Development FAQ: 24+ months – Starting Nursery

How can I get my 2.3-year-old son to stay without me at nursery?

I am about to have my second child by C-section in two weeks. I have been trying to get my 2.3-year-old son to go to a playschool to help him socialise with other kids and to give me some breathing space. I thought he would be settled by now, but I’m afraid I’ve made a pigs ear of things and am starting to panic and getting myself very worked up.

Initially I took my son with me to have a look at the school and we both took to it and its staff straight away. I have afternoons booked for him from 12:30 to 6pm. I don’t intend leaving him there the full time but even 2 or 3 hours would be great.

My brother called in to the school while he was minding my son to pass on a message for me, and when he was asked if he would like to leave him for a little while, he did. My husband and I were not pleased with him doing this, but he went back after 15 minutes. Unfortunately my son had missed him and was crying when he returned.

I have gone to the school on several occasions with my son. I tried sitting with him, telling him I’m just going to the toilet and will be back in a minute, not saying anything and slipping out of the room. I just seem to be causing him and myself to get very upset.

When he’s there he does enjoy himself, he even forgets to keep checking if I’m there or not. But the moment he realises I’m gone he panics.

I’m at the end of my tether and am starting to question whether I am doing the right thing by sending him there. We live in a large new estate; I don’t have any friends or family around, but I desperately want my son to be happy and make friends.

He never seems to have any problems talking or mixing with people in general and he never kicks up a fuss when he goes to stay with nannies or friends of mine.

I really would appreciate any advice you can give me. I’ve spoken to the staff in the school and they’ve tried to reassure me that the kids who were crying last week, having been left, are settled in now. Am I just being too soft?

A child of your son’s age needs to be introduced to the idea of being at nursery without you, gradually. Despite the rather unfortunate start he has had, it does not mean that he won’t eventually settle in enough to be left for several hours. It is always upsetting to see a child cry and be distressed when he realizes he has been left which is why you must always tell him you are going and not just slip away. He will become anxious and untrusting if he thinks you are suddenly going to disappear. It far better to cope with the inevitable tears on the parting by helping him to learn how to cope with the separation. Many children find the actual moment of saying goodbye very hard but learn to trust, you will return and begin to settle in and enjoy themselves as they become more familiar with the surroundings and staff.

Begin by taking your son back and staying together for about half an hour. Do this, if you can, before your baby is born. Try to visit at least every other day, at different times in the afternoon so he becomes familiar with the different activities held throughout the time. Talk to him about what you have seem when you come home and try to find one or two simple books about pre-school: “Spot Goes to School “ by Eric Hill is just one example of the many you can find.

Once he has been several times with you, talk to him about how the other children are there on their own. Tell him that you are going to take him to school, stay with him for a short while and then go out for 15-20 minutes. The actual length of time will mean nothing to him but he must know that you are going to leave him. Assure him you will come back. Give him something small such as a special key ring which belongs to you and tell him he is going to keep it safe for you, in his pocket, until you return.

Your attitude is very important; although inside you may not feel like it, you must remain smiling and positive about the whole experience as he will quickly pick up any signs of you being upset. Make a point of talking to a member of staff and telling her in front of your son that you are going to leave him and that he is keeping something safe for you. This will help the staff more when they are with him should he be upset. Remember they are used to settling children in and will know the best approach with the different ways children do react to their parents leaving.

Settle him into an activity and then tell him “ I am leaving now but I will be back in 15 minutes”. He may cry straight away. Make sure there is a member of staff he is familiar nearby with who will take him from you. Say goodbye, kiss him and leave. The longer you prolong the parting the harder it will be for both of you. It is hard enough to walk away from your own child but if you really want him to become settled and happy at preschool you must. Try not to wait outside and listen. It would be better to go for a short walk and if you really feel upset wondering how he is coping, ring the school after 10 minutes and see how he is. The majority of children who cry when first left do quite quickly calm down and begin to join in again. He may be a little subdued for a while but the staff will help him.

