The welcoming of a child to a daycare institucion: The process of entering and the work of separation


Yolanda Sarsa

Patinete” Childcare Director


The entering of the child to a daycare constitutes a work as our own entity. The arrival to an unknown place, to a place where there are many people also unknown, may represent a very threatening situation for a child, and the fact that the space and individuals may be attractive and nice to the child is not enough reason for the child to want to be there. On the other hand, the child’s continuation in the place will inevitably be associated with the fact that the mother, father, or personal companion of his surroundings who may have cared for him until then such person suddenly disappears from the scene, may present all the anguish that may develop in same cases. In this way we could talk not only about the work of caregiving, but the work the child has to realize in his initiation of the daycare experience. On one hand, the child will have to gain ownership of the space and his educators to be able to perceive it and them as part of a familiar world, and on the other hand the child will have to work to separate from his companion to be able to experience the separation without an excessive amount of anguish.

In Patinete the educators must also work to facilitate and make possible a good encounter with the child. In the first place, this proposition distinguishes us from other day cares: the child, in the beginning, in this variable first time for each child and his family, will stay with us and be accompanied by that person of his familiar surroundings. We understand that accompanying the child will help the child with his needed sense of security by facilitating the “affective bridge” that will be established among the educators and the families, which means that little by little, the child will include us in the familiarity of his surroundings. The place and the educators will be then “drenched” with the tone of security and accompany that transition which we work toward. Also, because the separation always works in two directions, both the child and the companion will be addressed in this work.

Many times we suggest the parents to bring something with which they themselves may be distracted. The reason is that in this way we transmit to the child and to the parent that if “mom” is not continuously attentive to the child, it is because it is not necessary because there are other people, the educators, who will be there caring for him. On the contrary, the child may fear that there is something to be concerned about if his “mom” does not take her eyes off from him. Thus, there are other things that we suggest the parents do when they are there.

When they are with their child in Patinete, they direct the child toward us. That means that if the child asks for a toy, water, a cookie, they will have to tell him that it is to us to whom he has to direct his request. It is about transmitting to the child that if at home the parents please their desires and needs, in the daycare other people will do it, the educators.

In this way, with these two requests, the companion will spend time with the child at the daycare. For how long is the next issue. There is not one response. First, there is the possibility that one child could not be accompanied by anyone, not even for the first day. It is possible that the parents will not have that time and that there are no other family members available. Also it might be the case in some instances that the parents simply do not want to do it. In Patinete, we make it clear that this accompaniment does not constitute an obligation. We should not pressure it if there is not willingness and a good disposition. Also the accompanying, if misunderstood, may result negatively to the child.

On some occasions, we have found cases in which this “mom” spent their time in Patinete completely attached to the child in a way that they did not give the vital space for the child to explore and interact nor the space for us to start introducing ourselves into that relationship. In these situations, the extremely dedicated work must be realized on our part. At this point the issue is rich, complicated and difficult to address.

On the other hand, we were able to prove how, for some parents, it is very difficult to be in Patinete with their children. Sometimes it was not easy to access the position of a “distracted companion”; in the same way it was not easy for them to subtract themselves to the requests of their child. In all the cases however, it is important to observe the style of relationship that they have established with their children.

The decision must be the ideal time to separate from the child. The response is particular to each case. There is not an ideal time, but there are some indications that the moment is getting close. For example, we tell the mother or the father, when they have spent a few days with us and we see the child is showing a state of wellness in Patinete, for them to start leaving for short periods of time: to go out to have a coffee or to go to another space within the daycare. This facilitates an encounter and conversations with other parents or other personnel at the daycare. The way the child assimilates in that short space of time will constitute a good indicator if he is arriving or not to that moment. If the companion agrees, he will be able to leave the child the whole time alone with us.

I would like now to talk about a complementary question related with this issue, and that is it may seem not important, it is of vital importance: the departure time. In the big majority of cases, when the mother or father wants to leave Patinete for the first time, they try to do it when the child is distracted, for the child not to notice that they are leaving. In Patinete we let the parents know the importance of their goodbye, to let the child know that they are leaving and that they are going to be back after a while, or in the afternoon, and not immediately if it is not going to be that way. When a mother or father leaves without a goodbye, it may be perceived by the child as a disappearance and generate distrust. We have observed that when someone has left, hiding it from the child, then comes anguish, and the next day the child clings to them without any ability to go to look for a toy. The sensation that the child has had is that when he gets distracted, the other disappears. It is very different to assure the child that the companion has to go because they have something else to do, and that they will not disappear but are in another place, and that after a while they will return to pick up the child. Sometimes it is difficult for the child to accept a bye-bye, and that is the reason why the parents try to avoid it. To them it is painful to leave. But they do not realize that when they disappear, they don’t witness the anguish of the child left behind.

We work on the issue of the absence as something like a fundamental play in the first steps of the child: the “pick-a-boo” game with all its variants. We all know in what such games consist, but few imagine the basic function that this game has. When a child plays that something is here and later is not there, he is working on the concept of presence-absence, putting in place the function of symbolization. It means that the things or people continue to exist even if the child can’t see it or them. They do not disappear except from sight. The toy we had hide under a rug still exists, has not disappeared, and the mother that has left the daycare has not disappeared but also continues to exist. This way the child can be an active part of this process of separation by creating for himself the concept of things going and returning and thus cooperating in the process of symbolization for maternal disappearance.

To conclude, I would like to point out the importance of facilitating the process of the child entering a daycare with the treatment given to the objects that the child brings from his home. On many occasions the arrival of the child, the opening of our presence is through this object. We must receive the object as a part of the child that we accept, care for, and give all our importance.

Translation: Vilma Celotti

Revision: Liliana Kruszel