Q&A: sudden daycare woes

Shruti (again with the beautiful names) writes:

"My 2 year old has been in daycare for a little over 2 months. The first two months she really seemed to enjoy it, but strangely, after the Thanksgiving break, she doesn't seem to want to go there, won't eat all day and won't play with any of the kids. Her daycare center is one of the best, so it can't be that. What could have triggered this and what can I do to help her overcome this?"

Well, my first thought was (let's all say it together now), "Did anything happen that changed her caregivers?" I also wondered if something could have happened over the holiday to make her scared and sad. But no. Here was Shruti's reply:

"No, the staff hasn't changed. She was with us mostly and some family on Thankgiving day. I've been noticing that some of the kids are a little aggressive and push other children. Her teachers tell me that while she does complain about being pushed, she doesn't proactively do anything about it such as defending herself. And that she has been isolating herself to one corner of the classroom and doesn't want to interact with the other children.  I'm wondering whether her aggressive classmates and/or her submissive personality has caused her to lose her confidence. Or is it just one of those toddler ups and downs and a matter of time before she becomes her usual self."

I think she might be out of the honeymoon phase and the reality of the challenges of being around other kids all day may be setting in. Going to a new caregiving situation is a lot like moving to a foreign country. At first you're excited ("Mmmm! Real tacos! And so fresh! Right outside my front door! And look how hot all these men are!") but then at a certain point reality sets in ("Why can't I get a Dr. Pepper in this country? And my head is going to explode if I have to think in Spanish for one more minute!"). And kids can't know how the process is supposed to go, and they have no way of verbalizing it all.

It seems to me that with loving support and consistent routines at home, she'll start to ease into daycare more and more until she doesn't even really notice it anymore (like the point at which you wake up and realize you've been dreaming in a foreign language). You should also work with her on appropriate responses to kids who are more aggressive than she is. The problem with 2-year-olds is that they have little impulse control and can't rely on their verbal skills to negotiate with other kids. You can remind her that kids who hurt her aren't doing it to be mean, but just because they don't know any better. Help her learn to walk away or stand up for herself and to call an adult for help if she's being pushed or hit. Eventually she'll be able to avoid the kids who are always looking for trouble while standing up for herself successfully with the other kids.

(Since I'm a SAHM, this question and all the other recent ones about hitting and pushing at daycare are making me realize how much easier it is to deal with only one or two kids in a hitting/pushing situation. When you only have your own to deal with, you either skulk away home and think about how horrible the other mothers are, or you skulk away home and obsess about how the other mothers must all think you're so horrible. It must be really, really stressful to have to referee between all the pushers and the pushees all day long.)

Does anyone else have any tips to help Shruti's daughter have a better time at daycare?