self-destructive in other contexts right around when they started school, that would also be something to worry about. It may have to do with school, or it may have to do with other family issues. Good luck. Starting school/daycare is a big transition for child and parent alike. Joyce

In Sept. we put our 2 year 9 month old in childcare 3 mornings a week at Duck's Nest in Berkeley. Well.....he cried every morning for 5 weeks....Mama, don't leave me, Please take me home, I need you, and a host of other heart wrenching one liners. I found myself standing outside of the gate wiping away my own tears while other experience parents assured me he was o.k. A few things kept us convinced that it was the right move.....Several parents told me that the minute I left the crying stopped; the staff always held and comforted him until the tears subsided; the teacher suggested we go to 4 days instead of 3 so that he would be there more days than he was at home...for transition purposes and most importantly each day when I picked him up he was fine. Needless to say it is now Feb. and each day he asked, Mama, is it a school day....can we go. My suggestion to the parents is to give it more time and ask for the help of the staff and other parents. We LOVE DUCK'S NEST for their patience and warmth. Good Luck..Diana