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Daycare familiarisation: Tips for parent and child

Daycare is a wonderful and an important place for children. Playing, painting, tinkering, and exploring limits while the parents are at work. In daycare, children get to know themselves better and to advance in their development completely naturally. But childminders do more than just looking after children. In daycare, important social skills are enhanced even before kindergarten, and lifelong friendships may even be made.

The snag: Successful daycare familiarisation often turns out not to be fairly difficult for the parents. This is because daycare familiarisation means a completely new phase of life for your child, and is accompanied by all sorts of changes. Being separated from parents as reference persons, probably for the first time, and coming together with a lot of other children can be a real shock for many small children.

But don’t worry! Here you will find out what daycare familiarisation means for your child, and how familiarisation can be designed to be as simple as possible for parents and child.

What does daycare familiarisation mean for my child?

For children, daycare familiarisation is often anything but simple. Taking a look at what a child faces helps us to simplify daycare familiarisation

Leaving secure surroundings

When your child enters daycare, it leaves its secure environment. At home, everything is familiar and your child knows exactly where things are to be found. New surroundings are always accompanied by uncertainties: Everything has to be newly explored, and this can be extremely challenging!

Separation from parents

For children, daycare familiarisation often means being separated from parents for the first time. The first separation attempts can therefore often turn out quite difficult – and that applies to the parents too! For this is a new situation, where both sides are unable to see each other as required.

New reference persons

As well as separation from the parents, there is a further unfamiliar factor during familiarisation: many as yet unknown reference persons in the form of childminders. That can obviously be an irritant for a small child! Certainly, your child will not yet have experienced many situations where the parents move to the side, in order to introduce a new reference person within the daycare system.

Unfamiliar daily routine

At home your child clearly knows the daily routine by heart. The routine is usually always similar, and your child can rely on certain points in the day, for example being read a bedtime story as a goodnight ritual. In contrast the daycare routine is completely different. This first of all obviously has to be processed.

New situations

Daycare familiarisation quickly makes clear to your child to expect not only a different daily routine, but also that there are other rules which can result in new situations. For example, new rituals before meals, or even conflict with other children. Conflict resolution is important for the development of a child, but it also has to be learnt, which in turn can mean frustration and irritation. In combination with the absence of the parents, this creates completely new situations for your child.

Other children

Certainly one of the most important points that daycare familiarisation entails: From the very first day, your child will get to know many new children. Social interaction is important, but it can also be stressful for children, especially in and around the process of familiarisation.

Although children are mutually sociable and approach each other openly, not all characters are the same. So if your child tends to be on the shy side or is particularly inquisitive, this can be challenging.

How do I prepare my child for daycare familiarisation?

Now that we have taken a quick look at how children perceive daycare familiarisation, we will look at what parents can do to familiarise their children with childminders.

It is important to mention that every child reacts differently, and daycare familiarisation may require several weeks. Experts advise that at least eight weeks should be allowed for familiarisation.

Select the right moment

Clearly, many parents have no choice about when their child goes into daycare, but if you have the option, it would be ideal if your child already had experience of extra-familial care and of unfamiliar children.

The first weeks in new surroundings are stressful for your child, and represent an enormous change. Ideally, during this time there should be no other large changes, such as a change of residence.

Include other reference persons

Grandma, grandpa, godparents, or even friends of the parents may take over the role of reference persons for a child. If your child is used to trusting people other than its parents, then the familiarisation time in daycare or later in the kindergarten will be considerably simplified. Leaving your child with a baby minder also facilitates the familiarisation phase.

Try out temporary separation

Before the start of daycare, parents can try out separation from each other. In this way, your child is not completely unprepared on the first day, when you say goodbye and disappear from its field of view.

A definite farewell is important here. Make it clear to your child that you have to leave it for a while, but that you will be back soon and are looking forward to that. Give your child the time it needs to look for your company once again.

