If you have a little one in daycare, you may have noticed that half the parent/child battles you deal with at home don’t even exist when you’re away. Super-picky eaters will eat just about everything, and crazy-long bedtime rituals aren’t needed for the midday snooze (in a room full of kids, no less). So what gives? Does daycare have some sort of magic dust that they sprinkle on the kids every day? Nope — but they do have a few things down that you can try at home too. Let’s take a look at how it’s done.
1. Create a routine. Daycare is structured around a routine. This makes the daily expectations predictable for toddlers and infants alike. When your child knows what to expect, you’ve already won most of the battle. That’s because routines help to squash anxiety over your child’s wants and needs. With a routine, your little one knows when they’ll be able to eat, play, and rest, because the same routine has shown them to trust this expectation over and over again.
Pro Tip: You don’t have to have every second of the day scheduled, but keeping to a regular cadence of when eating, sleeping, and playing happen will help your child to understand what to expect.
2. Keep nap time and bedtime about sleeping. It’s amazing to see a room full of two-year-olds snoozing the afternoon away. It’s especially puzzling if you struggle to get your single toddler to sleep when the magic time hits at your house. This all goes back to creating a routine. The tots in daycare know that after lunch and clean up, they start to wind down and are expected to go sit or lay quietly on their cots or mats. The option for running around or reading another book isn’t there. If a toddler gets up to run around, a teacher quickly puts them back on their cot and reinforces that this is a quiet time. There’s no bargaining or caving in to requests for one more story or a sippy cup of milk.
Pro Tip: One surefire way to make sure a roomful of kids will sleep is to have active and engaging activities in the morning: They will naturally feel tired from all the a.m. excitement. As tempting as it is on a Saturday or Sunday morning to be lazy and watch cartoons with your little one, it’s important to plan out an art project, a fun adventure, or some outdoor fun to help them get their morning burst of energy spent.
3. Avoid mealtime battles. When a meal is offered at daycare, the menu isn’t negotiable. However, there is usually a limited variety on that menu. This gives kids a manageable set of options to choose from. They may eat the whole thing or they may not, but the daycare teachers won’t resort to short-order cooking if a tot picks through their meal. Once your child experiences this a few days in a row, they begin to understand that if they’re hungry, they’ll need to eat (or at least try) what they’re given.
Pro Tip: Mealtimes at daycare are planned out in advance with tiny eaters in mind. Meals are also served around the same time every day. Save yourself some time (and the headache) and spend an hour each week planning and prepping easy mealtime options for your toddler. Also, ease up on the expectation to eat all of the food on the plate. Instead, serve your little one a decent array of options from a few different food groups and let them choose what they want to eat with no pressure to eat or try all of it. Try your best to avoid creating an entirely new meal if your toddler demands something different.
4. Use redirection or ignore negative behavior. Daycare teachers don’t have the time or energy to individually talk through every squeal, cry, or whine. They simply master the art of ignoring minor outbursts or using redirection to keep a kid focused on something else. Overtime, little ones learn that there isn’t a reward for throwing a fit when something doesn’t go their way.
Pro Tip: The next time your child becomes upset over something minor, resist the urge to make them immediately happy again. Instead, provide your little one with an alternative option, and if that doesn’t work, let them cry it out. The tantrum may be a lot shorter than you expected.
5. Have a plan for the day. Daycare teachers create lesson plans that alternate between constructive group activities and individual free play (and it all revolves around that daily routine). This heads off boredom before it starts while still giving little ones time to play on their own terms.
Pro Tip: When you’re home for the day with your little one, try to make the day as predictable as possible with a routine and map out a plan for what you can do as a family that day. Be sure to allow for some downtime when your tot can play on their own. For the family activities, it can be as simple as playing on the floor and reading stories or as big as creating a new craft project or going to the zoo.
Have you picked up a little toddler-related wisdom from your child’s daycare? Tweet us your tips @BritandCo!
(Photos via Getty)