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Ask the Parent Coach: Helping Young Children Adapt to Daycare

Published on: November 04, 2013

Clingy preschooler

Ask the Parent Coach: Jennifer Watanabe

Q: My 4-year-old daughter is so clingy! When I pick her up from daycare she won’t leave my side. She hangs on my leg. She begs me to pick her up and hold her. I can’t even go to the bathroom by myself! I feel terrible that she has to go to daycare, but our family needs my paycheck, and besides, I love my profession and I worked hard to get to this point in my career. Do you have any suggestions on how to help my daughter be more independent?

Clingy preschoolerA: For many families, the transition from parent care to daycare can be highly emotional for all parties.

You have not said that your daughter is unhappy while she is at daycare. Is everything going well while she is there? Are you happy with the caregivers and the facility? Since your daughter is so young, she may not know if something is not right, and she may not be able to voice her concerns. Because your daughter is displaying emotional upset, first do what you need to to reassure yourself that all is well on the childcare front by asking her caregivers for more details about how her days are going.

With regard to your child’s behavior when you and she reunite at day’s end, it sounds like your daughter would benefit from some reassurance, too.  You are probably already doing the things I will be suggesting, but I encourage you to keep doing the following — empathetically and genuinely. Begin by greeting her as if she is a long-lost love, because that is likely to be the way your daughter feels upon seeing your face.

Pause to allow your daughter time to “take you in.” If you are able to take 10‒15 minutes when you first reunite, either at the childcare facility or in the car, hold her tightly and warmly.  Express your love for your daughter by telling her that you thought of her all day, that you could not wait to see her again this afternoon and that you are looking forward to spending time with her this evening. You may even bring a favorite book to read or a favorite teddy bear for her to hold between the two of you.

You would also do well to validate the feelings your daughter is likely to be having: She misses you when you apart. Let her know that you understand and that you feel the same way, too.

You may need to take another 15 minutes to “refill your daughter’s gas tank” once you get home. Many people need to be replenished emotionally more than once a day. This is especially true of young children. We could all benefit by taking a lesson from the favorite children’s song that encourages families to exchange hugs at least four times a day: “Four hugs a day, that’s the minimum, four hugs a day, that’s the minimum...”

For many families, the evening brings so many tasks and chores in a short amount of time — getting dinner started, eaten and cleaned up; laundry done; tidying the home; bath and reading time. Not to mention any work brought home, time for adult relationships, paying bills, relaxing etc. In the daily life of families, there will be times when extra care and attention will need to be paid to our loved ones — especially the little ones — after a long day.


Jennifer WatanabeJennifer Watanabe is the parent coach at Youth Eastside Services (YES). She teaches Positive Discipline classes and provides individual parent coaching. As a Certified Parent Coach, she has vast experience teaching parenting classes, using research-based information on child development, temperament, discipline, and emotion management. She specializes in helping parents who are longing for a better relationship with their children and who need a more effective way to discipline. Perhaps most importantly, Jennifer understands first-hand the issues parents face in our community.

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