Written by: Alison Todd
Starting nursery can be a very anxious time for both toddler and parent. Having a child who is reluctant to go can be doubly distressing. Often there can be feelings of guilt and sadness on the part of the parents, exacerbated by the knowledge that an era is ending. What should be an exciting and positive milestone can easily turn into a heavy parental millstone.
As with all times of change, it is important to try to look at it as a natural, transient phase of both your lives and not to allow it to take over and occupy more space than it deserves. Children are surprisingly difficult to fool when it comes to emotions and so it is vital that you get your feelings in order so that you can guide them through this new experience.
Start by reminding yourself of all the benefits to your little one of attending a nursery full of new, varied playmates with qualified, specialised adults on hand to temporarily take over the responsibility of entertaining your precious child and give you a break. Even if that ‘break’ is nothing more exciting than returning to the workplace, the time apart is a good thing, even if it’s for no other reason than making the reunion fresher and more treasured.
As a Working Parent, I have uttered the words “I’m off to work for a break,” many a time (maybe not so often once I went into teaching.) Your time in the adult world is vital to your own self: your identity, intellect and even the physical space you occupy can easily be engulfed by the trials of parenthood.
Handling bad situations
So, how is the best way to handle a toddler who says they don’t want to go, or who cries, or possibly even has tantrums rather than set foot inside the nursery door? As always communication is the key.
- Be sure to explain to your child that they are going to start nursery and why – children deal with things much better if they understand the reasons behind it – hence that weird phase around the twos and threes when they start saying why to everything.
- Try to give them an idea of the sorts of things they may do while they are there.
- Remind them, if possible, of an initial visit they may have had with you there too, or any time they may have encountered nursery through siblings or friends so they realise that everyone goes to nursery.
- Make it clear that you will not be staying with them, but that you will always be back to fetch them at the end. Sometimes it helps to give them an idea of what you will do after the nursery session has finished to help them identify with something they are familiar with doing.
- Try to get into a routine as quickly as possible and avoid changing it too much in the initial phases: my experience as the mother of a little boy told me not to even change the order of ‘wash – dressed – breakfast– teeth’ for fear of upsetting his orderly little mind and he still has his set ritual now at the age of eighteen!
- Let your child be part of the preparations even if it means getting up earlier for the first few times to allow for their invaluable ‘help’ getting their bag ready.
A good tip is to arrive early at the nursery – you don’t want to be hanging around too long, just enough to ensure that you are not rushing or the last to arrive, thus creating ‘gaps’ for things to go wrong. Be aware of your body language and general ‘vibes.’ Smile,genuinely. Reassure, confidently – and this is where it can get a little weird – don’t break. It is vital that, whatever you may be feeling inside, you do not show even the tiniest chink in the armour. The fact that children are more instinct-led than intellect-led at this age means they have the capacity to run rings around us poor grown-ups who foolishly believe our superior knowledge makes us boss.
Don’t linger, and if your child cries, don’t waver. As a teacher of reception children I have observed this from the other side of the fence and rarely have I ever known a child continue to ‘act up’ for long after Mummy or Daddy has gone. Even the most genuine distress is usually embellished a little for the parents’ benefit.
A kiss or hug and a firm ‘goodbye’ should suffice. It is important that your little one knows you are leaving so don’t be tempted to avoid the pain by sloping off while they are distracted, as this will leave both of you feeling cheated. It can sometimes help to remind them that you are going somewhere or doing something together later, or simply tell them what you will be cooking for lunch or supper when they get home to make it more real for them.
Take a toy
If you have on-going problems getting your child to stay and settle at nursery, then it can sometimes help to send in a soft toy of theirs to ‘keep them company’ or an item of yours to ‘look after’ until your return. Perhaps you could send in a disposable camera and ask a friendly member of staff to take some snaps of your child enjoying herself. This can come in handy on later occasions as a reminder of what they do enjoy about nursery.
Ultimately it is your situation to deal with and you are the best person to know how to deal with it. Try not to worry about other parents and if you are really struggling, then any childcare establishment worth its salt will empethise and be willing to either phone you with reassurance or get you to wait out of site and pop out when things have calmed down. Be assured that in the long term, pre-school days will be remembered with warm fondness.