10 ways to help your toddler settle into nursery
How do you help your child take the first days at nursery in their stride? How do you prepare them – and yourself – for the transition to nursery life? Follow our expert guide...
You've done the hard-headed, practical bit: finding a good, happy nursery that has the hours and availability you need for your child. Now it's the emotional, handing-them-over bit. And, whether your child's going to be at nursery full-time or just a few hours a week, you're probably a little apprehensive about how it will work out.
Frankly, you wouldn't be human if you weren't feeling a bit wobbly. Starting nursery is a big transition for both you and your child – and we're not going to pretend that there aren't going to be some tears shed, though probably more by you than by your child, we're willing to bet.
What will help you make settling your child at nursery go as smoothly as possible? We suggest you stock up on tissues, take a deep breath and then follow our excellent 10-point settling-in plan...
Here are 1o brilliant tips for settling in at nursery....
1. Do some groundwork
Get your toddler used to being in the company of other adults and children – if you don't do this regularly already – by taking them to toddler groups, soft-play centres, bigger playgrounds and friends' houses.
2. Talk about nursery
Talk to your child about the lovely nursery they'll be going to. OK, so there's no knowing how much they'll understand but hearing you say 'nursery' in such a calm and happy and positive way will set up good associations – and you'll definitely feel better for saying it!
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If the nursery is within walking distance, you could also schedule some daily walks with your toddler to go past it, so you can point it out. And if you happen to time your walk for when the nursery has a outdoor play session, all the better: there's nothing like seeing other toddlers having fun.
You can also read about nursery with your toddler: there are lots of great starting-nursery books to choose from that create a very reassuring picture of the routine ebb and flow of the nursery day. Snuggle up together on the sofa and look at all the details in the pictures about all the activities toddlers at nursery get up to.
3. Brief the nursery staff
The more information you give the staff, the quicker they can get to know your child and the better time your child will have as a result. Different nurseries have different ways of gathering all this info in – paper forms, online Q&As, one-to-one info-sharing sessions – but, however it's done, do it to the max.
"Tell them your child's likes and dislikes," says Sarah Steel, founder and chairperson of the Old Station Nursery group. "Say what food they eats, when (or if) they tend to nap, anything that frightens them and how far you've got with potty training, if at all. It all helps build a picture of your child that helps us know how to keep them feeling happy and comfortable."
4. Dress the part
Put your child in clothes that are easy for them to pull on and off, especially if they're newly or partially toilet-trained. Shoes with Velcro fastening are also a much better choice than ones with laces that need loads of adult input to do up and undo.
Also, remember that there will probably be lots of messy play at nursery, so it's really not the place for new clothes or anything that you really don't want stained.
5. Give yourself lots of time
This one's important – and is easy to overlook. Settling in takes more than a day or two. So free up your calendar for a good few days; it's really not a case of settling them in on Monday and being back at home/work all day on Tuesday.
To begin with, you'll need to stay with your child for a while, then leave for a while, gradually extending the length of time you're away from them. So assume that, for much of the first week of nursery, you'l be hanging out in the local coffee shop, clutching your mobile and counting down the minutes till you're due back.
6. Be guided by your child's key worker
The nursery staff are pros at this settling-in thing, and they've learnt to adjust the process to fit each child. So let your child's key worker set the pace: yes, you know your child best but she's the one with the key experience here.
7. Hold your nerve
Your child will be much less likely to wobble if you look completely serene and confident about what's happening – even if you're really a nervous wreck inside. You child will take their emotional cues from you.
8. Have a transitional object
"If your child has a particular favourite toy or blankie, it doesn't hurt to take it to nursery with them at first," says Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of the National Day Nurseries Association. What you're doing is giving them a little bit of home to hang on to – and getting it ready to take with you can be a ritual that helps your child understand what's coming up today.
9. Leave quickly
When it's time for go, go. Don't start to leave and then get drawn back. But don't sneak out, either. Say goodbye with a kiss and a big smile. You can sob all you like once you're out of earshot.
And remember: tears are not a sign that your child hates nursery; they're a sign that they're sad to see you go.
10. Get to know everyone
Don't be shy about introducing yourself to the parents and carers of the other children at nursery with your child: knowing other parents can open doors to some genuinely supportive friendships, and could be a lifesaver one day when you need help with a pick-up or drop-off.
Once your child's settled in, you could look at arranging a playdate or get-together at the park with another child (and their carer) one afternoon or weekend. It'll all help your child feel more bonded and comfortable with the children at nursery.
Plus, 5 things that will help once your toddler's settled in
- Communicate well. Your relationship with your child's nursery carers will work much better if you make an effort to get to know them a little, to read and respond to any communication from them and to mention the things they do that you appreciate. Always be clear about your concerns, if you have any, and ready to listen to theirs. Try to approach any challenges – from potty-training to behaviour issues – as part of a team with them, rather then issuing orders.
- Expect wobbles. Even if your child settles well at first, they might have the odd tearful day now and then. This is normal and not a sign that their care is poor. Be more worried about consistency unsettled behaviour.
- Organise back-up. Have a plan for when your child is ill and you're not able to be at home, or when you are ill but your child can go to nursery. Try to enlist relatives or friends as emergency carers and, if you have a partner and you both work, make an agreement to share days off when your child is ill.
- Try not to nitpick. If your nursery's great and your child is really happy but the food's not super-varied or you don't like the way they always put the telly on at pick-up time, is it really worth making a fuss?
- Keep reviewing things. It would be lovely to stick with the same nursery until your child starts school but sometimes that's just not possible. Maybe the cosy little place that suited your young toddler so well is too small for the restless older toddler they've become? Change isn't a bad thing, if you're doing it for the right reasons.
Pics: Getty Images. This article contains edited extracts from Helen Brown's book Parenting for Dummies.
Helen is author of the classic advice book Parenting for Dummies and a mum of 3. Before joining MadeForMums, she was Head of Community at Mumsnet and also the Consumer Editor of Mother & Baby.
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