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Ask Dr. Sears: Weaning From a Caregiver

Q. My 18-month-old daughter, 22-month-old little sister, and 6-month-old son have all been cared for at home by a nanny since they were about 3-months-old. Now our nanny has decided to find a "real job." We found a preschool/daycare for them down the street from our home. My daughter enjoys playing with other children her age, but her little sister has some trouble with it --especially the hitting and biting. How will they be able to handle the change? How can we, as parents, make it easier for them to adjust to this new adventure?

During the first two years, infants and toddlers form strong attachments to all their primary caregivers, including the nanny. And the closer the relationship and familiarity with the nanny, the more difficult the change may be. The main difference is they were used to one consistent substitute caregiver and now they will have multiple subs at a preschool. The good news is your children will be going to the same preschool. So at least they'll have the familiarity of each other to help them ease into the change. Here are some things you might do to help make this transition easier on everyone:

Get the preschool providers involved. If there were certain caregiving traits your nanny did and your children enjoyed, ask the nanny to write them down. You can present these and your own suggestions to the preschool caregivers as a "what works" list. Continuing these familiar practices while learning new ones makes the change of caregivers less dramatic for children.

Consider part-time nanny and part-time preschool. If your nanny has not yet left, see if she might be willing to stay on part-time for a while and have the children go to preschool the rest of the time.

Stay with them at preschool. As they're getting used to the new setting, hang around for the first hour or so, if possible. This will be especially helpful for your youngest infant, who may periodically check in you for an okay signal while she flits from one play activity to another.

Hide your anxiety. Mothers act as mirrors. If you're anxious about this new arrangement, your children are going to pick up on it. When interviewing preschool caregivers, keep your radar on and continually ask yourself: "Are these the persons I want caring for my children while I'm away?" Make sure you have found substitute caregivers that you are happy with and then try to convey this good attitude to your children. When you drop them off, give them signals that you're happy to be there -- even though inside you may feel that it's very hard to let them go.

Increase your connection to them. On nights and non-working days spend more touch time with your children. Spend more playtime with them, prolonged bedtime rituals, and perhaps even let them sleep on futons or toddler-beds in your bedroom for a couple weeks. Nighttime separation anxiety usually intensifies following a change of familiar caregivers.