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What to do when day care disrupts your routine

Key takeaways

  • Let go of rigid routines and instead focus on a daily rhythm  
  • Align with your day care provider’s routine and bring your own cues from home 
  • Accept the disturbances you can’t control and adjust your evening accordingly

Routines can be a wonderful way to cut through the chaos of raising young children. Not only can predictable daily rituals benefit children and reduce behavioural problems, they can also be a godsend for parents who rely on dependable naptimes to knock off some chores or kick up their (Lego-indented) feet.

However, it seems that the moment your child has established their ideal eat, sleep, play routine, something comes along to crack that wide open – and, sometimes, that thing is day care.

Whether your childcare situation means pre-school, creche, home care or a generous grandparent, it’s likely that a new carer does not know your child’s cues, needs and routines as well as you do, so a new environment may upset the equilibrium. But with patience and perseverance, you can get through it with minimal tears (and we’re not just talking about your child’s!).

Here are some tips for when day care disrupts your little one’s routine.

Let go of rigidity

Psychologist William Berry says that trying to control the uncontrollable is a recipe for unhappiness, so practise letting go. A routine can be helpful for managing behaviour, but ensure you approach it with a flexible mindset. Aim for a rhythm rather than a routine. That means keeping things in roughly the same order instead of stressing about whether your child is napping at the same time each day.

Provide cues to keep on track

Share your regular routine with your child’s caregiver and remember to pack any helpful props in your child’s bag. These could be sleeping aids (like a sleeping bag, dummy, or blanket that smells like home), the drink bottle your child regularly sips from or a list of familiar foods that your child enjoys.

Adapt your routine

One way to help ease the transition is to get in touch with your day care provider a few weeks before your child starts, to ask what times the day care provider does meals, snacks and naps. Then slowly adjust your routine to match.

Don’t dwell on difference

If your child has been soothing themselves to sleep for months, the prospect of them being patted or rocked to sleep for day care naps might make you worry that all your hard work will go to waste. Similarly, naps might shorten dramatically because of all the excitement or lengthen because of sheer exhaustion. But kids can be quite adaptable, and they will most likely learn the difference between their day care and home environments quickly. Rather than dwell on the difference, look at it as an opportunity for your child to learn how to be flexible.

Focus on the evening routine

While you can’t control what happens at day care, you can control the sequence of your evening. Make sure to give your little one lots of undivided support and attention as you move through the process of getting home, having dinner, cleaning up and getting ready for bed. Stick to their regular routine as much as possible but make adjustments according to their cues and how their day went. For example, if they ate a lot at day care, don’t worry if they aren’t eating much for dinner. And if they had a day of very disturbed sleep, there’s no harm in bringing bedtime forward.

Accept disturbances

Day care can be stimulating for your child and it’s likely they will need a period of time to process and adjust to their new environment. Accept that by the end of the day, your little one may be tired, grumpy and out-of-sorts. Try to remain calm through their frustration. Remember, your child’s behaviour is not about you, it’s about their world – but your response to your child is within your control. Be patient, supportive and generous as they establish a new routine, and if you have a tough day, remember there is always tomorrow.

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