Dear Dr. Debbie,
I just started back to work at a childcare center after two years off to be with my baby boy.
Now he has to share me with lots of other children in my class. I have an assistant, but my son doesn’t know her well yet. He wants me for everything. And he gets so upset when another child needs my direct attention. What can I do to reduce his jealousy?
Teacher and Mommy
You are playing a dual role at work which is confusing for your son and challenging for you. A good strategy as the two of you adjust to this new experience is to clearly divide the two environments.
As a child care professional you are probably well aware that drop off time in the morning can be stressful for a child. It is also stressful for the parent who is wary of letting him go. The advice you might give to another parent would be to plan to spend at least five minutes helping her child to settle into his childcare day. As his Mommy, help your own son by developing a ritual much like you would want any parent to do. Expect a few minutes of clinging as you talk him through the transition. Help him put his things away and find something interesting to play with. Remind him that you’ll be busy with all the children soon and that you are looking forward to . . . name an activity that you and he will do together during your break or at the end of your work day. Give him a big hug and a kiss, and if he’s still fussy, hand him off trustingly to your co-worker. As you would for any child struggling with getting used to the reality that his parent is not available to him, check in with him every so often with positive words and reassuring touches. As a teacher of two-year-olds, you know that physical attention is as important as verbal attention. Your lap is as available to him as it is to any of your young charges, especially any of them really needing it. Even a friendly smile from across the table or across the sandbox stokes a toddler’s need to know that a caring adult is aware of him and pleased to be in the same place with him. Include his life experiences, as you do with the other children, as you choose picture books, plan art activities, and spark conversations – however limited their contributions to the discussion are at this age – among the group.
Your after-work hours, just as your before-work hours, should be devoted to meeting your son’s needs for focused attention from you. Clear yourself of other obligations, especially for the next couple of months as your son adjusts to being at the childcare center. Do your best to manage your time to reduce the stress of rushing him through getting up and out in the morning. During the weekend, plan ahead for food and outfits as much as possible. For example, cook in quantities such that leftovers are packaged for lunches and or dinners for the next few days. Shop ahead for fresh fruits and veggies for early in the week and keep frozen fruits and veggies on hand for later in the week. Match up the pieces for several outfits for each of you (with an eye toward the weather predictions) and store them where they are easy to grab and to get you going in the morning. Keep things you need to take with you by the front door. Shortcuts for feeding and dressing will save time for cuddling and conversation as you spend precious time together away from his rivals.
Keep an eye out for a classmate or two who can become a playmate so your son has someone else besides you with whom to share his day. If it isn’t against center policy, plan some play dates on weekends to strengthen the bonds between your son and his new acquaintances. Children as young as two have been known to forge tight and lasting friendships.
It may feel as if he’s intruded on your work world at first, limiting your ability to effectively carry out your duties. But as he gets used to the fact that you are there for the needs of other children, those “others” will eventually be the reason he wants to be there too.
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Dr. Debbie Wood will be presenting “Little Kids at Hope” a workshop for parents, teachers and child care professionals about nurturing relationships in the first five years. The workshop will be held at Chesapeake Children’s Museum in Annapolis, Wednesday, October 17 from 6:30 – 9:30 pm. Register with Arundel Child Care Connections at arundelccc.org or 410-222-1712 ext. 1.
What do you think? Email your comments or questions to Dr. Debbie at editor[at]chesapeakefamily.com.