When it’s time to head back to work, you want to feel totally happy about your childcare. Make things easier for both of you by doing your prep
1 Choose the right place
When it comes to childcare, there are various factors to consider, so make a list of the pros and cons for each type. ‘Nurseries try to consider your personal preferences but, generally, your child will fit in with the established routine, whereas nannies and childcarers can be more parent-led,’ says Sigrid Daniel, UK director of care.com. ‘You’ll also need to consider your work commitments – nannies or childminders will likely be more flexible if you need irregular hours. Cost is another vital factor.’
2 Turn Detective
While Ofsted (which regulates nurseries, childminders and preschools) reports are useful for highlighting problems with safety or welfare, you’ll also learn from visiting and watching other tots.‘As well as seeing how happy the children seem, talk to the staff and parents,’ says early years expert Laura Henry (laurahenryconsultancy.com). ‘Ask what they enjoy about working there, or what their favourite activity is for the children.’ If you don’t like what you see, move on.
3 The new options
As well as nursery, childminders, au pairs and nannies, there are more flexible types of childcare springing up. ‘Pop-up crèches are popular at co-working spaces, which are hubs for freelancers or people who run their own business to rent desk space,’ says Mandy Garner, from workingmums.co.uk. ‘Wraparound childcare is another new trend, which is when someone comes to your house to cover late shifts, early drop offs, and holiday and weekend care.’
'You'll learn the most from visiting nurseries and watching other tots there'
4 Use apps
Ask friends and other mums in Facebook groups about local options, but it’s also worth trying out the new apps. Childcare.co.uk has launched an app that lets parents search for and contact providers. And the Preschool Learning Alliance’s ‘Choosing Childcare’ app allows you to click on a map that pinpoints day nurseries and preschools in your area, read their Ofsted report and work out the best route from your house.
5 Go with your gut
You probably made the decision about where to live based on instinct, and you should listen to this when it comes to childcare. ‘Most mums will get a good feeling about the place they choose,’ says Laura. ‘Ask yourself, “Can I imagine my child here? Will they be happy? Will their care and welfare needs be met?”’
6 Explain everything to your baby
Don’t assume that telling your baby she’s starting nursery is pointless. ‘She is aware of much more than you think, so mention it at least a few weeks before,’ says early childhood specialist Dr Eva Lloyd. ‘Explain when you’ll be dropping her off or collecting her, using terms such as “After breakfast” or “After your nap”.
7 Be an optimist
Make sure you’re positive about childcare whenever you discuss it in front of your little one. ‘Try not to show any anxiety about your return to work,’ says Laura. ‘Even if you think you’re just chatting about it with a mum friend, children are experts at picking up on your feelings.’ You could also visit and discuss how much fun she’s going to be having.
8 Book a babysitter
If you’ve barely spent time away from your baby, it’s a good idea to get her used to being looked after by other people. ‘Leave her with a close friend or relatives while you go out for a few hours,’ says Mandy. ‘This will introduce the idea that Mummy goes away, but then always comes back.’
9 Make bedtime count
Tell stories about children going to nursery. ‘Talking to your little one in a relaxed way about her new routine and reading books will really help prepare her,’ says Harriet Dean, childcare expert at tinies.com. Try My First Day At Nursery School (£5.99, Bloomsbury) and See You Later, Mum! (£6.99, Frances Lincoln Children’s Books).
10 Create future friends
If you’re going for a nursery, try to approach a few of the other parents about setting up a playdate. ‘If your toddler hasn’t been in a social setting before, this is a great idea as it will be a big change to spend time in the company of other kids,’ says Harriet. And you might even score yourself some new mummy mates, too.
Ease Into A Routine
'Keep the days and hours regular – predictability is important for children’
11 Stagger your start
Just as it takes time to settle back into work (goodbye coffee shop, hello office), it’s the same for your child, so ease her into nursery gently. ‘Don’t go cold turkey,’ says clinical psychologist Mia Scotland. ‘Begin with an hour together, with you there. Then a couple of hours without you, building up to a full day. After that, keep the days and hours regular – predictability is important for children.’
12 Don’t do a runner
Tempting as it may be to sneak out while your tot is assessing the toy selection, it can cause panic when she realises you’re not there. ‘Even if it makes her cry, tell your child you’re leaving and that you’ll see her again soon,’ says Mia. ‘Then give her a time-related reference, like “Mummy will be back at dinner.”’ Once you’ve decided to go, do it. Lingering will let her know you’re anxious.
13 Give her a Mum-ento
Leave her with a transitional object to remind her of home, such as a blanket, teddy or dummy. ‘As well as a personal comforter, leave something of yours, such as a scarf, and ask her to look after it until you return, reinforcing the idea that you’re coming back,’ says Mia.
14 Set ‘together time’
When you pick up your child, set a ritual of doing the same thing together afterwards, whether it’s reading a book or heading to the swings. ‘When you reunite, make it special,’ says Mia. ‘This will help her look forward to each new day.’
15 Pass the controls
Giving your child some choice over her day can help her accept things she can’t change. ‘Letting Freya pack her bag and pick out clothes meant she looked forward to nursery. Mornings are less stressful now she has an input,’ says Victoria, from London, mum to Freya, four.
16 Check benefits
Ask if your work offers childcare vouchers. ‘Basic rate taxpayers can pay for up to £243-worth of childcare with vouchers each month (£55 a week). This is per parent, so two working parents could get £486 of vouchers each month,’ says Mandy. See moneyadviceservice.org.uk.
17 Get a rebate
A new childcare rebate is due to start next year and will allow parents to claim back up to £2000 per year per child. ‘Both parents will have to be in work and it will apply to children under 12,’ says Mandy. Visit hmrc.gov.uk for more.