If your child is going off to nursery for the first time, you’re bound to feel nervous especially if they’ve never been in any other form of childcare before. But keep in mind the reasons you’ve chosen to send your child to nursery – even if it’s because you need to return to work, there are enormous social and developmental benefits associated with being in a nursery setting.
Follow these tips to give your child the chance to thrive and develop the confidence to mix with unfamiliar faces.
Your nursery will offer a settling-in visit for your child which will be shorter than their regular session. This helps your child to understand that you will always return and gives them the confidence to be dropped off next time without being upset.
Before your first visit, it’s worth sitting down together and discussing what is going to happen. You can explain that Mummy or Daddy will take you to nursery which is a super fun place for children to go and play. You’ll read books, listen to songs, play in the sandpit, make new friends, have a snack, and then Mummy or Daddy will come and get you.
By making it sound exciting, your child will be intrigued, and this will feel less like you’re throwing them in at the deep end.
Once you’ve been assigned a key person, make the effort to talk about them frequently at home. If the nursery has a staff page on their website, you can show your child a picture of their key teacher so they can easily recognise that person the next time they attend.
You can also casually drop their name into conversation throughout the day, for example ‘I wonder if Miss Harrison likes unicorns too’ or ‘This is such a fun storybook, you can tell Miss Harrison all about it the next time you see her’.
By talking frequently about their key person, your child will see that you trust them which will help to strengthen their own bond with the teacher too.
When you start nursery, you’ll be provided with some paperwork to fill in. There will be some developmental questions to answer, but there will also be a chance to fill in information about your child’s preferences.
Try to be as thorough as possible, so the nursery team understands the best way to comfort your child if they feel sad or know that their favourite activity is to build a train track or draw a picture. You might also include certain words or expressions that your child regularly uses – this is important if your child isn’t a strong communicator yet.
Children who are settling into nursery, even if it’s a few weeks down the line, like to feel a strong connection to their home life. If they’re struggling to settle, you might use a comforter blanket or favourite teddy to help ease their way into nursery.
As your child becomes more familiar with the setting, they will be less dependent on their comforter.
Once your child has started nursery, try to keep a similar routine so they know what to expect on nursery days and you can experience a smooth and tantrum-free start to the day. If your child eats at home before setting off, then focus on persuading them to have a hearty breakfast. This will help to regulate their mood and prevent them acting up if they’re feeling hungry.
Avoid the morning rush by getting things like the nursery bag, clothes, and packed lunch ready the night before so you’ll have more time to offer attention to your child in the morning. Sing songs on the way to nursery and have fun with them so they arrive in a great mood.
Children are adept at picking up facial cues, so even if your little one has screamed at every single drop-off, try to remain positive even if you’re devastated inside. It can be heart-breaking to see your child in distress but be aware that most children settle very quickly once the parents have gone and have a lovely day with their friends.
Stay positive, cheerful and remember to tell your child about all the wonderful activities they’ll be enjoying today. Once they consistently see that you’re excited for them, then they will begin to relax. Remember to use big smiles and open body language so they can see there’s nothing to worry about.
Even if the rest of the morning has gone swimmingly, the actual point of separation can be very challenging for some children, and their parents. The best advice is not to draw it out. Some children may persuade you to stay and get started on an activity with them or want you to meet one of their friends. But if your child is also having problems with separation, then it’s best to offer a quick goodbye and then leave. The longer you drag this out, the more confusing it is to your child who thinks you might be willing to stay and play all day with the other grownups.
A big hug and a kiss before you turn and go is all your child needs to start their nursery day with confidence.
If your child is struggling to settle into nursery and it’s been a few weeks, then it’s always worth reaching out to their key person or nursery manager to see how you could improve the situation. You may notice a pattern where something triggers strong feelings in your child, perhaps because they don’t like queueing to get in, or they like to take off their shoes before their coat! Each child is an individual so will react differently to being in an unfamiliar environment, but with time and the right support, your little one will quickly begin to thrive at nursery.