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When to Pull the Plug on Your Daycare

When to Pull the Plug on Your Daycare

By Amalah

Hello Amy,

I am a desperate mom of a 11 month old boy who has just started daycare. He has been going for 2.2 weeks now and with the exception of his two naps, stroller walks and eating time, he is constantly crying. The daycare teachers did say that some babies take longer to adjust but he just cries even if he is picked up. He seems to like one of his teachers as she is able to calm him down but not the other three. His favorite teacher isn’t always available to pick him up. He sits there crying even if they give him toys.

He is a happy baby otherwise, loves to play by himself. He is not carried always at home. His eating has not been very good at the daycare but fine at home. He sleeps well through the night (most often). He loves to play with toys, explore everything around everywhere except at the daycare he just stays in one place crying. I am just so miserable and guilty now and have to go back to work in 3 days. He never cries at home and now I am afraid that this is traumatizing him. I did the transition with him at the daycare and it went so smooth initially. Once I left him there for the whole day, the crying is bad. Please advise if you think this is a phase or if crying after 3 weeks is not healthy.


Hmmmm….yeah, I’m not okay with this. What I would consider “typical” daycare adjustment issues at 11 months old would be something along the lines of: He cries consistently at drop-off, settles himself at some point soon after, and is generally happy when you arrive to pick him up. That’s normal separation anxiety. A baby who is still crying ALL DAY well into his third straight week? That sounds like this particular daycare environment might not be the best fit.

That’s NOT to suggest that this daycare is “bad” or neglectful or anything sinister — the fact that they are being open and honest with you about the situation throughout the day is actually a sign of the opposite. Sometimes this stuff just happens. Maybe it’s too loud or bright or overwhelming to him. Maybe there are too many other kids or it’s an overly large, open floorplan so he feels too hesitant to explore. Maybe four teachers is too many different adults for him to bond with and he feels confused.

This is also NOT to suggest that oh well, you better just up and quit working because this particular daycare setting isn’t working out. It’s obviously heartbreaking and crazy stressful for YOU as well, so from that perspective, it’s doubly not working out. Neither of you are happy. Okay. Let’s try something different.

I don’t know what specific type of daycare environment this is — a center or in-home, all infants or mixed age, etc. — so I can’t make specific recommendations on what “other” type you can try. Just know that there ARE other types and options, which for any number of reasons might be a better fit for your baby. Maybe he’d rather stay at home with a part-time nanny who he can bond with one-on-one. Or just a smaller traditional daycare with fewer teachers and children. Maybe joining a playgroup or other group class on your days off will help him grow more comfortable around larger groups of children, if that’s not something he’s regularly been exposed to.

I’m sorry to just be flinging out random guesses here, but honestly the biggest takeaway from this column for you should be that it’s OKAY to say, “You know what? I don’t particularly care that some babies take longer to adjust, MY baby is taking too long for me to comfortably and confidently continue this arrangement.” You don’t feel like this is normal behavior from him, and you know him best. The end!

You’re miserable and guilty and clearly distressed, and apart from the “guilt” (because these things happen!! there can be trial and error in the childcare-finding process!!), I’d say you’re justified to feel pretty upset right now. I wouldn’t want my babies crying all day! I could barely handle the tears at the morning preschool drop-off, even though I had every reassurance that they stopped the second my little guys entered their classroom! It’s really not anyone’s fault, but yeah. Your happy, well-adjusted at home baby is literally crying all day, he seems to actively dislike three of the teachers, and (as of when you sent this letter) nothing is improving with time. Listen to your gut. Only you get to be the last and final arbiter of what a “normal” adjustment phase looks like and when you pull the plug. You can and will find an alternative place or style of childcare that better meets the wholly individual and unique needs of your son.

(And here’s where I ruefully laugh at the possibility that the situation magically improved in between the time you hit the “send” button and when I hit the “publish” button. In that case, AWESOME! He should totally stay put, sorry it took the poor little guy to settle in, happy it worked out. BABIES ARE SO CRAZY-MAKING.)

Photo source: Photodune/Ryanking999


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About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • Myriam

    My 2nd kid took a long time to adjust to daycare. She was in the same in-home daycare as my first, so I was fully confident. Still, it took 3 weeks to START getting better. And at least another 3 for it to be good. My personnal take on it : if you are confident in your daycare choice, if they are open and honest with you, if you like the location, etc. stick with it a little longer. Once you are back to work, if it’s still not working, then look at other options. But please, don’t feel guilty. Separation anxiety is hard on some babies, but it’s not “traumatising” in and of itself. Good luck!

