Supporting your child’s emotional well-being on their return to Early Learning and Care

Here are some great tips for supporting your child’s emotional well-being as they return to childcare. These come from Barnardos and can be found on the website Let’s Get Ready – links below.

As Early Learning and Care settings reopen, you might be thinking about your child’s return to preschool, childminder or crèche. You may be looking forward to getting back to some kind of normality, but for your child the many weeks on pause will have become their new normal. There might be worries and concerns about the return to childcare and early learning. Many families have experienced and continue to experience stressful events and situations that may have been physically exhausting and emotionally draining on all members of the family. We know you want the best for your child. Below are some guidelines that may help you support your child through this important time.

Keep Calm

When parents are feeling anxious, children can notice this and begin to feel stressed too. Take the time to check in with yourself. How are you currently feeling about your child’s return to childcare? This may feel like quite a stressful time for many reasons. If these feelings are overwhelming, try pausing and taking a few deep breaths. If you can be mindful, and stay calm, you will be better able to remain connected to what your child’s needs are and be more able to respond to them. When you are calm you are more able to see the reasons behind your child’s behaviour and respond to the needs and feelings that are behind the behaviour. Ask yourself ‘What is my child feeling?’ and ‘What does my child need?’ Keep in tune with your own feelings and what you need too.

This is one simple exercise that you might find helpful:                                           

  • Pause
  • Focus on your breath
  • Breathe in slowly, right down into your tummy, then exhale completely
  • Take 5 more slow breaths, being aware of each breath in and each breath out

After several of these breaths, you will find that your heart rate has slowed down, your breathing is deeper and you feel calmer. It will relax your body and allow you to feel calmer and think more clearly. If possible, get support from your family and friends. Chat with other parents about how you and they are feeling. Try to keep up any hobbies or activities that bring you peace or that you enjoy. There are lots of great mindfulness resources and ideas on the internet that you might like to try. Having good, clear information and knowing what to expect can also help you to stay calm. You will find information and resources in the links at the end of this guide.

Communicate with your child

As their parent, you will know your child best and you are probably already aware of how they might cope with the return to preschool or crèche. Talk with your child about the plan to return and about the changes that will happen. Ask them about what they think and how they feel. Listen carefully and attentively to all they have to say and answer any questions they might have. If available, use photos of the setting and stories to help you talk about their return. Throughout the day, talk about the people from your child’s setting and the activities they enjoyed if they attended before. Join your child in play. Play helps children to make sense of what is happening in their world. Sometimes just watching their pretend play can give you an insight into how your child is feeling and what they are thinking about returning to their setting.

Communicate with your Provider and be prepared

Many children and adults find change stressful. However, as mentioned earlier, when we know what to expect, it can help to reduce this stress.

  • Talk with your childcare provider or childminder as there are likely to be new procedures in place to minimise the spread of Covid-19.
  • Ask questions about any changes that might impact on you and your child’s experiences, for example, new arrangements at drop-off time, reduced number of children and adults in the room, or changes to the room layout.
  • Help prepare your child by talking with them about these changes. Keep your voice calm and play out these new situations together in a relaxed and fun way.
  • If you and your child travel on public transport to get your childcare setting, it may be helpful to practice this journey so they become familiar with any changes such as passengers wearing facemasks or restricted seating.

Your provider or childminder will also be preparing for the return of children to the setting. To help them to support your child on their return, it is important that you share with them any information you think they should know. Tell them about what your child has been interested in during the last few weeks and what they’ve enjoyed playing with most. This will help the educators to provide some consistency, which can help reduce stress. Tell them about any stressful events in your child’s life, for example, the death of a grandparent, and discuss how your child has coped with being out of the setting and any ideas you have that will help them to settle back in. Remember, you know your own child best so keep communicating often with the educators, asking them how your child is getting on and letting them know what is happening for your child at home.

Keep to a Routine

A consistent daily routine is very important for children as it creates a sense of stability and predictability, and helps to reduce stress. This will be of particular importance when adjusting to the return to preschool or crèche. Consider ways to establish a new family routine that will work for you and your child as you move back to childcare. For example, set up a consistent time for getting up in the morning and going to bed at night. This may need to happen gradually if your child has become used to varied times. Ask the educators about the expected daily routine in the setting and share with them your child’s routine at home. This is particularly important for younger children as big changes to their normal routines are likely to lead to more discomfort and distress.

