Having a child that is happy and settled is the goal for any parent who is using early childhood education, but sometimes, unfortunately, that is not the reality.
Many children settle into an early childhood education centre, home-based service or other care fairly easily, but some take longer and some may never settle properly.
It is important that parents take time to assess whether their children are happy at the service they have chosen.
Signs that your child is settled in early childhood education
- Your child is excited about or looks forward to going to ECE and is happy to go through their morning routine getting ready to leave the house / flat / apartment.
- Your child is eager to get involved when arriving at the centre and happy for you to leave.
- Your child is pleased to see you at pick up time, but is also engaged and happy to keep playing even though it is time to go home.
- Your child talks happily about what they do at their ECE service, if they are old enough to communicate this, or maybe tries to recreate their experiences at home.
- Your child seems to have formed an attachment to one or more staff members and is happy to see them.
Signs that your child is unhappy in the ECE service
- Your child is uncooperative or tries to stall in the mornings when it is time to get ready to leave for ECE. For example, they may take a long time over eating breakfast or refuse to get dressed.
- Your child’s behaviour towards you changes. If your child is unhappy at their daycare, their behaviour can become extreme. You might find they become very clingy, either not wanting you to leave them at the service, or becoming clingier at home. On the other hand, you may find they begin to ignore you. If a child is not happy at being left at a centre, they may be annoyed with you for leaving them and as a result ignore you when you return to pick them up.
- Your child’s behaviour changes or regresses in other ways. They may begin wetting when they were previously toilet trained, or they may have trouble sleeping or begin having more tantrums. You may also notice they start relying more on a comforter of some kind such as a blanket or special toy.
How can you tell if your child is settled at an ECE service?
Sometimes it can be hard to tell if your child is simply a little bit sad to see you leave, or whether they are truly unhappy being at an early childhood education service.
The staff at the service should be able to help you by letting you know if your child remains upset for a long time after you leave or whether they soon cheer up. They will also be able to tell you whether your child is engaged with activities and other children throughout the day or whether they seem withdrawn and lonely.
Staff may be able to take pictures or video throughout the day so you can see what they have been doing and how they seem. If you can, you might also like to spend some time watching your child at the service without them knowing you are there. This way you can see first-hand how they are behaving and how it compares to their normal behaviour.
Remember that while photos and video can help, your child may seem to be displaying happy behaviour at times during the day, even though they are really unhappy.
If your child is old enough try talking directly to them about how they feel about being in ECE or ask them to draw a picture about their experiences at the service they attend.
Remember that it can take time for a child to settle into a new ECE setting, so make sure you give them time to establish themselves.
However if it is clear that your child is not settling then speak to the staff to work out your next steps. You may first like to try working with staff to see if your child becomes more settled. For example, a service may allocate a primary carer to your child so they develop a closer relationship with one teacher and become comfortable with them. Or they may work out a plan whereby you attend some sessions and gradually increase the length of time you leave for.
If it is clear that your child is not settling, then it might be best to consider another ECE service, or even a different type of service altogether. For example, some children may not settle in a large ECE centre but will thrive in a smaller home-based setting or may prefer a service that has less structure in its programme or more structure.