10 ways to help your toddler settle into nursery

How do you help your child cope with her first days or weeks at nursery? Follow our no-tears guide...

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If you’re at the stage where you’re sending your child off to nursery – whether full-time or for a few days or hours a week – you’re probably a little bit apprehensive about how it will work out. Especially given the concerns about Covid and extra health precautions.

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We know a number of mums on our forum have shared their concerns, which, we reckon, are very common. As pbob tells us:

“My little one is 11 months and had his second settling in session [at nursery] today. It was only an hour and when I went to collect him – he was hysterical, bright red, really very upset.

“They said he’d started 10 minutes before I arrived and were about to take his temperature as he was so hot. He’s not ill, he’d just worked himself up so much he’d over-heated.

“I’m now really worried about my return to work in 2 weeks. How’s he going to manage 4 hours there if he’s in such a state after an hour?! I’m going to take him twice next week but I think it’ll be a long time before he’s happy there.”

Taking your baby to nursery is often tough – especially in the first few weeks – and, with this in mind, we talked to Sarah Steel, managing director of the Old Station Nursery group, to get her tips on how you can make sure your child is as ready as possible for the transition from home to nursery.

“When it comes to preparing your toddler for her first day at nursery, every parent is different,” says Sarah.

The most stressed parent I knew took 2 weeks' leave to come with her child to nursery while he settled in. Unfortunately, this was a pointless exercise because having her there meant it was no different for her child than being at home!

“And then there are the last-minute parents who phone on a Friday wanting their little one to start on a Monday, and we have to tell them it takes a little longer than that to prepare a toddler.”

Here are Sarah’s tips for helping your toddler settle into nursery….

1. Brief the staff

The more information you give the staff, the better time your child will have. “Tell them her likes, dislikes, what foods she eats, when she tends to sleep, anything that frightens her and how far through potty training she is,” says Sarah.

2. Take her for a visit in advance and find out all the Covid changes

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Even adults get shy around new people in new places, so just imagine how scary it is for a toddler going into a strange nursery.

That’s why most nurseries will offer your child the chance to familiarise themselves with the environment before leaving them for their first session.

It can also be helpful for you to be familiar with where your child will be and what you need to know about safety requirements and Covid changes.

“As long as you are happy and comfortable with the nursery your child will be ok,” says claire-abelle on our forum.

3. Share some positive ideas about nursery

Talk about nursery in positive terms, as something exciting and enjoyable, even if your days there (if you went) weren’t exactly the best of your life. But don’t belittle any fears your child may have.

Find out when nursery break-time or outdoor time is scheduled and re-route your daily walk to include a detour past the other toddlers having fun, making sure you point out to your toddler what a great laugh nursery can be.

And tell your toddler upbeat stories about your own days at nursery – the fun games you played, the friends you made, the songs you sang.

4. Read a story about starting nursery

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There are a host of books out there that deal with starting nursery, which have been written especially with the aim of helping a child to settle in.

Try and get one a couple of weeks before your child starts if you can, and make it part of the bedtime story routine.

5. Keep on smiling

No matter how torn up you’re feeling about your toddler taking her first fledgling steps outside the nest, you mustn’t show it to her.

If she sees you crying or fretting, you’ll make her uneasy about the whole nursery experience and, as claire-abelle on our forum says, ‘they will see your anxiety’.

6. Don’t keep running back

When it’s time for you to say goodbye, explain carefully that you’re about to go and you’ll be back to pick her up when nursery is over.

Don’t start to leave and then get drawn back by tears and a trembling lip.

And do remember on those mornings it seems particularly tough that it will get better – as maxnjacksmummy on our forum says: “Now at 26 months [my son]… loves nursery, runs off happily in the morning always smiling and full of kisses and he loves all the other kids and staff.

“Nursery has been the making of him. It is soooooooo hard but it will come good and your little one will settle I promise but some take longer than others!”

7. Make dressing easy

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Put your child in clothes that are easy for her to pull on and off, especially if she’s newly toilet trained. Shoes with Velcro fastening will make her feel more independent, as she won’t need to ask for help tying the laces.

In addition, remember that there will probably be lots of messy play at nursery so don’t kit them out in all new clothes or anything that you really don’t want ruined.

8. Boost both your social lives

It’s simple… make friends with mums who have kids of a similar age to your child and suddenly she’ll have instant friends and a social life.

Keep an eye out on day one and don’t be shy about introducing yourself: at some point, too, you might just need help with a pick-up or drop-off, so knowing some other parents there can really help practically as well as opening doors to some perhaps genuinely supportive friendships.

9. Allow a comforter

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“If your child has a particular favourite toy or blankie she wants to take with her to help her settle in, it doesn’t hurt at first,” says Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of the National Day Nurseries Association (a helpful resource if you’ve yet to choose your nursery). Obviously, check with Covid precautions, whether this is currently possible.

10. Help her make friends

If your toddler doesn’t know many (or any) children at nursery, see if it’s possible to arrange a get together with another family in the park or playground and outside of nursery hours.

Encouraging children to play and bond with each other will make it easier for them to settle in to nursery after you’ve said your goodbyes.

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