What can you do when your three-year-old is sobbing and screaming when you try to leave him at nursery school? How does it feel to hear his cries – “Mommy, don’t leave me.” And then you have to walk away.
It can be gut-wrenching.
You feel so guilty, so sad and so unsure. Are you doing the right thing in forcing your little one to go to nursery? Why does my three years old not want to go to nursery? Is there something wrong with her? Am I a good parent? All these questions and more go through your mind.
Let’s explore some of the reasons why my 3 years old doesn’t want to go to nursery. When we understand what the problem is we can find ways to fix it.
The age of the child
Children are different and they are ready for nursery at different times. While most children settle in well there are some who are still too young – he needs to be with his family at the moment. There is no compulsion to force a child who isn’t ready for nursery school to go. He will grow into it in time and forcing the issue before he is ready will set him back as well as being very upsetting for both of you. There are times when just waiting a bit longer is the best action you can take!
Some toddlers may experience separation anxiety. They have learned to walk a short distance away but their very survival depends upon the adult being close to them. They may not understand the concept of time. When you leave a child with separation anxiety alone for even a few minutes they can be terrified you may not return. Most children outgrow this phase before the age of three – but for some children, it can persist. Telling the child, he’s being silly does not help these children. They need constant reassurance and thrusting a clingy child away only makes him feel more insecure and frightened. This neediness can be more pronounced when the little one is not well or overtired.
You can help these children by practicing small separations, starting with just a few minutes and gradually progressing to an hour with granny while mom does the boring shopping or a short play-date alongside another child they know and feel comfortable with. As they learn that you really are coming back, so they will begin to find short absences easier to bear – and hey – they might even enjoy spending time with granny!
You can institute a fast quick goodbye routine and leave without fuss, but never secretly! Slipping out of the house without explaining that you are going for a short while can make some children feel very insecure, and you might find them clinging to you more when you are at home – they need to know that you are there when they think you are! These strategies will help to prepare your 3-year-old for nursery school.
Preparation is the key- it’s all very strange
Going to nursery is a huge step for your little one. You can make it exciting and less stressful when you prepare your child for this leap into the outer world. Here are seven ideas you might like to try.
1. Making nursery school seem part of their lives
When you make nursery school seem just a natural part of their lives the actual transfer can take place smoothly. Talk about it. Share your own experiences of the time when you went to nursery school – making sure it’s all very positive. Children love to hear about your past!
2. Books and drawings
You might find your child enjoys looking at a children’s book with you about the first day at nursery – two books that have been found helpful are Peppa Pig: George’s First Day at Playgroup or Maisy Goes to Nursery. You might even draw a picture for them to colour in or even a series of pictures like a comic strip – it doesn’t matter if your drawing is not up to a high standard – your children will love them – even stick figures will do – be sure to make the teacher a sympathetic figure though.
3. Chatting about the nursery
When you walk past the nursery school make a point of chatting about what the children might be doing in there. Talk about the great toys they have. Speculate on the games the children there might be playing. Tell them what fun it will be when they can go. Make sure you have visited the nursery school on your own before you risk doing this! You don’t want to rise their expectation to impossible standards as that will lead to distrust and disappointment.
Children love play-acting. Very often they play at shops with things from the kitchen – but they also can play at school. You can get a blackboard and chalk if it’s not too messy. You can help him sit the animals around while you both tell them a story. He will like to pretend he is the teacher – and therefore the boss. You can let him try on his “school clothes” just to make it more realistic. Children have such vivid imaginations; you’ll probably learn a thing or two as well. You can enter into their world for a short while.
5. The preschool visit
Visit the school with your child to introduce him to his teacher and to give him the opportunity to look around and see all the exciting new toys he will be able to play with. If the nursery has a website, you can look at pictures of the activities with your child – it won’t seem so unfamiliar to them when they do go.
6. Introductions are important
when you introduce your child to the staff, you are making that initial contact easier to manage for your child. No one likes going into a room full of strangers by themselves. And just as you introduce them at the start of the first day, make sure you impress on them when you will be collecting them every day.
7. Helping to make routines your child will love
Let your child be engaged in choosing a pencil case and new crayons, or a water bottle and lunch box. You may like to let him chose a treat to go in his healthy lunchbox. Smart new clothes will also help him to feel confident and proud. It gives him a sense of control over a part of his life where he has very little. Having a set of special clothes for school becomes part of a routine – and routines are so very helpful when you are bringing up your children. It means you have to think less and can spend your energy on enjoying your child.
