Advice for childcarers - supporting new children

Settling in sessions can be traumatic for parents, children and childcarers alike. It can help to have some tried and tested tricks up your sleeve for supporting children and their parents to cope in the initial weeks.

  • Do not work with the child until you have all the documentation you need to keep them safe and healthy such as details about medication requirements, dietary needs and emergency contacts.
  • Offer at least 2 short settling in sessions so the child has time to get to know you, the other children and your provision. Try to arrange one of the settling in sessions over a meal time so you learn more about the child’s eating and drinking habits.
  • Offer a 4 week settling-in period and be prepared to extend it if necessary. It is important that you feel confident that the child is coping in your care - and not every child settles and bonds with every childcarer.
  • Encourage parents to work out a ‘leaving routine’ which they follow every morning. Some parents might want to dash back for ‘one more kiss’ or ‘one more hug’ and may need extra support to recognise that their child knows how to emotionally blackmail them - especially if you know the child is settled within minutes of their parent leaving.
  • Put together a ‘settling in tips’ list for parents to read through so they are reassured that you have been through it all before and will support them as much as possible.
  • Keep a spare comforter available for the child in case it is forgotten.
  • Put a small basket of favourite toys in a cosy spot with some cushions and a soft blanket so the child can arrive gently. For many children the transition from warm car to cold driveway to leaving parents can be very traumatic and they need a few minutes at the start of the session to simply ‘arrive’.
  • Work very closely with parents - email, text or phone them to keep them updated through the session as this will reassure them their child is happy and settled. Ask parents what their favoured method of communication is and follow their wishes.
  • Provide children with a special place to put their blanket, dummy, cuddly toy etc where they can find it if it is needed through the session. This might be a basket featuring their name and a photo or maybe a little dummy pot they make themselves from clay or a decorated cup.
  • Love the child - hugs and cuddles are vital during this early period to help the child form attachments with you. If the child is particularly difficult to hug and kick out or try to hurt you, support them by providing a cosy nest where they can sit and sob until they feel able to join in... offer activities they might want to do that you know they enjoy... sit nearby and read a story or sing a song to yourself... offer a regular stroke so they know they are special...
  • Make a visual timetable of photographs of your daily routine which include the children - so they can see their routine from arrival to parents collecting them. Encourage parents to spend time looking at the routine and speaking positively about the things their child will be doing during the day.
  • Take photos of your provision and some of your activities / the outside area / outings the children enjoy etc and put them into an album which the children can borrow to read with parents at the weekend. Let the children help you to put the photo album together - they can help to upload photos into online albums which are printed and look very professional.
  • Prepare parents for a possible regression of toileting and other independence skills, especially if starting with you also coincides with other transitions in the child’s life such as a house move or a new sibling. Support parents and the child as much as possible by providing lots of opportunities for developing independence and self help skills and offering praise for trying as well as succeeding.
  • Ask lots of questions about the child in your initial documentation so you know the child well before they start with you. Focus your questions on both care and learning to inform you about the child’s starting points, which are invaluable when you are making your initial observations.
  • If a child is failing to settle, childminders might offer a home visit and watch how they play and interact with parents and siblings at home. This can give you a powerful insight into how they might be supported when they first arrive. For example, some families always have the television on in the background or listen to the radio and the child might be missing this noise and will settle much better if they watch a short programme first.
  • Find out about children’s favourite stories or songs from home - parents might be happy to make a recording of them singing or reading to their child. Play it in the provision to all the children.
  • Provide parents with information about your healthy eating ethos so they can put appropriate food and drink into their child’s lunch box. Children will be very distressed if they help to pack lots of sweets and cakes and you say they cannot have them because they are unhealthy.
  • Set up a large piece of paper and pencil in your entrance hall for the children to sign themselves in each session. Encourage them to make their mark or add their picture. This will help them to recognise that they have arrived and will form an important part of their transition routine which parents can help them with before they leave.
  • If children are struggling at meal times or refusing to drink, speak to parents about what they eat and drink at home and work with their family to complement their experiences. For example, if they always walk around when eating at home, provide parents with information about choking risks and remind them gently that they will not be able to do this at school. Some children find it helpful to bring their own cup from home to use in the provision.
  • Keep a spare set of play clothes for each child in case they get messy or muddy. Show them where you store the clothes and help them to get changed if they need your support. This will encourage them to join in - because they know they can get messy without getting into trouble.
  • Share information with parents about children’s observations and next steps planning regularly so they know what their child is working towards. This will help to provide continuity between home and provision.
  • Make a ‘welcome’ board or similar with each child’s face. Encourage the child to put their photo on the board every session when they arrive. This will help children to feel a sense of belonging. If parents do not give permission for photos, ask them to take a photo of something that is important to their child at home - maybe a family pet or special grandparent - which can be used instead.
  • Find out what food is the child’s favourite and update your menus so it appears at least once every few weeks. The child will be excited to know their opinion on food matters to you.
  • Set out a few toys so there is something for the children to do when they arrive - especially if you know that you are going to be distracted by the door or your own children. 

There is no quick fix for children who are struggling to settle in and you and parents may need to work closely together for quite a while to support the transition. However, children will normally settle eventually if they are given lots of support and if everyone is patient and allows them to express the emotions they need to share.

If a child is continuing to fail to settle, be honest with their parents. If you are a childminder you can either extend the settling-in period or, if you are very concerned about the child’s wellbeing, you can suggest to parents that their child might be better in a different setting and give notice. If you are a nanny you might explain to parents that their child is not settling with you and that they might be better looking elsewhere for care.

This is not an ‘easy option’ but it can sometimes be the best outcome for the child.

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