The toughest goodbye: settling your child into care

We all find change unsettling at times. Think about the last time you started a new job, or moved to a new town. Everything looks, smells, and sounds different, there are unfamiliar faces, and you are just not sure where to find things when you need them.

Starting at a new childcare centre is no different for our little ones. This may be the first time they have spent time away from home, and from you. It’s no wonder there are often tears (and that’s just from mum or dad!) for the first few weeks.

Separation anxiety is a normal part of child development, and reflects the child’s attempts to hold onto what is safe and familiar to them. Children will usually start to show signs of distress on separation from familiar adults at around 6 to 8 months of age, subsiding anywhere from two to four years as their confidence and sense of belonging increases.

There are many things you can do to help prepare your child (and yourself) and make this turbulent time a little easier. It’s a good idea to start this process a few weeks ahead of time, but if circumstances mean you are returning to work at short notice, even a few days of lead in time can work wonders.

Before starting at a new centre, visit with your child and make a time to talk to the educators who will be looking after them. Knowing your educators names is very important, as these are the people you are trusting with your most precious possession! Ask for a copy of the room routine, and even take some photos of your child’s new room.

In the lead in time to your child’s first day, talk to them frequently about going to child care, what they will be doing and who they will be spending time with.

Orientation visits are an essential part of your induction to a service. If you are able to, arrange a visit or two with your child prior to their first day, this will help them to become familiar with the service, staff and the environment, while you are close by to ask questions and provide reassurance.

Children are very responsive to our emotions, so as much as you may be feeling worried or upset about leaving your child, speaking positively about the experience will help you both to feel more positive and confident. Building a strong relationship with your child’s educators will also show your child that they are people to be trusted.

No matter how hard it is to see your child upset, please don’t sneak away without saying goodbye. Your child will need to know that you are going and when you are coming back. A goodbye routine such as waving from a special window, giving three goodbye cuddles, or settling them with a favourite activity will assist in building secure routines. Speak with your child’s educators if you would like their assistance in developing a special routine.

A well-known ‘secret’ of childcare, is that children will often express strong emotions at goodbye time, but will settle quickly after their parent or carer has left. Your child’s educator will be happy to send you a reassuring text or a photo to let you know your child has settled, or you could phone the service on your way to work to check in.

Our directors and educators are happy to talk through any concerns with you during your orientation period, so please let us know if there is anything we can do to assist you and your child.

For additional reading about preparing your family for child care, please visit


Sarah Short—Operations Manager, Children’s Services


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One Tree Community Services acknowledges the Traditional Owners and custodians of country where we operate. In the spirit of reconciliation, we recognise their continuing cultural connections to their land, waters and communities. We pay our respect to their Elders both past and present and to all First Australians of today.

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