How to Prepare Your Child for Nursery
Nursery offers many benefits, both for children and their parents. Kids get to interact with other children, and begin learning life skills that they may not have needed whilst being at home, such as turn taking, sharing and following different sets of rules. It can also help them build on basic literacy and numeracy skills they have begun learning with their parents, and begin preparing them academically for preschool and beyond.
Sending children to nursery frees parents up to return to work or concentrate on siblings or other responsibilities and obligations.
Whilst nursery is ultimately hugely positive for the whole family, it will come with mixed emotions and some level of anxiety, for parents as well as children. A new environment filled with unfamiliar adults and children can be difficult to get used to, and parents may feel worried about whether their child is ready to spend time outside of the family home. However, there are steps you can take to prepare both your child and yourself for the changes ahead, and make the transition as smooth and as pleasant as possible.
What to do a Few Weeks Before
Don’t throw your child in the deep end by taking them to nursery with no warning. If you make sure they have time to get used to the idea before their first day, it will be less difficult and distressing for both you and your child. Explain to your child what is going to happen, and encourage them to ask questions. Whilst they may not initially understand, it will help them to feel more comfortable with the change if you speak about it openly and positively.
Visiting the nursery with your child before term starts is also crucial. It will help them become familiar with the new environment, and allow them to meet the nursery leader or teacher, as well as other members of staff. Visiting the nursery also gives you an opportunity to ask the staff questions about the routines and common activities of the nursery. You can then introduce these at home for the next few weeks before nursery begins to allow your child to become familiar and comfortable with the things that will happen there when they start.
It’s important not to let your own worries or anxieties about your child going to nursery become obvious to them. Children pick up on non-verbal cues and could pick up negative feelings in you that they aren’t having themselves. If you are feeling worried, guilty or upset about your child going to nursery, don’t let it show. The more calm and positive you are about the situation, the more they will be. This will have the knock on effect of your child being quicker to adjust, which will allay your fears even further, making the change easier for everyone.
What to do a Few Days Before
A good way to get your child engaged with the notion that they’re going to start nursery in a few days time is to read books together about it. There are plenty of titles available, aimed at helping your child get to grips with what is happening.
Talk to your child after reading the books and ask them about their feelings. It’s crucial to be reassuring, and explain to them why going to nursery is a good thing (for example, making new friends and having new toys to play with). Your child is likely to adopt your attitude, so keep it positive. If you have gripes about your own return to work, don’t share them with your child as they could develop a negative attitude. Feeling good about going to nursery will help to build their confidence in this new adventure.
You should also aim to get your child into a good sleep routine before nursery starts. Make sure they are going to bed early enough to get the sleep they need and be able to get up and get ready for nursery, and get there on time. It’s likely that your child may be more tired than usual when they start nursery, as the change will sap their energy, as will the increased activity they will take part in. Factor this in when you are getting them into a new routine and make sure you stick to the new schedule. A regular bedtime will give your child a sense of security as they transition into spending time away from you.
What to do on the First Day
If your child is allowed (check with the nursery first), encourage them to pick out a toy to take with them on their first day. Taking a familiar object will help them feel reassured and comforted. Take your child to the nursery and introduce them to the leader or teacher, then step back and allow them to interact. Endorsing the leader in this way will allow a bond of trust to develop and show your child that they are safe in their care. With the leader’s help, get your child interested in an activity and then calmly and cheerfully tell them what time you’ll return, give them a hug and leave the nursery.
Your child may show signs of distress, which is perfectly normal, and you may need to be kind but firm in telling them that you have to leave. Resist getting upset yourself and don’t allow a protracted goodbye, as it may enforce a belief that nursery is a bad place. Starting a consistent and predictable farewell routine immediately will enable your child to settle down much sooner. It is often the case that even the most distressed child will quickly get involved in an activity and when you come to collect them you’ll discover they’ve had a nice day.
Preparing your child in advance will help them make the transition into going to nursery with confidence and ease. Just a few small changes over the weeks and days before they begin will give both them and you the chance to prepare for what will be a positive and enjoyable change.