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The Contented Baby Goes to School
by Gina Ford

How to prepare your child emotionally for starting nursery or pre-school

It is important to do all that you can to ensure that your child feels happy at the prospect of starting nursery, rather than anxious or concerned. There are some simple steps you can take to try to help the early days run as smoothly as possible. Much of it is to do with communicating clearly with your child about what is going to happen and when. Of course, this can be difficult with a younger child who may not entirely understand everything that you might want to tell him, but you can adjust your explanation to his understanding.

  • Talk to your child about the nursery beforehand in a positive tone. Explain all the exciting things that he will be able to do there and make sure it sounds as if it will be fun.
  • Explain clearly to your child when he will be starting nursery, how long he will be spending there, what he will do and who will be collecting him. It will be far easier for a child to settle if he knows who will be collecting him and when.
  • Take your child to visit the nursery again before he is due to start so that he is familiar with the environment and give him the opportunity to see some of the activities that he will be able to take part in.
  • There are lots of children's books about starting nursery and you may want to track down some of these and look at them together as this can be very reassuring.
  • If your child seems anxious, do encourage him to talk about any worries or fears he may have. Sometimes children can get very worried about small things and anxieties can easily build up if they are not addressed.
  • Try to build up the amount of time your child spends away from home and with other people. You could arrange to go out for an hour or two leaving your child with a relative, friend or babysitter, and gradually increase the amount of time you spend away in the weeks leading up to nursery.
  • Tell your child lots of positive stories about other children's experiences of nursery - or even your own if you can remember them!
  • If there are going to be any changes in your child's routine once he starts nursery, such as mealtimes and bedtime, try to introduce them in advance so that he is prepared for this and the transition is easier.
  • If at all possible, try to introduce your child to other children who will  be going to the nursery or who have already started there. Seeing a familiar face on the first day can make all the difference.
  • Talk to the nursery about their preferred settling-in procedures and discuss this with your child so that he is clear about what will happen. He may find it much easier to cope with the first day if he knows you are going to stay with him for the first hour and then just leave him briefly, or that you will be there for part of the time for the first few weeks.

Parents often feel far more anxious than their children about the thought of leaving them at nursery or pre-school. If you want your child to enjoy the experience, you must try not to transmit your fears. Don't discuss any concerns you may have with your partner or other people when your child is there, and make sure you always talk about nursery in a positive, upbeat manner - but don't overdo it as children are perceptive and will pick up on this.

One key area to focus on when you are thinking about how to prepare your child for nursery is his confidence. Young children can easily feel at sea in an unfamiliar environment and when faced with new tasks and activities. Working to boost your child's self-esteem at this time can be beneficial.

Extract from The Contented Baby Goes to School by Gina Ford

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