Be Understanding

Everyone has been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic in different ways. Young children are particularly vulnerable to the social and emotional effects of stressful situations in the lives of their families and communities, and rely on parents and caregivers to soothe and nurture them. When young children are overwhelmed by their big feelings, we typically see this show up in their behaviour. Your child might have separation anxiety and become distressed about being apart from you. They might appear withdrawn or angry, and they may also regress to a behaviour more typical of earlier stages in their development. These are normal responses to situations or events that children find stressful. Your child might not be able to put their feelings into words but it is important to reassure them that they are loved and help them to organise their feelings.

Signs of stress or trauma that you might see in your child’s behaviour and what you can do about it

Sleep difficulty (fear of falling asleep or staying asleep; nightmares)

  • Make sure there is a consistent and soothing bedtime routine (bath, reading books,
    dim light, cuddles and snuggling). Respond immediately to soothe your child if they
    have a nightmare.

Changes in how they eat (loss of appetite, refusing to eat, hoarding or hiding food)

  • Make sure meal times are calm and consistent, where the child is able to sit down
    at the table. Offer choices in foods. Don’t worry about any messiness.

Changes in toileting (constipation, stool holding, bed-wetting, ‘accidents’)

  • Reduce stress around toileting. Use books, games, or activities that are only for
    those times.
    Older children should go to the toilet regularly. Ensure that they have food that
    supports healthy digestion – fruits, vegetables, and grains for toddlers and older

Reappearance of behaviours common at an earlier age (bedwetting, thumb sucking, clinging to you, fear of strangers, baby talking)

  • Reassure your child that you are close and they are safe. Stay near. Tell them
    when you are leaving and when you will be back. If they are clingy, hold them for a
    little while longer. Encourage comfort items, like a teddy or blanket. Make sure
    there is a lot of sitting on your lap and spending time together. Encourage drawing
    or painting and pretend play as ways of expressing fears and emotions

Biting, kicking, tantrums, aggression

  • Provide safe and loving limits. Help give your young child the words to describe
    their emotions. ‘I see you are angry. You don’t want to come inside right now.’
    Redirect to a quiet area where they can calm down with you and organise their
    feelings. Read children’s books that help to show how to handle emotions.

Shows no emotion, no joy

  • Offer a hug and a sense of safety. Give your child your full attention as often as
    you can (for example, avoid being on your phone too much). Children learn by
    imitating adults. Even babies can mirror the mood of their parent. If you are having
    a lot of difficulty coping in these very difficult times, consider talking to your doctor
    about ways to support your own emotional health. You are not alone in this.

Difficulty concentrating, frustration, difficulty with changing activities

  • Reduce distractions. Set up a quiet area. Model how to calm yourself down when
    Help your child to take some deep breaths – ‘In your mind, count “1, 2, 3” for each
    breath in and “1, 2, 3” for each breath out.’ Pause slightly at the end of each breath



Adjustment to change is a process that takes place over time. Your child’s first few days back to crèche, preschool or childminder might go really well. However, keep in mind that sometimes a child’s stress will not show until a week or so into the new schedule, so don’t be too surprised if you see signs of stress start to show later on. It is important that you plan for your child’s return to childcare and early learning to reduce the worry and anxieties for everyone involved and to help make it a positive experience. Be sure to include your child in conversations about making plans. Above all, be kind to yourself. You can only do the best you can in whatever situation you are in.

Ask for help

Talk to your child’s educator about any behaviour that is worrying you to get support and to work together on things you can try both at home and in the setting.

