Top Tips For A Toddler's First Day of Nursery

“Goodbye, Mommy” said my two-year-old daughter as I left her at nursery for the first time. She was so comfortable that she didn’t even turn around to look at me when she said it. I left the nursery feeling proud – and a little smug – at how easy it was for her to settle.

Ready for her big first day at nursery!

Ready for her big first day at nursery!

My next appointment was a panel for Time Out Kids Dubai. I had the pleasure of sitting beside the director of a large educational group in the UAE. I told her how smoothly the drop-off went.

I got the call I was dreading five minutes later…

“Please come and pick up your daughter. She’s crying and just won’t settle at nursery.”

My superstitious side was convinced that I brought this on myself. Why did I have to brag about her smooth transition? I definitely jinxed it.

The more rational psychologist in me knew that this experience was extremely common. In fact, I have supported many families through this very process. I’ve also been through it with my now teenage son.

Here are my top parenting tips for helping toddlers adjust to nursery or daycare:

1. Be realistic (and patient).

The transition won’t be perfect, no matter how hard we try. Sometimes going to nursery will start rocky and then settle; other times it starts smoothly, becomes rocky, and then settles. Accepting this from the outset makes it a little bit easier to deal with the bumps along the way.

2. Talk to your nursery about the transition process.

Most nurseries and daycare centres have a plan in place. This can include staggered starts and shorter visits. It is important to talk to them about their plan and adhere to it. This will ease the transition for the entire group, as well as your child. That being said, you should absolutely communicate any discomfort you have. The nursery should be able to work with you to find a solution.

3. Say “goodbye” when you drop off your child.

Many parents are tempted to sneak out the door when their little ones are distracted. This is never a good idea. Children might be happier when you first leave, but they will become distressed when they realized that you disappeared. This can cause children to become clingy and anxious. Saying “goodbye” - with a hug and reassurance that you will back for them later - is better for your bond and your toddler's development.

4. Stay close.

It’s a good idea to stay close to the nursery for the first few weeks. This will make it easier (and quicker) to pick up your child if you get the call. It might also make you feel more comfortable knowing that you’re just a few minutes away.

5. Leave nursery on a positive note.

Ask them - and their teachers - about the highlights of their day. Take a few moments to explore the toy or activity that your child enjoyed the most. (You can select something you know they love if your child showed no interest/was distressed for the entire session). This will allow you to leave on a positive note, which will help your child form positive associations with the nursery. It will also make you feel better to see your child enjoying themselves in that setting!

6. Connect with other parents who are going through the same transition.

Talk to the other parents at your nursery, in your community, or your friendship circle. Sharing our victories - along with our struggles - helps alleviate stress. (Dubai parents can join me for some of my community events. Sign up to our mailing list to be the first to hear about the exciting new stuff that we are doing - and launching - this year). 

P.S. I thought I’d finish this blog post while I waited for my daughter to finish her second day at nursery. She lasted 30 minutes. Luckily, I was outside and had an opportunity to go in and paint with her before we left. She left with a smile on her face - and I left with the hope that things will be smoother next week! Until then, I’m going to commiserate and celebrate with the other parents in my life.