Domonie Moody, 31, form Poole, Dorset is mum to Summer, 3, and Bethany, 6.
‘Summer started nursery towards the end of term. There were no tears at all for the first few days. Then it was as if she suddenly thought “I’ve tried this now – no thanks!” and started crying whenever I dropped her off. Then came the holidays, and when she returned to nursery afterwards Summer was worse than ever.
‘She gets up in the morning and immediately says “I don’t like playschool. I don’t want to go.”
‘We drop Bethany off at school first, then walk home to get the car. I get Summer’s bag and coat and she is saying “I want to stay with you, Mummy.” When we arrive at the class, Summer is the only one crying. She cries so hard I have to hand her to a helper. It isn’t crocodile tears – she cuddles up to them, genuinely in a state. I force myself to walk out, but I feel awful.
‘The sessions are only two-and-a-half hours, but I can’t relax and enjoy my free time. I’m always checking my mobile, worrying about whether the nursery has called.
‘In truth, the nursery says that she settles within five minutes after I’ve gone, although she is so upset that I can’t see how she does calm down so quickly.
‘When I pick Summer up, she’s smiling and shows me what she’s made. I ask her if she had a nice time, and she says she’s enjoyed it. But she’s forgotten that by the next day! How can I make the tears better and parting easier?
Our expert says
Lucy Gardiner, 30, is a nursery nurse and manager at Spencer Nursery School in Sutton, Surrey. She has spent 12 years working with children in a nursery setting.
‘Many children find it hard to resettle after a break from nursery even after just two weeks away from their familiar routine.
‘Summer started nursery then had a break before she returned. Now, she’s upset every morning and this may just be a habit that she has got into, though of course it’s distressing for her mum. The more upset Summer gets, the more worried Domonie feels so Summer is probably picking up her stress.
‘I reassure mums that children do settle very quickly once they have left. No one should ever hesitate to ring the nursery if they are worried. If it saves a mum fretting, it’s a call well made. I’d like Domonie to try the following strategies to try to make life easier for them both.’
Stick to a routine
Domonie’s big problem is that she drops Bethany off at school then goes home with Summer before they set off for the nursery. Summer automatically thinks: “I’m at home now. I’ll stay here with Mummy.” As a result, she reacts badly when it is time to set off again.
It may be tough but Domonie must start a new routine, which involves both girls packing their bags and collecting their coats. Then she can take both to school and nursery without that’s top back at home. It will be far easier for Summer to be able to settle.
Whatever routine you establish, stick to it all the time. Children thrive on routine – there’s no confusion, and they know exactly where they stand.
Don’t linger there
Do not stay if your child becomes distressed. If Mum looks worried, hovers and says: “Oh darling, I’ve really got to go,” and then doesn’t walk out of the door, the child is getting mixed messages. Nine times out of 10, a child will stop crying after five or 10 minutes. Mum looking anxious only encourages fresh tears.
If you are concerned, go into reception, and arrange for the key worker to come out and reassure you. Or ring the nursery after 20 minutes for reassurance that your child has settled. Never feel bad about asking for this – your child is the most important person in your life, and no professional nursery worker ever minds reassuring a worried mum.
Leave something of yours with her
Bring a scarf or a familiar object that your child knows belongs to you and say “Mummy’s going to leave you this scarf. I need it when I come back. Can you keep it on your peg for me and look after it?” A lot of toddler anxiety is based around Mummy returning, but by leaving a reassuring article, you are reinforcing the fact that you are coming back.
Send in a throwaway camera
Send your child into nursery with a disposable camera, and ask her key worker to take pictures of her having fun throughout her day – painting, playing, building, dressing up. Once your pictures are developed, make a little book of the day. You can cuddle up together at home and look at it together. Seeing the visual pictures will help remind her that nursery is fun.
Don’t quiz her
It is really tempting to ask your toddler again and again if they had fun, what they did and who they played with. But not only will they have trouble remembering, they will also become very irritated. You wouldn’t quiz your partner repeatedly about his day at work when he comes home tired and the same applies to a child. Instead of asking, look at the book in the previous point and use this as a discussion tool.
Don’t worry about other parents
Little children crying at the point of separation form Mum is so common, that most other parents at the nursery will probably have experienced it themselves. So don’t worry about what other parents might think, your concern is not to let your worry and stress show to your own child.
Make a family album to keep at nursery
It sometimes helps young children to have a photo album at nursery, showing pictures of Mummy, Daddy, siblings, grandparents and even the pet fish! If they do get tearful, then looking at familiar faces and showing the pictures to a member of the nursery staff is a welcome distraction. It also helps to develop speech and language.
Reward with stickers
Young children love rewards and I find stickers at nursery are one of the best ways to encourage a toddler. Take stickers in and ask a staff member to give your child one when they have calmed down. Ask them to make a big deal of it. Also, you should make a real fuss of them when they come home with a sticker. Start a star chart at home, so that when your child brings a sticker back, you add a gold star to her chart. If she collects five stars, go and buy her a small treat, like some new pencils.
Keep up the drinks
Thirsty children get tired, tearful and upset. So keep them topped up, especially if they are going into a warm nursery. Young children dehydrate very quickly. Send your child to nursery with a top-up beaker of water, and explain to staff that you want their fluid levels kept up during the day.
No more nursery tears
‘I was really impressed with Lucy’s advice. Her tips may seem simple, but as a worried mum, you really can’t see the wood for the trees. Just reading the tips made me feel more confident about dealing with things. Lucy immediately spotted something I hadn’t – the brief return to home to get Summer’s bag was giving her totally mixed messages. The day after Lucy gave me her advice, I encouraged both the girls to get their bags ready for school and nursery at the same time. I let Summer choose one of her own soft toys to “look after” for me in her bag, which worked really well.
‘Summer didn’t seem to have time to stop and worry. On that first day, she did have a few tears, but it as nothing like the heart-rending sobbing I had endured before.
‘I forced myself not to quiz Summer about her day when I picked her up and she seemed far happier and carefree.
‘The next day, Summer work and said she didn’t want to go to nursery, but she didn’t mention it after that, which was a relief. She gave a few little sobs as I left, but they were almost of out habit, She was far happier, and she loved looking after something of Mummy while at nursery. It gave her instant security. By day three, there were no tears at all. I can’t believe the difference that it made in Summer, even in just one week. I know that I’ve felt far more comfortable, and less worried about what people think. Summer is less stressed and happily looks after something special for Mummy when I return. We’re both so much happier now.’