For more resources and ideas see

You can also download the pdf of this article here


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Safer Internet Day takes place next Tuesday, 7th February 2023. Sadly more than 1 in 4 young people in Ireland have experienced cyberbullying, yet only 60% of victims tell their parents. As teenagers and children spend more time on the internet, ensuring it's a safe space is ever more important. To encourage conversation about life online and help parents keep their children safe, I'd like to share a free resource created by It's a comprehensive guide which includes things like:
  • How to reduce the risks online
  • How to recognise cyber bullying and grooming
  • How to educate children on cyber safety
  • How to set up parental controls on devices
I thought it may be useful to share the link to the guide - - which you can include on your website ahead of Safer Internet Day, to help parents and children who may need some extra support. We've also put together some handy top tips you can use on your website: 10 tips to keep your children safe online
  1. Talk about it:Make time to chat about online risks and how to use the internet safelyas soon as they're old enough to go online. Encourage your children to speak to you about what they view online and empower them to act if they're worried about anything.
  2. Recognise the risks: Educate yourself about the potential dangers children could face online so  it’s easier to spot warning signs. Get to know what platforms your children use, and learn about dangers such as phishing, grooming and cyberbullying.
  3. Teach the do's and don'ts: Be clear about the non-negotiables.  For example, teach your child not to share personal details or photos with strangers and instruct them not to click on links to unknown websites or texts. Do encourage your child to question what they see and only accept friend requests from people they know.
  4. Spot the signs: Pay attention to your children's behaviour whilst on and off their devices. Being alert to changes in your child can help prevent problems from escalating. Some warning signs are withdrawing from friends or family, sleeping and eating problems or losing interest in previously loved hobbies or interests.
  5. Set boundaries:Let your children know what they can and can't do on the internet from the get-go. Agree on what devices they can use, when, and how long they can spend online. As they get older, explaining and negotiating boundaries may be more effective.
  6. Take 'parental' control: These ready-made boundaries put parents in control of what children can see online. They can be set up through your internet provider at device level to block specific websites and filter out inappropriate content.
  7. Be social media savvy:  The popularity of social media apps like TikTok and Snapchat makes it harder to keep track of what your child is accessing online.  Fortunately, each social media platform has its own privacy settings and safety tips for parents. Check them out before you let children have their own accounts.
  8. Protect from harm:Install antivirus software on family devices to minimise the risk of cyber attacks or scams. Use two-factor authentication (2FA) for extra security on your online accounts. This can also stop children from signing into services they're not allowed to use.
  9. Set a great example:  You're the greatest 'influencer' in your children's lives when they're young.  Limiting your time online, discussing dangers you've come across, and questioning what you view can help reinforce the rules you are setting for your children and, in turn, influence their online behaviour.
  10. Seek support:The more you learn about online dangers, the better equipped you'll be to handle them. There are some great resources like  webwise.ieinternetmatters.organd to help you recognise and reduce online dangers and seek advice if you think your child is experiencing cyberbullying or is at risk online.
        Short videos on the Importance of Play have recently launched which was a collaboration between North Central CFSN and Lifestart Services.   Volume 1 Volume 2 Volume 3 Volume 4 Volume 5 Volume 6

Infant Mental Health Awareness Week runs from June 13th-19th.           

This week provides an opportunity to focus attention on the wellbeing, social and emotional development of our babies and young children. It highlights the importance of early relationships and a relationship based approach to interventions with infants and families. As our understanding of IMH and its evidence base develops, so also does our knowledge of how to apply this knowledge and an ‘IMH lens’ to interactions with infants, parents and caregivers in health and social services. 

What is infant mental health?

Infant Mental health (IMH) refers to the healthy social and emotional development of Infants starting at conception up to three years of age.

The first 1000 days of life are recognised as a critical period of opportunity to support infant mental health. Decades of research have shown that it is the quality of the early caregiver relationship that is a significant determinant of the infant’s healthy social and emotional development and in turn physical health, right up to adulthood.


The National Healthy Childhood Programme has embedded IMH as the foundation of the development of its resources and in the approach of the delivery of the universal child health service. This embedding of key messages can be seen in the My Child suite of books ( and also on  where key messages around bonding and relationship building have been embedded for the parent/caregiver.


In clinical practice the topic of IMH has been included for the first time in the National Standardised Child Health Record. To build on this, the National Healthy Childhood Programme have just completed a suite of three eLearning units which are now available on HSEland for healthcare practitioners / caregivers who are working with children and families.  


Throughout the week you will see videos and key IMH messaging being promoted on the HSE MyChild social media pages ( Facebook / Instagram ). Keep an eye out in the National Newspapers for articles from our experts also. (IrishTimes article)  


In addition The National Healthy Childhood Programme have developed a series of ten practical videos with HSE expert advice which are now available on YouTube and on the relevant pages on the website.

These videos (2-3 minutes each) are aimed at parents/guardians of children (0 – 3 years).

These new video resources are available here while lots more expert advice for every step of pregnancy, baby and toddler health can also be found at

There are a suite of posters available focusing on the promotion of IMH messaging to order from

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