Baby Unhappy at Daycare

Archived Q&A and Reviews


4-month-old not adapting well to daycare

Jan 2007

I hope some experienced moms who've balanced research and a baby will have some advice. My little one is now 4 1/2 months old and I really need to get some writing time to finish my PhD (humanities). My husband is also a grad student, so our time has been very flexible, which is a blessing. We've traveled overseas twice already with the baby, he's really alert for his age, and has always been very ''robust'' in getting me and my husband involved with him - so while perhaps not a ''high needs'' child, he certainly likes one-on-one attention! He's been at daycare in the mornings from 9-1 at a small center with a great infant room (2 constant caregivers and a total of 6 little ones) for nearly 2 weeks now, but doesn't seem to be adapting. He is full of smiles at home and will happily go to other people when I'm around, but at the daycare, they say he often closes his eyes, won't look at the teachers, screams. I've witnessed the sorry scene myself. I often come at 10:15 am to breastfeed him and then he'll look around and smile, but whenever I'm not there, he's often sobbing and even refuses my milk in a bottle. (My husband often gives him a bottle at home, so that can't be the issue.) One of the other babies (9-months old) is having separation anxiety and cries a lot also, so that adds to my child's stress. He's also caught a cold since starting there. I like the center - clean, gentle music, lovely people - but what can I do to help him to adapt? The teachers, while experienced and patient thus far, also seem to be getting frustrated. I end up being so worried about the situation myself that I can't really use the worktime well - plus, I've asked the staff to call me if he's crying inconsolably so I can go there, and that happens quite often.

Does anyone have thoughts about how to help him?!! I'm so torn - almost ready to give up writing for a while, but I want to finish my degree. Would a nanny at home be better for him? For me personally, it's not the solution I prefer since we have a small 2-room apartment and he sleeps in our bedroom, and I also like the oversight and safety a center provides. However, since I am distressed that daycare seems so hard for him, I have interviewed a few nanny-candidates, and have some possibilities that I thought I might try out this week in the afternoons after daycare. I know that I'll lose my coveted spot at the center if I take him out. Maybe some undergraduate students who could be mommy's helpers while I work in another room at home? My worry there is that since undergrads can't commit to too many hours a week, I'd have to have a few different people and that could be unsettling to him. Please help with any advice if you can! Noah's mom/ PhD candidate

We went through the same thing with our son when I went back to work and he was there most of the day. He would cry A LOT and this went on for several weeks. Then it passed and he learned that I would always come to pick him up and he became attached to the providers. I had to stick it out and now the whole ordeal is a traumatic memory for me and he has no recollection of it. He is four now and still going to the same daycare/pre- school and LOVES it. He sometimes gets upset when I come to pick him up as he wants to stay and play more with his friends and teachers. So my advice is that if you are comfortable w/ the daycare and feel that your child is getting held and comforted, then stick it out. anon

My son was easily tired and overwhelmed at that age. Is your child getting enough naptime? Remember, two hours of consciousness is enough at that age. Otherwise, you may like to get a nanny for the rest of the year to ensure adequate rest. Good luck. mom of a sensitive baby

Hi, I feel bad for the position you're in regarding your 4 month old not adapting to daycare. My strong, albeit, personal opinion, is to bring your baby home with you and get a nanny. And not a rotating cast of nannies, but a nanny that can absolutely be there on a regular basis. There are ALWAYS listings for people available on this Network. SOme babies your child's age seem to do fine, but your child is telling you he's NOT ok and you'll just never get this time back. You wouldn't want to have any regrets in the future. I know dragging your PhD out is not ideal, but can it wait 6 months? Until your baby has grown more secure and able to adapt? Good luck! namastesf

Hi, I had a very similar situation when my baby boy was 3.5 months old. He was the happiest baby at home, but when I droped him off at a nanny share arrangement he acted just like you described your baby. He would scream inconsolably for a long time and not drink much of his bottle. I almost quit my job. After two weeks of not much improvement I changed my child care situation. He is now at home with his grandfather while I work almost at a full time capacity. He is back to his self, happy and easy. I think the environment is a factor and the one on one attention of major importance. Please consider a babysitter at home if you can. Best of luck! Carolina

