Development FAQ: 24+ months – Starting Nursery

My 3 year old daughter has been a very contented child. We have recently moved from London to Wales and placed her into a nursery full time. Previously she was cared for by a nanny and went to playgroup. Initially she enjoyed her nursery but she has been ill and now cries a great deal when there. Should I continue to console her endlessly or begin to be a bit firmer?

In the past year she has also had to get used to a new sister [11mths now]. She will begin to attend school in the afternoons from September which is why we felt full time nursery would help. We are now considering whether to have a nanny two days a week to make this change more gradual.

Despite being upset at nursery my daughter continues to eat and sleep well, but I am concerned that our content and confident three year old is now emotional and oversensitive because of all the changes she has had recently.

It may take a time to allow your daughter to adapt to all the changes she has experienced recently.

This kind of reaction you describe is not uncommon with young children who seem, initially, to adapt well but then may regress after illness or when the reality of having to go daily to nursery sets in. If your daughter was beginning to settle down in the nursery and make friends before being absent when she was unwell she now needs to get used to the whole situation again.

Talk to the nursery staff and see if they can see any reason why your daughter has begun to be so upset. If she has a key worker then make sure you have plenty of positive communication with that person. If your daughter sees how well you get on with the people who care for her in the day she should feel more secure when left with them.

The atmosphere of a nursery can be more formal than that of a playgroup where it is easy to get involved. To help your daughter settle better it may help if you are able to spend a few minutes at drop off and pick up looking at any art or craft projects she has been working on, or just helping her to find a toy or friend she wants to be with. Acquaint yourself with how she spends each day so you can comment about nursery routines when you are at home together.

Keep talking to your daughter generally about what she does at nursery rather than asking her directly why she is upset. Be sympathetic to her but also talk to her about all the fun things she does whilst at nursery. If she senses that you view her time there in a positive way she is more likely to settle down again. It can be easy to go on making excuses for your child’s reactions rather than showing her a way to get over them and begin to enjoy herself again. If your daughter gets distressed when getting ready for nursery, talk to her in a reassuring but bright way about the day ahead. Wonder aloud about all the things she may be able to do. Concentrate on the things you know she does enjoy and build on these. Hearing your positive attitude may help her get used to the moment of separating from you which can be hard for small children no matter how confident they are.

Some children of this age may want to talk about their day once nursery has finished, others may not. Your daughter may prefer just to play once she is home again so don’t push her to talk to you about her day if she is reluctant. She may be willing to open up a little at bedtime if you make time to have chat before she settles down to sleep. Try to keep the conversation general, about the things she has enjoyed doing, rather than asking too many specific questions. This is where being in touch with her key worker really helps as, when you are with your daughter, you can refer to what the key worker has told you about her day.

Until she settles down at nursery again your daughter may need a lot of physical reassurance in the form of hugs and cuddles when home. Along with these have plenty of talk in her hearing about how well she does cope with nursery. For instance, if she manages to go into nursery without too much fuss, tell her father when she is listening. Finding reasons for praising your daughter will give her some more self confidence. Comment how helpful she is with her baby sister or in putting her toys away. Positive praise is one of the best ways to help a child of this age through a difficult phase. Make sure any discussions you have with your partner about her tears and upset are held when she is not around.

If you do decide to have a nanny care for your two daughters two days a week realise that your older daughter will have another change to get used to, although within the confines of her home it may be easier for her. Having someone to care for just her and her sister may help her regain her confidence again once she is used to the person.

Encourage your nanny to help prepare your daughter for school. Getting her used to the idea can start now. There are many charming story books dealing with this time in a child’s life which you can start to read to her. If her new school is nearby try to pass by when the children are out at play. Most schools will encourage you to meet up with other new parents and children which will help her become familiar with both the buildings and other faces. If possible, try to arrange a few play dates through the holidays so she does not forget whom she has met. Even children who are settled and happy at nursery may find the change to school a big step. The more your daughter is prepared the easier it should be for her.