Return to work

Recent research from PACEY has revealed the true extent of worry that mothers face when returning to work. 

Nine out of ten mums (90%) say they felt anxious about returning to work after having a child. While around half of mums (48%) admitted to being very anxious. 

The decision as to who would look after their children was a major worry - half of respondents (48%) were anxious that they wouldn't find suitable childcare. Read more in our news story here. 

The emotional impact on mothers, and children, during the transition back to work is all too often underestimated, and childcare providers play a vital role in alleviating parent’s concerns during this time. 

If you're a parent whose child is about to start childcare, and you're returning to work, we have the tips, advice and guidance to support you. 

Top tips

If you're a parent returning to work, we understand the emotional anxiety you might be feeling. Here are our top tips to take the stress out of returning to work:

  • Do your research and plan ahead. Often childcare settings have waiting lists, so don’t leave it until the last minute to start your search - that will only add to your stress. Choose a childcare setting that prioritises settling in. Watch whether other children start their day happily.
  • Manage the transition. Don't rush settling in, be conscious it will take time for your child to develop a bond with their new carer. Once you see this bond in place though, you'll feel more comfortable about leaving your child.
  • There doesn’t have to be tears. Whilst separation anxiety in children and parents is common, a good quality childcare setting will have a clear plan for managing the settling in process. This should allow for a smooth transition for you and your child.
  • Talk to your childcare provider. Share your concerns and any issues and keep dialogue flowing. A strong two way relationship will benefit all of you and provide stability for your child.
  • Choose quality. Finding the right childcare will lessen your anxiety about returning to work. A childcare provider who is a member of PACEY is demonstrating their committment to professional standards and delivering high quality childcare.

Separation anxiety and settling in

Penny Tassoni, child development expert and PACEY President, offers advice on the transition to childcare for both children and parents like you. 

A parent's story

Jennie and Sebastian Cooper:

I wanted to go back to work when Seb was 2, so I found a nursery setting ahead of finding a job, but he hated it. He started with settling in sessions twice a week, but he wouldn’t settle, he cried on and off the whole time he was there and it affected him at home.

He became clingy, anxious, his appetite and sleep were deeply affected. Six weeks after he started, I was so distressed with how unhappy Seb was, I had no choice but to put my plans to return to work on hold. It took a further six weeks for Seb to return back to the normal, happy child he is. 

Three or four months later I decided to try a different approach and found a PACEY childminder. Seb was more receptive to the home-based setting and despite the childminder saying that he had the worst case of separation anxiety she had ever seen, he did adapt and start enjoying his time away from me.

It still took the childminder almost three months to get him to settle fully and the childminder used several different methods to support him. Mainly she taught him how to calm himself when he became anxious by taking deep breaths and sitting down quietly. I also used to make plans for later in the day, that way when he became upset they could talk about what he and mummy would be doing once I came to get him. It was a rather long and painful process all round!

He has since started a pre-school and I was incredibly anxious about having to start settling in all over again, but I worked closely with my childminder and it was a gradual process. He is now extremely happy at pre-school, in fact it is safe to say he loves it!

A childminder's story

Lucinda Hill-Chambers

I have a very individual approach to settling in new children and see 'settling in' the parents to be just as important. If Mum is stressed and unhappy it rubs off on the child! From the moment parents first visit my setting I am trying to reassure them of my credentials, which include being a mother of three children – I’ve been there myself and can empathise with their situation.

The settling-in process begins with inviting Mum and/or Dad to come in to go through paperwork. I use this as an opportunity to get to know the child and their family by trying to find out plenty of relevant information about the child's likes and dislikes whilst they play with the reassurance of their primary carer close by.

At this meeting I also give the parents an 'All about me' form to take home. This asks for information about the child's routines, special people, favourite things – all this information helps me to plan for the child's arrival.

We also book settling in visits in the diary. These visits are complimentary and each child can have as many or as few as they need. If parents want to stay for some visits they can, alternatively I am happy for the child to be left here from the first short visit. At all times I am liaising with parents about the number, frequency and length of the visits necessary for their child.

When the new little one starts we do our best to work around their individual routine as possible - it's one of the many benefits of being a small, independent setting! This means that we work with their current nap and meal times to ensure as smooth a transition as possible. We keep parents thoroughly updated on how their child’s day is going, either by sending photos and observations via the online learning journal we use, and also using the child’s Daily Diary which includes information about food, nappies, sleep and a written summary of the day. 

Choosing great childcare

We spoke to Linda, mum to 18-month-old Maria, about her childcare choices and her experience of returning to work.

Going back to work was a real shock to the system. The four months or so before I went back was an anxious time. Not only was I looking for childcare, but thoughts such as "can I still do this?, Will my colleagues accept me again?" were buzzing round my mind. Looking back, my advice to anyone in a similar situation is to take your time and do your research.

Helping your child settle in

If your child is starting a new childcare setting it’s important that you are both happy and supported through the transition.

Remember to allow as much time as you can for both you and your child to get familiar with your new setting. Here we talk through tips before they start, the settling-in period, and greeting and saying goodbye. Including Penny Tassoni's five-step settling in process. 

Factsheets to download

Role of the key person

Whatever your childcare setting, your child will have a key person/worker assigned to them. Learn more about what the key person's role is and how you can work well together. Download this factsheet to learn more.  

Transitions and settling in

Change can be a challenge - for you as well as for your child. This factsheet looks at how you and your childcarer can work together to support your child through change - from settling in with a new childcarer to leaving childcare and heading to school. Download this transitions and settling in factsheet to learn more.