Transitioning a child into a creche or kids’ church is an exciting and important milestone. Many parents feel anxious about this step, as it may be the first time their child has been looked after by someone other than family. Or it may be that their child is already in daycare, so there is guilt associated with their child being away from a parent on the weekend too. Leaders can also feel ill-equipped as they are unsure if it is okay for children to cry as they settle into children’s ministry. This article is for parents and leaders as they help transition our littlest members of church.
Throughout this article, I’ve used the term ‘Creche’. At Grace City we take children into our children’s programs from 10 months, as long as they can sit independently. The first program in our children’s ministry is ‘Creche’. Other churches may use the term ‘Kids Church’ or commence at preschool age. But the principles below are still applicable.
1. Why: It is important to remember why children and adults attend church. Children’s ministry is not babysitting while their parents listen to a sermon. It is their weekly gathering with God’s family. Creche is a formative time for children to learn from the bible, sing songs of praise and build relationships with their church family. If you remember the ‘why’, the transition process is worth it.
2. Pray: Give your worries and concerns to God in prayer. It can be upsetting and worrying for parents and leaders if a child is upset as they transition to Creche. Remember God is all-powerful and cares deeply for his children, including babies and toddlers. So bring this to God in prayer. The act of praying is also a wonderful way to help adults to remain calm. Research on mirror neurons has shown us that children will reflect or mirror anxiety displayed by adults. As adults, praying is a great way to remain calm and focus on reflecting positive mirror neurons to children.
3. Consistent Routine: A Sunday morning routine will really help with a child’s transitions into Creche. If the morning is calm and predictable, it won’t take long for the child to anticipate going to Creche and know this is a good, safe and enjoyable part of their weekend. Parents can create routines in a number of ways such as listening to certain music in the car and talking about church on the drive.
Leaders can also create a consistent routine for Creche. A predictable pattern to the morning helps children feel safe and secure. At Grace City our routine is free play, singing, story, prayer, craft, snack, free play.
4. Arrive Early: It is distressing and anxiety-provoking to a child if they are rushed to church and then enter their program after it has started. Arriving early really sets children up for success as they transition to Creche. Leaders should have their rooms open 10-15 minutes before the service start time. This allows the parents to come in early and settle their child into an activity. For an unsettled child, this is also advantageous as there are fewer children around, so a leader is more likely to be able to hold and comfort the child.
5. Strategic Dropoff: For a child who is struggling with the transition to Creche, consider a different carer doing drop-off. Generally, a child will be more clingy and teary when the primary carer is doing the drop-off. So it can be worthwhile for the other parent or a friend to make this transition less emotional and a faster transition.
6. Say Goodbye: Parents will often attempt to sneak out of the room once their child is distracted. They think this means they won’t be upset because their child won’t notice they have slipped away. Children develop the skill of object permanence at around 8 months old. So they will notice that a parent has left. If this is a surprise it can be more upsetting. It is better for a parent to say a quick but upbeat goodbye with a big smile. A brief and happy goodbye also communicates trust in the leaders. Leaders can assist by helping the child say goodbye back and wave to the parent with a smile. Leaders should also feel confident to encourage parents to say a quick goodbye, as dragging out the separation usually causes more upset.
7. Tears Are Natural: It is very normal for a child to cry when they are separated from their parents. Separation anxiety is a natural step in child development. It begins around 6-7 months and reaches its full peak at 14-18 months. Over time as children become comfortable with separation and safe with the leaders, the tears will subside.
8. Distraction: This is a powerful technique for parents and leaders. After drop-off, parents should move away and distract themselves. If possible, it is valuable to move to a room where you can’t hear the Creche children. At Grace City, we encourage parents to move directly into the auditorium. Unsettled children generally only cry for about 5 minutes, but this can feel distressing to a parent. Also, it can be hard to distinguish between which child is crying. Parents sometimes try to peep their heads into the room to see if their child is upset. This is extremely unhelpful because if the child spots the parent, they are likely to get upset.
Leaders can use distraction to settle children of all ages. Some techniques include singing to music, blowing bubbles, reading a story, chanting a rhyme, playdough, peekaboo or playing with a new toy. A key strategy in distracting young children is moving them away from the door. If you try to settle a child next to the door, the child will constantly look to the door to see if their parent will return.
9. Trust: It is important that parents trust the leaders to care for their child. Most teams in children’s ministry will include leaders with great experience in transitioning children. At Grace City, we have always had success transitioning children into Creche. Some children take longer than others. But every child makes the transition eventually.
10. Realistic Timeframes: It is helpful for leaders and parents to have realistic expectations as children transition to Creche. It generally takes at least 4 weeks for a child to settle. Church is different to daycare or preschool because there is a whole week between each Sunday. So don’t be disheartened if the transition takes longer than anticipated.
It is also important to have realistic timeframes for children crying. Grace City has a policy that if a child cries persistently for ten minutes then the leader will come to collect the parent. Persistently means ongoing without a break. It is very typical for children will cry for a couple of minutes, then engage happily, then a little later cry for a couple of minutes again. If this is the pattern, it is best to keep the child in Creche as they are showing signs of adjusting.
It is not a failed attempt if a child cries persistently for ten minutes and a parent is asked to come and collect them. This is just the first step in the transition process. Some children require a short separation from their parents which can then gradually be extended each week as the child becomes more comfortable.
11. Attend Regularly: Children will transition to Creche quicker if they attend church every week. This isn’t always feasible, especially as young children are susceptible to being sick. But when possible, parents should prioritise coming to church so that it becomes a regular part of their family routine. Leaders should also be prepared that if a child has been absent for a couple of weeks, it is likely they will be more unsettled when they return.
12. Celebrate Wins: Transitioning a child to Creche can be a journey that requires persistence. So it’s important to celebrate the small wins and trust in long-term success. Small wins might be a child settling quicker than the previous week, playing more independently, waving goodbye at drop-off, or reaching for a hug from a leader. The transition process really is a partnership between parents and leaders, so celebrating the small successes helps the collaboration.