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How to Prepare Toddlers for going back to Nursery

Hannah Abrahams, a leading Educational and Child Psychologist on the Zoono Family Panel, offers her advice on how to protect your toddler’s emotional and mental wellbeing when the time comes to go back to nursery or pre-school. 

For many parents, the prospect of sending their toddler back to nursery and returning to work themselves is daunting. Not only have we become accustomed to a new routine of all living, working and learning all under one roof, but the fear of the unknown in terms of what the new routine will look like is bound to bring a heightened sense of anxiety.

The last few months have been full of change, but one thing has been constant in your child’s life – and that’s you. As a parent, you have been there to carry out routines and rituals, and most importantly to nurture them with love and comfort.

When nursery begins, you will naturally feel anxious about the new change and the level of adaptability that will be required. You may have felt cocooned with your family during this time and therefore sending them to nursery will be filled with many complex feelings for both you and your child. You may feel very ready to send your toddler to nursery too. There is no right or wrong feeling here.  We hope that by sharing this advice, we can help make this transition as smooth as possible.

1. Start with Your Own Emotions

As parents, we so often rush to help our children first, but, it’s more beneficial for us to ‘put our own oxygen mask on first’. We’re then stronger and more prepared to help our children.

Most children, including infants and toddlers, will be feeling a heightened sense of awareness and will pick up on your emotions if you’re worried, anxious, or apprehensive about them returning to Nursery. Try and remain calm and positive. This way, your child will feel safe and secure and more emotionally contained. Use preparatory language with them, maybe show them a photo of their key worker or remind them about how their day may look. Know that you are likely to feel a host of emotions when you say goodbye and that’s OK.

2. Talk about Your Feelings

Talk about how they might feel going back to nursery or pre-school. Try to name their feelings so you can validate their thoughts and emotions, recognise they will move and change. Sometimes it helpful to talk with toddlers about a traffic light of emotions. Are they feeling Green- Good to go, happy and content? Or maybe they are on amber- feeling a little worried. Make an emotions traffic light together to have visible on the fridge.

Acknowledge that they may feel worried about saying goodbye at the nursery door.  For younger children you can give them a transitional toy, such as a little bunny from home. In doing this you are letting them know that they are always in your mind too. Notice how challenging and courageous they are being. Be in close contact with Nursery so that they can let you know how well your child is settling too.

3. Be Consistent and Prepared

Always be consistent in your promises about returning, even if it means agreeing to bring the exact snack that was requested when you pick them up later. It helps with emotional containment and a sense they feel listened to.

4. Manage Expectations

Finally, schools and nurseries will be aware of the very great emotional needs of their pupils and will no doubt be offering additional support at this time. Many will be in touch beforehand to communicate how things will be different for children.

For those old enough to understand, take time to discuss the changes that are going to happen. They will then feel prepared, reassured, and know what to expect when the time comes.

For more information and advice from the Zoono Family Panel, an initiative that helps support the wellbeing of families, visit www.zoono.co.uk.

About the Author

Hannah Abrahams is a leading Educational and Child Psychologist on the Zoono Family Panel. A Child and Educational Psychologist of 15 years, and previously a primary school teacher, Hannah is registered with the British Psychological Society and the Health and Care Professionals Body.

As the child psychologist on the Zoono Family panel, Hannah offers advice to parents to help them access their ‘Emotional Toolbox’, to build their resilience and adaptability to change, and to help them become even stronger in supporting their children through the challenges still to come.