It doesn't seem to me like having a care provider in your home would work at all. He wants you or dad, not just to be home. Personally I wouldn't be able to work in that situation, especially in something that requires uninterrupted thought. :) My thought is that the 9-1 was just too long and started too abruptly. How about cutting back the time and gradually increasing it as he the first day, just leave him 15 minutes. If he does ok, in a few days, try 25 minutes...and gradually build up as he bonds with the caregivers and builds up trust. Keep paying the full fare if you have to as he builds up; it would be a shame to have to halt your degree now. I absolutely think it is counterproductive to go mid-morning and nurse him. That is just making him handle more transitions. So I would think about cutting that out. If he never responds then take the message that he really needs to be with you, and love the heck out of him at home this first year. But you do have to listen to what he is telling you, and it sounds like you are. Hope this helps and hope it works out for you. anon

Dear Noah's Mom, I am also a Ph.D. candidate who had a 4-month-old baby who took a while to get used to daycare. He'd cry and cry, and I'd leave and cry... Luckily, I became very good friends with another mother, whose daughter was 9 months at the time (like Noah's classmate, in the midst of separation anxiety). Just when one of us was ready to give up and pull her kid out, the other one would be feeling positively about the daycare experience, and would convince the other that it was just a matter of time and getting used to. So we teeter-tottered like this for the adjustment period, and all worked out quite well in fairly short order. It was really a blessing to have another parent to lean on and compare notes with at this point in our lives. We're now great friends, and both kids adjusted very well to being in daycare. I now have a second child who's had the same caregivers my son had, and so I've had an ongoing relationship with them. They have gotten to know both of my children very well, and we can laugh now at those early days when my son would howl through the morning. It will pass, it will.

While this is a very hard moment in time, it is a moment. Noah will adjust in time. This isn't to say that his adjustment will be quick and full (my son still cries sometimes when he says goodbye to me as he goes to school--one that he likes very much, by the way--and he's three now), but it will certainly be smoother. It's only been two weeks, remember. Stay at drop-off and pick him up early for a while, if that helps him. And you. Often, I've thought that there's something to be said for not staying around too much, though I think this depends on the child and parent in question.

I think you're right about not giving up your coveted daycare spot. It will get better, and you'll be able to take full advantage of dissertation-writing time, which is really at a premium for a student parent. Student assistants in your home after daycare sounds like a great idea. You'll be able to work, and your son can spend time with a person he'll get to know, both at daycare and at home. I've found the UC Daycare SA's, for example (I'm not sure whether you're in UC Daycare), to be consistently warm, devoted, fun and highly capable people. You say you like the caregivers at your center. Just bear in mind that, if you are a UC student, you do have a choice of a few different sites (ITC, the new Haste St. Center--great-- Clark Kerr) where they have infant rooms and toddler rooms. Check out the others if your current situation doesn't seem right. Been there, and it will pass

11-month-old unhappy after first week

Sept 2006

My 11-month-old daughter started daycare, 2 days per week, in a family childcare home last week. I'm feeling conflicted about her experience there, and am not sure if I'm freaking out unnecessarily or if it's just not a good choice for her and for us. Overall, I'm satisfied with the childcare providers (it's a husband and wife team), but I'm just worried that my daughter isn't happy there. Perhaps this was a mistake, but I went by on my lunch break today and she just seemed clingy, and weepy, and unhappy. Was it because I was there? Was it because this is still so new to her? She's our only child (so far), and until now, hasn't had a lot of exposure to other kids. She's fascinated by other little kids, but I'm wondering if hanging around 6 loud, rambunctious two- and three-year-olds all day is just too much for her. At the end of a day of daycare, she comes home kind of wired and keyed and wild-eyed. So, to get to my point, how long do I give her before I take her out of daycare and try to find some other solution? How long does it take a typical baby to adjust? Is this normal? Today was her the fourth day. (She goes all day on Thursdays and Fridays.) First Time Mom Freaking Out

I can't speak to whether the day care situation is right for your daughter, but I wanted to share that when my son started going to a nanny share 2 days/week at age 14 months, he cried every single time I left him there for almost a month - he was always fine by the time we picked him up, but the leaving was hard. I know it's scary when you're a first-time mom leaving your kid for the first time, but sometimes it really does just take them that long to adjust, especially when they're only going 1-2 days/week. I'd give it at least a month before making a final decision. Also, ask the care providers how she is when you're not there - in my experience, it's always been good/comforting news Hang in there