Parents as security

In the active phase of familiarisation, the presence of the parents helps children to get to know their childminder. One parent alone is completely sufficient for a child to feel secure enough to get to know the childminders. Here you can observe how the new situation with the as yet unfamiliar person affects your child, whom you can encourage.

Don’t give in

The familiarisation phase can become a huge challenge, not just for children, but especially for the parents. The child screams and cries and doesn’t want Mum or Dad to go, and you feel guilty and upset that your child reacts in this way. In this case, it helps to take a deep breath and keep a clear head. Consider exactly why your child is crying, and remember that it’s never easy at the start and that this phase will pass. However, if familiarisation ought to be complete after a few weeks, but your child cries and screams when you say goodbye, and you’ve made sure that it has everything it needs, then you should grit your teeth and go. Children are smart, quickly learn that by crying they obtain care and attention, and in this respect can even manipulate us very easily.

What familiarisation models are there?

If you would like to follow a specific model for daycare familiarisation or for kindergarten, there are two tried and tested methods.

The Berlin model

For a more simple familiarisation, some daycare facilities and kindergartens offer the so-called Berlin model. After the University of Berlin provided evidence in the 1980s and 1990s that children without a familiarisation phase in daycare or kindergarten were sick more often than children with familiarisation, the Berlin model was developed.

The model is subdivided into four phases:

Base phase

This phase consists of joint visits to the daycare facility for a few hours. For this, you do accompany your child, but you stay in the background. If your child looks for contact and wants to be picked up, for example, it is perfectly appropriate to fulfil this wish. In this phase, the childminder attempts to build up contact with the child and to gain initial trust. Although you do not participate in activities like clapping games or collective play, you are actively present when nappies have to be changed, for example. In this way, your child sees that it is fine for another person to perform this task.

First separation

After about four days you say goodbye to your child for the first time. Even if it screams and cries, remain firm! Say goodbye clearly, and spend the next half hour in an adjacent room.

Stabilisation

After the first separation, you repeat the process on subsequent days, with longer periods of absence. When you have the feeling that your child has gained confidence, you say goodbye, and collect the child only at collection time. In this phase you are present only as a support person, and otherwise you stay completely in the background. The childminders also look after nappy changes.

Final phase

Familiarisation can be considered successful when a child allows itself to be comforted by a childminder. This means that your child has built up enough confidence, and accepts the respective person as a new reference person.

The Munich model

The Munich model is a further development of the Berlin model. In addition to Mum, Dad, and the childminder, the group itself is important. Here it is assumed that children include other children in their group, and quickly teach newcomers the best way to behave within the group.

In addition, this model is not so rigid in terms of time. While the Berlin model consists of four phases, the Munich model is made up of multiple fine steps which, however, can be structured more flexibly.

Preparation phase

In this phase the parents communicate intensively with the childminders. Is there something that they need to know about your child? Anxieties? Intolerances? Idiosyncrasies? Does your child need special support, maybe language support? How does your daily routine look? Do youread to your child regularly, or do you have special rituals?

Getting-to-know phase

In this period, which extends over several weeks, you and your child become familiar with the daycare facility and its daily routine. The model intends that certain processes, games, rest phases, and rituals must be frequently observed by a child in order to be internalised. For you, this means that several daycare visits over a few hours have to be planned. This phase helps your child to be better able to assess the new circumstances, including the other children and childminders.

Security phase

In this model, from the second week the parents play a reduced role. As previously, you visit the daycare facility together, without an attempt to separate. From now on, childminders take over nappy changing and dressing and undressing the child, and appear as actual reference persons.

Confidence phase

When your child feels secure, the next phase starts; here you initially separate from your child for between 30 and 60 minutes. Very important: Say goodbye and go, even if your child cries and screams. In this way, the child learns to confront its initial fear of separation.

Reflection

Even if regular discussion between the parents and the childminders takes place throughout the familiarisation process, the final phase is important for the time to come. This is where discussion takes place about how the familiarisation went, for example, whether there was anything unusual, or even needs which require to be addressed in the future.

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