Aug 6, 2012

Child Starting Nursery

Category: Toddlers
Posted By: Baboo

Question: My son is 2yrs and 9 months old and is reluctant to go to nursery. He started 10 days ago and is still crying continuously.  He only attends for one hour a day for the first 2 weeks but he is still very intimidated and cries non-stop. We are trying to counsel him at home but whenever we talk of school either he tries to ignore us or bluntly refuses go to school. Can you let us know whether this is a regular phenomenon among children and what should we do?

Answer: Hi Baboo, thanks for your question.  To start with, yes, it is a very, very common phenomenon among children starting nursery for the first time.  In this country we start children in large, unfamiliar groups very early and it is often very difficult for our children.  I completely understand that a nursery is far more cost effective than hiring one-to-one childcare, so unfortunately it is often the only option.   And, once children have settled and become comfortable there are some social advantages to being comfortable in large groups.  However, young children are not quite ready to be in large social groups at this early age and if we are to start them in nursery it takes a great deal of time and preparation if we are to help them adjust without distress.

A child who is left in an unfamiliar place, with unfamiliar people is likely to become extremely distressed.  A two and a half year old is very small and vulnerable and unless they are sure that they can trust the people around them to keep them safe then they will be very frightened.  Children of this age have a very strong attachment system to keep them close to safe people so that they do not stray from safety and become endangered.  If we just leave our children without helping them to feel safe then they will become distressed and cry loudly.  This is a trigger that is designed to call parents from wherever they are and rescue them from a situation in which they feel unsafe.

It sounds like your nursery has some idea that children need to be introduced slowly so they may be willing to work with you on a very child-focused and gradual introduction.  The very best way to help children adjust is to spend quite a long time with them at the nursery.  Obviously this can be inconvenient for nurseries, especially if they have several children starting at one time, but I think it is something that parents need to insist on.  What you need is a graduated programme where you begin by spending time with your son at the nursery until he feels comfortable and familiar with the surroundings, with the staff and with the other children.  This may take quite a while, especially if he now associates the nursery with distress and needs some time to recover from this and then further time to adjust to the nursery.

After this you would leave your son for a short time each day and gradually increase this time as your son feels more comfortable.  This way of doing things takes a great deal of time and can be inconvenient for both parents and nursery staff so it isn’t popular.  However, from an emotional and psychological point of view it is definitely the best thing for your son.  If your nursery is unwilling to cooperate with such a programme then it is worth finding one that will.  There are some nurseries who really object and some who even have a rota of parent helpers and everyone is delighted if you take on the role of being the parent helper for a few weeks or months until your son is settled.

I wish you luck with helping your son to feel comfortable and don’t feel bad about insisting on what you want for your son.  You will be doing parents all over the country a favour if you stand up for what your son needs.  If more parents insist on gradual introductions, with the parents present, then we have a better chance of making this standard policy in nurseries.

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