Mandy Richardson is an early childhood education professional with a natural passion and love for children. Mandy is the director of Raise Early Childhood, through which she consults to parents and people working with children to help them to form new and respectful perspectives. Mandy joined us on the podcast earlier this year to reassure us that we aren’t harming our children by working! She has joined us again to share her advice about preparing children for our return to work after maternity leave and has kindly summed up her top tips in this post.
1. Explore your own perceptions, as they directly impact your child’s experience
As any working mum would know, the transition from the home back to work brings with it mixed emotions. Some may be obvious, but also be on the lookout for any low intensity emotions too. These are the ones that simmer beneath the surface in our mad rush to prepare everything else. We may think we are fine, but little signs might make us realise we haven’t acknowledged our low intensity emotions. Take the time to talk to your partner or another trusted friend about them. This is vital as your perspective and emotions around this transition will directly impact how your child experiences it.
So by dealing with these aspects you can move forward with confidence, which is super important because your confidence will actually impact your child’s ability to transition well.
2. Take your time to select care early and carefully
Selecting the type of care for your child early and being specific about how you want that to look will ease anxiety too. Spend time deciding upon supervision you feel most comfortable with and feel most confident to leave your child in will help when it comes to actually helping them to settle in and accept it.
Select childcare that will promote:
- primary caregiving structures, especially under 12 months old; and
- an opportunity to develop secure attachments to their professional caregivers (Not high turnover, regular carers with minimal rotation, sensitive caregivers)
Find a place closely aligned to your family style and values by:
- spending time there to observe;
- asking lots of questions; and
- allowing your child to spend time at the care centre or with the carer and observing how they seem in the environment.
3. Communicate honestly and acknowledge feelings
We often feel as parents in general that it is our job to help our children to feel okay or even happy about life events. Although it seems fair and reasonable to try to convince your child that they are going to love this new arrangement by saying things such as ‘Don’t worry, it will be ok, you will have so much fun’, it is far more beneficial to provide them with honest and specific facts about what is going to happen and even how they might feel about it.
‘Soon I will go to work and you will spend the day with Sarah, I will miss you. When I leave, you might feel sad, you may even want to cry. It is ok to cry. Sarah will be with you to support you. I will come back after you have eaten your lunch and we will spend some time together playing with playdough at 4 o’clock.’
Throughout this lifelong relationship with your child, and especially this process of transition, always allow all feelings and acknowledge them before moving forward to offer possible suggestions to problem solve. Parents sometimes worry that acknowledging their child’s emotion will make it worse, but in fact it will allow them to feel heard and move through their feelings of sadness, fear or anxiety.
4. Build predictable routines as they provide safety
Rushed, chaotic, late mornings make parting a bit trickier (I know from lots of experience ?). Try to be organised as easing your load eases theirs.
At breakfast talk about the day, for example what we are most looking forward to and least. Allow any anxieties to be voiced and heard.
Build predictable drop off routines and talk about them beforehand.
‘We will drive there, walk up the path, open the yellow door, read a book together then I will say goodbye we will have a tight squeeze and we can wave through the window.’
Never sneak off, always say goodbye then confidently leave them in the care you have chosen, hanging around can make it more intense for everyone. They will most likely cry, they may do for a while or on and off. If you are satisfied that they are being well looked after and in good care you can project that. They are not suffering, you are not ruining their lives and when you confidently leave, they thrive.
Pick up or after care quality time
If a child has been out of their primary attachments due to being in care, often when reuniting at the end of the day the most quality connection does not always come in a neat parcel! It doesn’t always look like peaceful bonding play.
Instead you may be met with clingy, whining, needy, aggressive, controlling, resistant behaviours. These can be indications of needing to release pent up feelings or re-establish a connection with you. It can be helpful to acknowledge how they might be feeling and empathetically set boundaries such as ‘you seem tired and upset, I understand it is hard because we have missed each other all day but I can’t let you…I am going to support you’, By perceiving their behaviours as reconnection, and not as your time together being ruined by tantrums etc can help you both.
Make time to reconnect through undistracted, full attention caregiving times – so instead of rushing bath and dinner as chores to get done, let that be the quality reconnection times.
Set limits empathetically as it will allow them the opportunity to vent and reconnect with you. Jumping through their hoops because you are feeling bad for being at work all day won’t!