  • Hannah

    I run an in-home daycare and every baby is different. Some adjust in a day or two. Others take much longer. I had two new babies start with me this summer – one part time, one full time. The part timer was inconsolable for the first two MONTHS. He was just not used to being away from mom and was not happy, TYVM ma’am. The full-timer settled within a day and by the end of week one it was like he’d been coming here for his whole life.

    Both needed different approaches in order to feel safe and confident. The part-timer just needed longer to get used to the new routine. He cried – a lot – but we learned that he loved going for walks, and so we went for a ton of walks at first. Every day we spent a good long while with him in the stroller, exploring our neighbourhood and letting him get used to our faces and voices while he was calm. We discovered he loved music (not my singing! actual music on the radio) and so we had so many dance parties that the preschoolers begged for a break. We just kept at it, keeping the lines of communication open between myself and his mom, and I’m happy to report that he is now, at 3.5 months in, a sweet, happy, cheerful little boy who gives me a big hug goodbye every day and doesn’t even cry at drop off anymore.

    All that said… you need to go with your gut. If there are four teachers, this must be a large daycare, and that could very well be overwhelming for a little fellow. Given my line of work, I’m biased, but you may want to consider a smaller, in-home daycare where the adult / child ratio is low (laws vary, so check in your area, but where I am it is 1:6) and the care provider can spend a little more time learning your child’s particular triggers and discovering the best options for soothing him. Good luck!

  • Sara

    I think 11 months is a tough age to start daycare. He’s old enough to have separation anxiety and remember mom enough that he’s difficult to distract, but too young to be able to communicate much or to really engage in a lot of activities. I would give it another couple weeks before considering a move. This daycare seems to be open and trying to work with you. Switching to another childcare situation will just start the clock all over on again on getting him adjusted.

    • Amy Renee

      Yes, 11 months is prime separation anxiety time – and it sounds like may have latched on to the one teacher and is now on with her, but is freaking out when she isn’t available. Is he on if he can see that teacher, even if she isn’t holding him, or does she have to be physically holding him to call him down?

      There are a few things you could try – do you have a spouse/partner who could do dropoff instead of you?Maybe leaving Daddy or grandma wouldn’t be as upsetting? Could you move the dropoff time to correspond with something distracting, like arriving right at breakfast time and putting him straight at the table with his favorite food (we had to do this with my oldest around age 1 – the only way my husband could get away from daycare without a scene was to arrive just in time to put him at the table and give him his favorite food (toast). If he got there 15 minutes early he either had to stay and distract my son until breakfast – if he tried to leave kiddo with the teacher he would start wailing and not stop for quite a while.

      However, it may just be terrible timing. Our daycare director started when her daughter was somewhere around 9-12 months old, and her daughter had horrible separation anxiety – she could scream for more than an hour after her mom left. Which would have been bad enough, but since the director was in the building working it was impossible for her to do her job without the kiddo catching sight of her mom a couple times a day – and every time she did it started another hour+ long crying session. After a week or two, the director had to throw in the towel and hire a nanny to watch her daughter for a couple of months, and then try daycare again – and that time it went OK.

      Good luck to the OP and I hope she finds a way to work this out.

  • DJ

    My eldest was around 2 years old when he went to daycare (PT) for the first time. He did not cry all day. But over 10 months, I had maybe a total three weeks where he’d not cry when I dropped him off. I know that for some kids, that is normal. It wasn’t for him. So, we went from a facility to an in-home. In the past 6 months, he’s cried like three times when I dropped him off. Like Amy says, that is not to say that the facility was bad or neglectful, just not the right fit.

    Go with your gut. Good luck!

  • Michelle Boehm

    I agree that waiting a tiny bit longer won’t hurt, but in the mean time maybe start to look at different options. My eldest was in an in-home daycare situation, and was by far the youngest. In retrospect, this was perfect for her. She’s a people watcher, and so watching the older kids in the home kept her fascinated. I don’t think she would have adjusted nearly as well in a room full of other babies her own age. Most importantly, don’t feel guilty! The center you are currently using does sound fully capable, and they are being honest with you, so you did a great job finding a great place. It just may be that the fit isn’t perfect for your kid, but there’s no way you could have known that before!