With conflicting information and many complicated feelings involved, it can be challenging to decide at what age your child should begin at child care. Several factors will impact your child’s readiness to begin going to child care, and in some cases, an early start is necessary because of work or financial commitments.
We do know that during the first three years of life, particularly the first year, strong attachment bonds should be formed between a child and its primary caregivers. Poor attachment has been linked to problems as children grow up, and even into adulthood. However, we also know that attendance at child care helps little ones develop social skills, better speech, and higher activity and movement rates.
Starting child care before the age of six months
Babies less than around four months in child care centres appear less often, but there certainly are some. For some families, starting child care at less than six months is simply a necessity. While an early start to child care is often upsetting for parents, babies under six months of age are unlikely to be either fearful of strangers or have separation anxiety. Babies aged at around the six-month mark are often happy to be left with educators. They may be interested in the bright colours and sounds of the centre, which can mean a smooth transition into child care.
Starting child care before the age of one
There are plenty of children who begin at care between the ages of six and 12 months. In some cases, occasional sessions at a child care centre provide a much-needed respite for parents or carers. Taking some time-out from parenting on occasion can help you recharge your batteries, ultimately enabling you to be a better and more engaged parent.
Leaving your little one might not be easy though. By the age of seven months, many babies have started to develop a fear of strangers. This can mean they will become upset, distressed and agitated when with people they don’t know. Leaving your little one in tears as you depart the child care centre is likely to make you want to cry too. To alleviate these fears, spend as much time in visits with your child as possible to help them get to know the centre and feel more comfortable. It will be an easier transition for all involved.
The educators at your child care centre might be able to give you some support with issues that are cropping up at this age.
It’s amazing how babies who have been fussy eaters at home join in with meals with gusto at child care. Parents often marvel at how well their children nap at child care when napping was proving difficult at home.
Starting child care at the age of one or two
A lot of little ones make their first visits to child care between ages one and two. By age one a baby is developing their independence and agency. They may be walking and find it easier to express their needs and wants. Many families elect to begin a child at care when a new sibling is born, which is often during this period. This can give parents the chance to focus their attention on the new arrival, and if they are staying at home until a nap routine is established, it gives the older child a chance to get out, play and socialise. Children aged between one and two will be able to engage in songs, stories and other sensory experiences at their centre.
However, it is between 14 and 18 months that separation anxiety may be at its peak. It can be a real shock for children of this age to spend long periods away from their primary carer, causing the child to experience stress. This stress will generally decrease as your child gets to know their educators and becomes accustomed to their new routine. Learning that Mum or Dad always come back for them will build your child’s confidence in this new setting.
Best daycare age
Ensuring that you choose a high-quality child care environment where educators can form meaningful bonds with your child will help you feel comfortable in your decision to begin child care. Ultimately, the decision about the right child care age is an individual one. There’s not a “right” age to begin child care, only an age that is “right” for you and your family.
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