Development FAQ: 12-18 months – Starting Nursery

My son who is a year old is not settling into nursery well. This seems to be affecting his settling to sleep at home as well.

My 1 year old son is very clingy to me and we are having some difficulties with nursery visits which are extremely distressing for all. I have always fed my son and put him to sleep so we anticipated some issues. I have allowed 6 weeks since starting visits at nursery to going back to work, but the initial few visits have been worse than I would ever have imagined and I would really appreciate some guidance on how we could maybe improve the situation.

My son’s visits (4 so far) have included meal times but not sleep times as yet. At meal times he has not eaten and is usually sobbing off and on during his time at nursery (max 1.5 hours a visit). Today he was so upset he was actually sick when offered tea. I have stayed and played for a while and my elder daughter has been at the nursery since 6 months, so we have confidence in the staff and know them well; it is the same staff as looked after my daughter. I have really worried that since these visits he has not settled to sleep as well at home although he seems happy and contented at other times.

At home he always wants me when he is tired and hungry and is usually a very happy and sociable baby.

Can you please advise how we can settle him – he will eventually go to nursery 3 days a week.

My eats 3 good meals in the day and naps at 9.45-10.15am and 1-3pm. He settles by 7.30pm.

As your son has only known you to care for him it will take him a while to settle into the nursery. At this age he is very aware of people he does not know well and may have some separation anxiety when apart from you.

As you have a date on which you have to return to work, continue to visit the nursery as much as you are able to in the next few weeks. If possible, space the visits closely together so he becomes used to the new environment. If he has three or four days between visits he will be apprehensive each time, and take longer to settle. By going each day, even if only for a short spell, he will become much more familiar with the situation. The staff may be happy for you drop by for short visits even if he is not booked to stay on that day.

If possible, ask the nursery to have no more than one or two carers who will directly deal with your son in his first weeks at nursery. If these carers can be the ones who deal with him for as much of the time as possible when he is visiting he will be able to form an attachment to them. As he is so apprehensive and upset the more people who try to console him the more upset he will become. Once he has settled in he will be far more willing to be cared for by a variety of carers.

As your son becomes very upset at mealtimes at the nursery get him used just to being at nursery first. Then, staying with your son over a meal time for the next few visits to nursery could help him get used to eating with other children. Then get him to stay for meals on his own.

If you stay for longer periods with your son at the nursery, and then leave him on his own for a short time, this may help him get used to being at the nursery without you. Stay for an hour and leave him for ½ hour then gradually reduce by 15 minutes the length of time you stay with him. This should help ease your son in for the next few weeks until he is ready to be at nursery over both meal and nap times by the time you have to return to work.

In the next few weeks, whilst your son gets used to be at nursery during the day, he may be rather clingier at home. Try to stay calm but be aware of his needs at the moment. Keep to his usual routine when settling him for naps. In the morning he may be showing you he is ready to cut down on the amount of sleep he has during the first nap of the day. As he is waking at 7.15am he may only need to sleep for 15-20minutes, around 10am, to see him through to 1pm. Providing he is not crying a great deal when put down for a nap let him have a time in his cot to rest, even if he does not sleep very well.

It can be very hard to leave your child at nursery knowing he is unhappy but the more you expose him to being there in the next few weeks the quicker he will adapt and begin to settle down. As you already know the staff you will be reassured that they will do all they can to help your son settle in and start to enjoy the days when he is there.