Eight Ways to help your reluctant child who already attends the nursery
Once your child is attending nursery you will be keeping an eye on how they are responding. Here are some pointers that can help you find, prevent, and deal with problems before they become really, really bad.
When your child is screaming and struggling, or silent and sad, bribery might fit the bill. A new toy or a special outing might calm the child down enough to get them out of the door and on their way. It’s often the first steps that are the hardest. But always, lots of cuddles and hugs, reassurance, and kindness are the best ways forward. There are times when you have to be very, very patient!
2. Listen carefully
Listen to what your child tries to tell you. They are very young and may not be able to say exactly what it is in the nursery is that they are finding so frightening. Talk to the teacher. Very often they will tell you that little Susan is fine in school, that she plays and laughs and chats. And yet when she comes out is she smiling and happy? Or is she tearful and so very relieved to see you?
3. Other parents are your network
Sometimes other parents can give you a picture of how your child is finding nursery school. Parents chat while waiting for the school doors to open and for their children to come pouring out. Other parents can be very supportive, you make friends with them – you are all going through the same anxieties and traumas. Arranging play dates with other children in your child’s group can help your child cement friendships and feel less isolated and lonely at school. “Patrick will be there and after school, we are going with him to the park” may be just what will get your child to look forward to the day. It can also help if you walk to school with another parent and child – beginning an out-of-family bonding.
4. What’s your child doing in school?
If she tells you that she didn’t like something – perhaps she found the story scary, let the teacher know. Early years should be a teacher-parent partnership. Your little one needs to know that she will be taken seriously and her concerns addressed. But often when you ask what they have been doing all day they reply “I don’t remember”, or “nothing.” Very often teachers give the child a hand-out or a small book that tells the parent a little of what they were doing. This is a great start to a conversation with your child.
5. Trust is a must
Most nursery teachers love children and do their very best to make them happy and relaxed. They have skills and experience and training. They want to do their best for all the children in their care- it’s a huge responsibility. Hopefully, you feel you can trust them and can find ways between you to help your reluctant child. But if trust is lacking, then you should consider removing your child from that nursery. Sometimes there is simply a personality clash – no one’s fault but it can happen and can be terrifying for a young child who is helpless to deal with it.
6. Following your child’s interests
Between you and the teacher, you might be able to find something good that you can focus on. Your child might have a hobby at home that could be utilized in the nursery. An interest in insects, for example, could be expanded in nursery school with a special picture book and drawing sessions to engage his interests. Many kids love dinosaurs, space adventures, and huge numbers that neither you nor they can comprehend. Maybe even a small prize or sticker for “good work” – this will help to instill self-confidence, and children respond well to bribery!
7. Telling the time
Fore-warned is fore-armed! Children like to be ready – so counting off the days before the next visit to nursery can alleviate some anxiety. You can do this with a picture calendar and he will be learning the days of the week and all about time as you do this. Make it fun, let him draw pictures to illustrate his calendar, or use stickers.
8. Exchanging news with your child
When you collect your child from nursery, be enthusiastic about anything good he tells you. Take the time to exchange news of your day with him – he will follow your lead.
Ignore well-meant but ill-founded advice
People are often only too willing to tell you what you should be doing.
“You’re coddling her; you need to toughen her up.”
“Perhaps she’s clingy because you never sent her to play-school.”
“My, you have left it a bit late to start now. No wonder she’s not settled.”
Ignore it. That kind of advice can only make you feel worse and it doesn’t help – does it?
Some children rush into nursery without a backward glance and come out happy, full of their day’s adventures there. Some children kick and scream and beg not to go. We need to respect their fears and try to work out exactly what is so worrying for them.
In some cases, the child is just too young. Leave it a few months and he will sail in and enjoy it. After all, nursery school is not compulsory, and there is a reason for this – children develop differently. In other cases, there may be a specific worry that you can deal with. Very often it is just that everything is unfamiliar and overwhelming – preparation for nursery school and patience soon sort this out. Occasionally there is some specific thing that frightens your child, and discussion with the teacher usually pinpoints that and changes can be made to reassure your three-year-old.
Three years old is not so very old. There is time for your child to start his journey into the wider world, and you can help to make his first steps exciting and fun with lots of praise and reassurance.