How to Know if a Toddler Is Happy in Day Care

Starting a toddler in day care can be stressful for both the parents and the child. Particularly with young children who may not have extensive language skills, you may wonder how you'll know whether the day care environment is a good fit for your child. A little observation and detective work can help ascertain whether your little one is happy and secure in his new day care facility.

Adjustment Period

It can take time for a toddler to adjust to a new day care environment. Initially, a toddler may become quite emotional and upset as she anticipates going to day care or after you drop her off. This emotional turmoil can be especially pronounced for a toddler who has not had extensive experience with separations from parents. The time period for the adjustment varies according to a toddler’s personality and temperament, advises Marsha Greenberg, author of "Raising Your Toddler." 1

Drop-Off and Pickup

Even if your toddler has difficulty with separating from you when you drop him off at day care, it’s likely that he’ll appear happy and secure by the time you pick him up later in the day. You should see evidence that your toddler has been calmly interacting with care providers and with other children. If your child remains visibly upset and emotional at the end of the day, he may not be adjusting and acclimating to the day care environment.

Toddler Behavior

Watch your toddler’s behavior when he’s with you for clues that he may not be happy in day care. You may notice a change in eating or sleeping habits. You may also notice increased upset when it’s time to drop him off at day care -- over and above standard separation anxiety. A toddler may also show you that he’s unhappy at day care by exhibiting behavioral problems such as aggression or anger, according to the authors of "What to Expect: The Toddler Years." 2

Checking In

Drop in at an unscheduled time during the day to ensure that your child is happy and well-adjusted at day care. Most day cares offer an open-door policy that invites parents to visit the facility at any time during the day to ensure that their child is happy and well taken care of, according to Cathie Robertson, author of “Safety, Nutrition & Health in Child Care.” As long as you find your child in good spirits and safe, you can probably assume he is generally happy in day care 3. If you find your child crying and unhappy during your drop-in visit (or over a period of several visits), you may need to explore finding a new day care situation for him.