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Helping Your Child Settle in at Nursery

It can be so disheartening when your child seems genuinely distraught when you leave them at nursery.

Your journey there may have gone so well, your little one as happy as Larry (who is Larry by the way?) as you breeze through the door hand in hand. Then, as soon as you try to pass them over to a staff member, your toddler wraps themselves around your legs and starts to howl. No matter how many times you are reassured that your child is fine once you’ve left or are advised to persevere, the separation anxiety your child is feeling is bound to make you question your decisions and the nursery’s suitability.

What’s important... that you do not panic or let guilty feelings creep in. Number one, you have chosen a safe, calm, welcoming and loving environment for your child. Number two, it’s extremely unlikely that your child is unhappy or that staff haven’t been sufficiently supportive.

It is only natural that your young child loves being with you.

Their protestations are evidence that you have been doing a very good job at looking after them. It’s so easy to feel guilty that you’re not with your child all the time but, remember, sending a child to a nursery has a positive influence on their future: they will get lots of stimulation and social interaction there, which is so good for their development; they’ll also have lots of fun and make many new friends. Reassure yourself by talking to our staff at the end of each day – never feel you are being a burden: we need to work with parents, so we understand a child’s personality well and can help. Have a chat with friends and colleagues too: here’s betting they’ll know a child who also found settling in at nursery difficult at first, and who suddenly, without warning, couldn’t wait to go!

If you and your child are going through an upsetting settling-in period, there are steps you can take to make sure you have a happy, confident child at drop-off – just one tiny change may make a huge difference...

Read story books to them about going to nursery, for example: My First Day at Nursery, by Becky Edwards, or Maisie goes to Nursery, by Lucy Cousins. Always point out the nursery building as you drive by and try to use the word “nursery” in conversation a lot, so it’s a concept that becomes natural and familiar.

Chat to them about what’s going to happen before you both arrive at nursery. Say, “When we get to nursery, I am going to kiss you and say goodbye, then I am hoping you will be able to walk inside and play with your friends.” If children know the sequence of events beforehand, they are much more relaxed.

Make sure you look confident when you leave your child. Children can sense any anxiety you may have about putting them in someone else’s care.

Stick to the same schedule: try to keep drop-off and pick-up times consistent, for example after lunch, after play time, before snack time. This creates trust and lets them know someone is always coming back for them. If pick up time has to be different each day, make sure you explain beforehand when you’ll be back.

Pass some control to your toddler – perhaps let them choose something to take in and show everyone.

Taking in a familiar toy or stuffed animal can be a distraction and a comfort.

Do not linger or go back after saying goodbye, however hard it seems, but it’s also important not to sneak out when they’re not looking – that may make them feel they can’t trust you.

When you pick up, make sure you say how proud you are of them, acknowledging that although they found going in hard, they coped well and had a happy time. Point out new abilities your child has picked up at nursery: “I particularly like the way you walk in and hang up your own bag on your peg.”

Display at home any artwork they have completed at nursery.

Before you know it, your toddler will be skipping in through the door!

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