How to Help 3 Year Old Adjust to Day Care

Updated on August 29, 2019
A.S. asks from Danville, VA
12 answers

My 3 year old grandson recently started daycare. his brother has started Kindergarten. He stays with me 2 to 3 days aweek when I am off work. the other days at daycare. he is having a very difficult time. He cries all day, wont interact and even wets himself. he says he misses us. his father who has sole custody works 5 days a week so he has to go to day care some as I(nana) work 2 to 3 days a week. we have tried everything. this is his third week of going and no better. He previously stayed at a babysitter in her home.
he has always been a shy nervous type child around people he doesn't know.

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answers from San Antonio on

My son did a two day a week program. So everyone who says going only a few days a week is a bad idea and won't give him routine...well that is their opinion. My son knew that on Mondays and Fridays he went to school. I went to mommy's work on those days and Daddy went to Daddy's work everyday.

We never called it daycare...we just called it school. And told him that he was going to learn and play with his friends. He had an adjustment of a few weeks where there was crying at drop off but then he wanted to stay longer when I came to pick him up. He learned the kids and teachers and routine. Eventually, he started looking forward to going and talked about the other kids and his teachers.

He will adjust just keep talking about it positively and do a short and sweet drop off. Hugs to you Grandma!!

3 moms found this helpful

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answers from Norfolk on

It can often take 8 weeks for a new routine to become the usual routine.
3 weeks is not long enough - and with kids that don't go full time the adjustment takes much longer because they have to keep switching back and forth.
If he only goes a few days a week - then after 3 weeks he's only been there maybe 6 days.

One thing I'm sure you haven't tried is - total immersion - having him go to daycare 5 days a week for a solid month or two so he gets to know others and gets
use to playing with other kids.
If you feel he's not ready for this then what's the alternative?
Are you going to quit working so you can watch him for a year or until he's in kindergarten?
Or will you find him another baby sitter where he can be in her home?

We didn't have this with our son because he was full time in day care from 12 weeks old.
Daycare to preschool to kindergarten - each stage had some adjustments but with both parents working full time there just was no alternative - and he adjusted and thrived.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

It can take a long time for kids to adjust. "Wetting themselves" is common in kids 3-4 years old, so that isn't an indicator that he's traumatized, just that he's distracted and unsure of where the bathrooms are or what the routine is.

You can't do that much, frankly. The staff have to do it. You need to work with them on a smooth drop-off procedure. I also think you have to choose a routine and stick to it. You say you've "tried everything" which implies to me that you are changing your routines/techniques every few days. To me, that sounds very confusing and unsettling to a young child. He cannot get the message that he "has to go" to daycare. He needs to learn that "today is a daycare day" (or better, "play day") and another day is a "Nana Day" and another day is a "Daddy Day." Change your terminology - today he "gets to go to play time" vs. he "has to go to day care because Nana has to work." Sit down with the staff and with Dad and figure out the terminology and phrasing you're going to use, and stay consistent.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Pittsburgh on

Honestly, staying with you 2-3 days a week may be making it harder for him. He doesn't have the same routine every day. And, it takes much longer to get to know the new caregivers and other kids in the class when he only sees them 2 days a week. It might sound counterintuitive, but to get more comfortable at daycare, he may need to spend more time there.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

aw, poor little guy. that's a tough situation.

if he's only going a couple of days per week, then it's really still a very new situation. i'm glad you get to keep him a few days per week, and think that should continue- but it's also slowing down his adjustment period at the daycare. that's okay, just keep it in mind.

i would handle this in a very matter-of-fact manner, sympathetic but not ladling out great dollops of it. 'i'm sorry you don't want to go to daycare, benny. it's hard when we have to do things we don't like. daddy will be here at 5. i love you.'

let him know he's heard, but don't join him in the meltdown dance by trying too hard to soothe it. when i hear 'we've tried everything' in only a 3 week period, it sounds to me as if you're throwing too many 'solutions' at him. i'm sure it seems as if it's taking forever, but he's a very small fellow and he hasn't yet had much time to adjust.

stop trying everything, and just be calm and quietly supportive. since he's already an anxious little guy, what he needs is his family to be strong and calm.

is your daycare provider a sensible sort? you need to make sure that he's not getting either scolded or buried in sympathy there either. the same sort of quiet listening without 'fixing' is needed.

good luck!


3 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

This sounds very difficult for everyone, but try to be calm and confident that he can adjust. I'm not sure what "trying everything" means, so my apologies if I am repeating things you have tried.

Make sure you let him know in the morning what day this is (Nana, dad, day care) and be excited about it. Ask him if he has ideas on what would help him feel happier about going to day care. If he says he misses you, maybe you can offer him a photo of yourself or his dad that he can keep in his pocket.

Don't make a big deal about him crying or wetting himself. Just assure him that it can be hard to go to a new place with new people, but there are opportunities to have fun there. Make sure that his caretakers are providing a nurturing response to him. He needs to become attached to these new people in order to feel more comfortable.

When you are together, look for opportunities to ask him about what he is doing at day care. Make sure that it is a good program, it should be play-based at this age. See if he has anything good to say about what he does there. Interacting might be more than he can do right now, the goals should just be for him to engage in some activity that he enjoys.

How did he say "goodbye" to his previous day care provider? Does he have opportunities to see him or her? Make sure he has had a chance to process this loss, maybe have him draw a picture to send them or have a phone call to chat. You want to be able to help him make sense of the change.

Does he have contact with his mother? If he is having regular contact, then add her to your conversations about his week and what happens each day. You don't mention her, so I'm thinking maybe she is not in the picture, which is also something that I hope is being addressed with him.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Springfield on

My son started preschool when he was 3. He went just 2 mornings a week, and definitely had trouble adjusting. His teachers were very supportive and encouraged me to give it time. I don't remember exactly when, but I still remember the day we were driving somewhere and he said, "When do I get to go back to preschool?" I was so excited I almost cried!