When you return after 20 minutes or so try not to swamp him and ask “did you miss me?” Ask him has he had fun and what has he been doing. Ask the staff as well to reassure yourself. Once you have left him for the first time you will need to lengthen the time you leave him and lessen the amount of time you spend settling him. As with most things with small children it is better that you do this gradually rather than expecting him to adjust to longer separations straight away.

Try to always say the same things when you leave and keep letting him look after something of yours. Dealt with sensitivity there is no reason why your son should not begin to look forward to his times at pre-school.

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.

Development FAQ: 24+ months – Starting Nursery

How will my daughter of 2yrs 5mths cope at pre-school when she will not follow directions at home?

I am increasingly worried about my daughter who is 2yrs 5mths. She is due to star nursery school in a couple of months but I am wondering if she is really ready. I am trying to get her to follow directions at home such getting ready to go outside or to get ready for a meal, but she just seems unable to do this without me standing over her. She rarely will co operate even though I go at lengths to explain why she needs to get her coat on, or wash her hands. It seems the more I try to explain to her the less she will co operate. I don’t like telling her to do things, so always try to ask and give her an explanation as to why I want her to co-operate. If she is unable to follow my explanations at home which I have time to do how will she cope at nursery school where they may not have so much time to explain things to her but will expect her to follow directions.

Is there anything I can do to make her follow directions better? It worries me that she won’t enjoy her nursery experience as I have not prepared her enough.

It is difficult to know quite how any child will react when they take the first big step outside home and go to nursery school. Getting your daughter prepared is an excellent idea but remember that your home situation is very different from a nursery school. When she is there she will be one of a class of children, all of whom will be following directions, so she is far more likely to co-operate. She won’t have the one to one parent -child struggle either so your worries may be ill founded.

To help her at home, and to prepare her for school where she will be expected to follow simple directions, break things down into easily understood sentences. Although it is good to explain things to young children their level of comprehension means they are not always able to process too much information at one time. Directions which are too vague or long winded will just go over her head and she will tune out your voice. If you ask her to “tidy up this mess” and then launch into a long explanation of why she needs to do so – she may fall over the toys; someone else may fall over them; a visitor is coming; the room needs hovering etc. etc. – you are just giving her too much information. She needs specific directions such as, “Please pick up all the Duplo bricks and put them in their basket”. The Duplo may be spread throughout the jumble but she will be able to focus on this one item fairly well and manage the task. Then move on to another task, such as placing all the books back on their shelf. This will make the job much easier for her and she will able to achieve a lot more than trying to tidy away a jumble of toys and games.

If you want her to get ready to go out ask her to fetch her outdoor shoes or wellies and then help her put them on. Next, suggest she gets her coat. If it is a cold day ask her to find her scarf. If you have organized her possessions in an easy way for her to find them she should be able to do these tasks. You may need to give her some information as to where they are kept but make this easy. Don’t tell her, “Your wellies are in the kitchen” but be specific; ” Your wellies are next to the cat dishes”. Then she will be able to follow your directions through. Tell her in a simple way why she needs her wellies,” We are going to the park so we may find puddles to jump in”; or her scarf, ” The wind is very cold today so it will keep you warm”. That is enough information for her to deal with to be able to follow the direction.

If she still finds it difficult to follow directions try using them when you are playing games with her. Without realising it she will be following them as she is having fun. Set up an obstacle course in your sitting room. Ask her to jump over a cushion, then to crawl through some chair legs, to walk round the sofa and sit on her chair. A simple game of Simon Says is also a fun way to follow directions. Make sure you encourage her with praise when she follows each one.

Keep explaining each direction, but don’t push the issue all the time. Sometimes directions may just need to be followed, “It’s bath time, please get undressed”. If she is reluctant to do this don’t launch into a lengthy explanation but make it fun. Suggest she gets undressed in a different way, “Take off one sock”, “Great”; “Now take off your skirt”, “Well done”; ” Off with the other sock” and so on. Again, she is likely to comply as it will seem as if she is having a game.

There are bound to be times when she will not comply but these should be few and far between if you make a conscious effort to give her manageable directions. At this age she will still need help at times but encouraging her to do things for herself is great. It will certainly stand her in good stead when she is at school.

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.