For what it's worth -- I have a daughter in an at-home daycare, around the same # of kids/ages as your daycare. My daughter (she's 10 months) is there two days a week, about 8 hours. I too notice that she's extremely tired at the end of the day. My son (he was about six months when he started there) was exactly the same at that age... I remember him coming home and being tired yet exhilarated. As he got older, it seemed like he came home ''normal'' and the crankiness was a nonissue. He came to absolutely love the place and the other kids. I guess ideally, if possible you would shorten her day. Given a choice, that's what I would do for her at this age. But I'm a big believer in daycare, esp. the family type, because I've seen how much son has grown to love it, and how it's fostered his independence.

He's having a much easier time adjusting to preschool than his friends who are home all the time with their moms. Honest! I think daycare is good for them, but if you can shorten her days I would do that. Later on, as she ages, esp. when she's down to just one nap like all the other kids, she will be able to handle all day. Oh, and my daugher cries when I come to pick her up too, no matter what time -- she starts the second I get there -- I attribute it to her stimulation level, not to her being unhappy there -- because my son was that way, too daycare believer

I recently started my 18 month old at day care 2 days a week. She too is clingy if sees us midday (we have to administer tylenol for teething, they won't). She is also wildeyed, exhausted, and keyed-up at day's end. She been going about 6 week snow and it's much better. a midday visit is still hard and if an end-of-day diaper change is warranted after i arrive, she throws a fit (normally changes are non-events). So I say give has a bit more time to take in this brave new world. He reactions sound ''normal'' from the mom of a 18 month old now it's sleepy eyed!

Sounds to me like your baby is simply adjusting. Two days is usually the minimum day care providers ask that you put a child in, so perhaps shes should go on a third day if possible. Also, around 11 months is when they experience separation anxiety. I do think your showing up at lunch probably got her riled up as well.

I recommend you give it time and don't make a big deal about it or let her know it upsets you. Usually, when our son did this, he would be fine once we left. Change is hard for anyone, including babies so you need to let her get used to her new providers.

Our son thrived in daycare. He started at 6 months, before separation anxiety kicked in, but around a year, he started getting clingy with me when I'd drop him off. Eventually, he got over it to where we'd drop him off and would barely get a ''see ya.'' I think the socialization is good for kids and will help them with the next step: preschool. Our son just started preschool and he's going through some emotional transition time as well. It's normal and they do get past it.

Good luck. anon

I think that it is pretty normal for any mom to be extremely cautious and weary about sending their child for the first time away to daycare. I certainly was!

My daughter went to a new daycare (3 days/week) when she was 14 months old and after 6 weeks I took her out. She cried every day when I left and when I came to pick her up, she wanted to leave immediately. I think that she just didn't like it. I found another daycare that seemed much more friendly and easy- going and I never had a problem - EVER! She may have cried once or twice that first week, but soon my problem became dragging her away from there.

My son started going to daycare when he was 11 months old and unfortunately a lot of kids go through a clingy period around that age. It's very normal and I was aware of it. I hated the timing of me putting him in daycare, but I didn't have a choice. After 3 weeks the daycare provider asked me to find another solution for him, because he cried a lot, but was happy when she held him. She had other (small) children, so she wasn't able to hold him constantly. I found a nanny and used her for a year. That worked out great. When he was almost 2 yrs old, he really started becoming interested in playing with other kids (or at least around them) and I went back to that original daycare and he has been going there now for the past year and absolutely loves it. I think that you probably should give your daughter a chance to adjust at this daycare, because it is a huge adjustment and she may also be going through that clingy stage, like my son did.