Some kids adjust very quickly. Some kids take longer. But all kids DO adjust. It's quite possible he would adjust more quickly if he were going to daycare everyday, but even going 2 or 3 days a week, he will adjust. You just have to stay positive and show no fear!

My suggestion would be to write Grandma or School (I would start calling it school) on the calendar each day. He might not truly understand a calendar yet, but that's actually something they will likely be using at school, too. This is the age when most preschools/daycares are introducing the days of the week and the calendar. He can look at the calendar each morning to see what he will be doing that day.

Be patient, stay positive. He really will be ok.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on


Welcome to mamapedia.

There is no doubt you love your grandson, however, you're not helping him by having him 2 or 3 days a week. He MUST have a schedule and routine.

If you can't take care of him on Tuesday and Thursday, for example, he won't have a routine. He NEEDS a routine and schedule. He can't establish any new relationships when he doesn't have a schedule. The new day care can't establish anything with him because he's not there on a regular schedule. Pick the days he is going to be there - whether it be Monday, Wednesday and Friday or all five days. Pick him up at a specified time each day. Routine/Schedule will help him adjust.

You need to stop "Trying" everything and do the most simple thing by giving him a schedule. Tell him how much fun he is going to have at school and how many new friends he will meet. He sees your nervousness and picks up on it. BE HAPPY for him.

Get to know the teachers at the day care. Help them help him. It's a two way street. If he sees you getting along with them? It will help him as well.

Establish a routine and schedule. This is the best thing you can do for him.

Good luck!

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Denver on

Maybe you can ask the daycare provider what a typical day is like, and structure your days with your grandson in a similar way. Use the same words when it's snack time, for example. Serve snacks at the same time as daycare. If he naps on a mat on the floor at daycare, and if they play a certain song, have your naptime set up similarly, at the same time.

If the daycare is orderly and organized, and his time with you is all cartoons and cookies and loosely structured, the differences might make him feel unsettled.

I don't mean you have to do everything the daycare does, but just have some continuity.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Tampa on

Oh I just gave my 3rd to full time pre-k but she went last year to young pre k class as they call it. She too went part time. It took her about 3 weeks to adjust! Lots of tears and not letting go of my leg! Broke my 💔!

My 1st born had a difficult time adjusting... he went from being home with mom to having to share with about 10 other kids. But I know it was good for him! It took him a month and I found a private school that really had amazing teachers.

So I say a month is normal time especially if he is part time there. Ask him questions about it, what he learned, who his friends are and maybe setting up play dates with some of those kids. Give his favorite snacks, encourage him to go and learn and bring up “ school” throughout the day! ( all in positive talks). He’ll make friends and it will get easier!

Lots of luck!

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

Hi A.,
I feel sorry about your grandson. Can I tell you, it is a normal feeling for three year olds at daycare. My daughter was the same plus she had autism and she didn’t know how to speak English as well as her classmates at that time. I encourage you to asked your son what was upsetting him at daycare. Maybe you could encourage him to go and reward him what he likes like a toy, my parents did that to my daughter and it forced her to go.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Portland on

Some of mine went full time and my last went part time. Mine started earlier just because of our situation, so at 3 they are a bit more aware of what's going.

Perhaps a bit harder where your little guy had to say bye to a babysitter - changes.

I found with one of mine, if I stayed and chatted, and there was one toy he looked forward to each day and the teacher let him bring one home (special) and he brought it back ... maybe such an arrangement could be made with the teacher. Or something you could put in his pocket to remind him of Grammy, that he could take with him. One of mine had a little toy he kept in his pocket, another a little message from me.

It was just comforting. Similarly, if I showed up and chatted and just stayed (no drop and rush off), he felt I was 'ok' with daycare and really liked it - so he felt much more comfortable with the place and he loosened up. It depends on the child. Sometimes they encourage you to run off - because kids do better. Other times, having you stay for a while, and make it shorter and shorter .. is better. Talk to the teacher - maybe even visit with him on a day you have off where he's not scheduled and just sit with him and listen to story time. Maybe say "now wasn't that fun".

I don't know - they would have suggestions. Sometimes staying is not the thing to do. My mom taught kindergarten and by that age, they didn't want parents there. But at preschool age, it was ok to stay for a while on the fringes. They would nod when we were supposed to scoot out.

If dad is rushed at drop off/pick up though and not talking to the other moms (my husband was our pick up person) sometimes the kiddos feel more anxious - because the other mommies might be standing around chatting for longer. So that's a thought. My husband used to run in grab the bag and go. He is super friendly, but he had worked a long day, and didn't get it didn't hurt to chat for a while. So the teachers would chat with him to encourage him to stay longer. It helps the kiddos.

It does get better though. As for the wetting himself, maybe the sitter used to remind him and the daycare teachers don't have time to or they just have a different system. Some kids only just learn at 3 (like mine) so don't think this is totally abnormal. To regress during a change - pretty common. It will come :) So long as they have a change of clothes for him, I'm sure they are used to dealing with it.

If you're anxious about it of course they pick up on it - so try to keep it fun, maybe have a special stuffy in car for him to look forward to when he's picked up (Bunny is waiting in car!) and nothing with special treats/rewards - like a special show to watch when he gets home from daycare to look forward to.

I used to have a picnic snack waiting at the end of day sometimes while I made dinner. We just had 'routines' the kids loved on those busy days. Earlier bedtimes - because daycare is exhausting. It's go go go and it is a lot more tiring than at a sitters - so if he seems more emotional, totally normal.

Good luck and don't worry too much. That too, is very normal :)

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