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The Daycare Wind Down

You've had a long day at work, and you're frazzled. Chances are, so is your child, if he spends hours in daycare. Ways to help you both wind down and make the rest of the evening easier:

ALLOW PLENTY OF TIME FOR LEAVING

"Rushing in and out of the center abruptly will throw a child's sense of control off-kilter," says Rosemary Jordano, founder of Boston-based ChildrenFirst Inc., which operates corporate backup childcare centers.

To avoid temper tantrums, sit down with your child for a few minutes and become part of whatever he's doing, whether chatting with a caregiver or playing with blocks. Then, give him a few minutes to say his goodbyes, and if he asks to bring home a favorite teddy bear or doll that he keeps at the center, let him. "It will make for a smoother transition," says Jordano.

TURN THE COMMUTE INTO A FUN RITUAL

"The trip home is an opportunity to talk," says Ellen Lubell, spokesperson for the Child Care Action Campaign, a New York-based nonprofit advocacy group. "Take advantage of it." When her 6-year-old daughter was in nursery school, Lubell took leisurely walks home with her, letting her look in store windows, snack on a bagel, and chatter away about her day.

Childcare centers often keep a log of kids' activities; use it to jump-start conversations. But if your little one isn't in a talkative mood, don't grill her. "You'll only get one-word answers," says Jacalyn Shafer, M.D., a New York City pediatrician and mother of a 4-year-old girl. Instead, talk about what you did that day or what you'll do together at home; if you're driving, play one of her favorite music tapes. And always bring a snack with you  -- it will help take the edge off hunger and crankiness.

AT HOME, DEVELOP SIDE-BY-SIDE ROUTINES TO RELAX

Lubell reads through her mail, giving her daughter the glossy brochures and junk mail to look at. While preparing dinner, have your youngster sit on the kitchen floor, drawing in a coloring book. Two- and three-year-olds can help with such simple chores as emptying their lunch box. Avoid talking on the phone too much, or planting your kid in front of the TV for long stretches, so you can make the most of those few precious hours before bed.

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