Handling Increased Day Care Hours with a 20 month old

as seen on A Child Grows in Brooklyn.com

This weekend I visited some friends who are the proud parents of a 20 month old. Until now they have managed to maintain a work schedule that has minimized their son’s hours in daycare but recently mom and dad have gotten excellent full time jobs. Good news but with expanded day care hours and less opportunity to see mom and dad their son is more easily upset in the evening and acting more defiant than he has in the past. Both parents are of course concerned and wondering how to cope with the change.

Here are some things we thought were important to keep in mind.

IT TAKES TIME TO GET USED TO NEW ROUTINES. While my friends are getting acclimated to the challenges of their new positions and seeing their son less frequently their 20 month old is not the only one feeling strained. Understandably mom and dad are also feeling guilty about any reactions their child is experiencing. Of course parents wish increased stress could be over quickly but it will take a few weeks or more for everyone to get used to their new schedule and work out strategies that can help things go smoothly.

EVEN IF A CHILD LOVES SCHOOL OR DAYCARE, GROUP DYNAMICS ARE DIFFERENT THAN ONE ON ONE PERSONAL ATTENTION. Everyone in the family is very happy with their son’s daycare arrangement but there is now much more time for this little one to juggle multiple relationships and expectations from teachers and other children. If the evening upset continues it might be wise to consider arranging for some one on one attention after school. This kind of time can offer a child an opportunity to make more of his own choices and/or just move around as his natural pace. He might benefit from a sitter, friend or relative picking him up early one or two days a week so he has a little time to “steer the own ship” before mom and dad get home.

UNFORTUNATELY THERE ARE NO QUICK SOLUTIONS TO EASE A CHILD’S REACTION TO A MAJOR TRANSITION, BUT TRYING OUT DIFFERENT IDEAS CAN HELP. When moms or dads are worried it can seem like resolving concerns means “all or nothing solutions.” It is important to remember that once the “dust settles” parents can always try things to alter their schedule or reduce other possible stressors to see if their ideas make a difference. For example, my friend is worried about missing her usual mornings in the playground with her son. She has the option to arrive at work later and enjoy some AM time together but is concerned about her limited availability later in the evening. She can’t imagine altering her schedule every day but her guilt is making it hard to think through this dilemma. She might try going in later one or two mornings and see how it goes before making any decisions. If it proves to be manageable and helpful she could then schedule it for one or two days a week and evaluate the value of this idea as time goes on.

TRY DOING THE DIFFICULT CHALLENGE OF KEEPING YOUR OWN EMOTIONS IN CHECK. Children need opportunities to tell their parents that change can be unsettling at least until they are used to new routines. For a young child this can easily mean increased outbursts. If parents are equally upset or expecting their little one to “roll with the punches” then children don’t have much room to express themselves and behaviors can easily become problematic away from home. In times of change it is good for moms and dads to spend as much relaxed quality time as they have at their disposal with their child. This can mean temporarily altering some evening rituals, i.e. dinner might be less well prepared or served, there might be more “getting on the floor to play boring things that will make a child happy” and/or an increased effort to listen to melt downs with empathy and calm, understanding they are a temporary state of affairs.

Trying even one or two of these ideas can help. I was confident promising my friends that in a month or two things will look different to everyone.