It's normal and they get over it. I would give this daycare at least a couple of weeks before I would look at other options. And in the meantime you should really use your own judgement and the fact that you know your child better than anyone else. Your daughter can't explain to you what is going on, so you need to look at her indicators and be sensitive. But like I said; give your daughter a chance first, because it is hard to bounce her around from one daycare to another. This one may be great, but you both need some time to adjust first. Good luck! JOJ

I hate to say this, but 4 days is not enough time for anyone to adjust to anything. Especially not for an 11-month-old to adjust to something that happens only twice a week. There are several things to consider. First, a caregiver I know and very much trust (she took marvelous, wonderful care of my son for two years) would not take kids for less than three days a week, saying that it simply was unfair to them and didn't allow the daycare to become part of their normal routine. Of course, this is only her opinion, and yours may be different. Nevertheless, if there are 5 days in between times at the daycare, it is going to be quite awhile before this becomes routine for your child. Second, it can take 6 weeks or longer for things to feel normal, even for older people (like myself!). It took my son, when he was 3, almost 2 months to become completely comfortable at a preschool where he ultimately thrived. Third, kids often do come home quite tired (which can look more like wired than sleepy) from a daycare situation. This, I'm afraid, is probably normal.

Finally, are you completely comfortable, or do you have doubts? If you do, your child may be feeling them. You need to fully believe that this is the right thing for her, and convey this to her when you drop off, visit, and pick up, in order to help her to adjust as quickly as possible. Karen

my son took 4 or 6 weeks to seem not miserable at his dyacare and longer to seem happy. he went one day a week at that time. he's naturally slow-to-warm-up. One thing I notice is that if I watch him at day care before he sees me, he's fine but as soon as he sees me he gets all emotional. this got less so with time but he still sometimes is instantly clingy when he sees me and is always ready to go home. (my daughter could stay and play forever). He's been there for almost a year now and she just started!

I would say give it some time but if you do end up looking for a different solution, try to fing one with at least one child the same age as your baby. That might help. anon

6-month-old clingy and fussy at daycare

I just started my almost 6 mo old son in a small family day care. He started last week. Mon and Tues were transition days where I stayed for a while and left him for a few hours. Both days he seemed to do pretty well. The rest of the week, he was there full time. There are 2 toddlers and one other infant at the day care. The provider has 2 school age sons who return to school next week. I am sure that the environment is very new and highly stimulating to our son. Still, after some initial trouble, he seems to take his usual naps and eats very well for the provider. While he is too young for the separation anxiety issues (like crying when left) discussed on your web page: starting.html he is having trouble adjusting. He has been quite fussy. He is not longer content to sit and play with toys or roll around on the floor, seeing what he can get into. Instead, he will cry and fuss after a few minutes. When the day care provider picks him up and cuddles him, he stops. I think this results in the provider having to hold him quite often during the day. Previously, he would squirm after being held a while, wanting to be off to better things. How long will it take for him to start feeling comfortable in his new environment? I want him to feel secure enough to be confident and outgoing. Maybe he just isn't bonding well with the provider. I should mention that the other children at the day care are part-timers or a few days a week. I am wondering if the provider feels she has bitten off more than she can chew. This is extremely difficult for me - how could _anyone_ not love my precious baby to pieces?!?! I am starting to consider other arrangements, including part time afternoon day care, where I would stay home with my son in the morning, drop him off at the day care for the afternoon, and have my husband pick him up after he is done with work. I would then work afternoons and evenings. Has anyone had any experience with this arrangement? How did it affect your relationship with your significant other? While I would prefer regular working hours, the happiness of my son is most important to me.

You wrote that your son is eating well and napping well at the day care, and enjoys being held by the provider. Sounds good! It sounds as if he *is* bonding with her, if he likes her to hold him--I would worry about bonding if he *didn't* like to be held by her. I would predict that after some more transition time--on the order of several weeks--he will get back to his exploratory ways. If not, then at that point it may be time to start worrying. BTW, my daughter was very well aware of when she was being cared for by someone other than me when she was that age, so while some might not call it official separation anxiety, I would very much imagine that your son is reacting in some way to your new absence and/or his new surrounding. If you're worried that your provider is over-committed, of course asking her might be the best way to find out. But she may need some time too to get into a rhythm with your son, particularly as her kids are getting ready to get back to school, i.e. a transition time for her family too. I would propose that if you feel that your son is being well cared for, and is not freaking out about your absence, let it ride for a few weeks, see how it goes once the provider's kids are back at achool, and take stock again then. Anyway, that's my $.02.