Many parents like nurseries as a safe and stimulating form of care for young children. But it’s not always easy to leave a baby you’ve never left before with lots of other people...
Read our tips to make sure your child’s first experience of nursery goes as smoothly as possible, for them and for you!
1. Plan ahead The number of nursery places available is often lower than demand. Make your plans well in advance to avoid being caught out just before you return to work: do your research and put your (future) baby’s name down in the early stages of your pregnancy!
2. Make sure you have back-up One of the major drawbacks of nurseries is that they won’t accept children who are ill. Since colds, fevers and tummy upsets are common in young children, you have two options: either taking time off work to look after your child or making sure you’ve lined up alternative care (such as grandparents, a babysitter or a childminder). Think about what you’ll do in advance so that you don’t get caught out!
3. Establish a good relationship with nursery staff Although it’s less personal than with a nanny or childminder, the relationship with the people who will be looking after your child at nursery is still essential. The nursery manager (usually, though not always, a woman) will be your primary point of contact: ask them anything you need to know and tell them if there’s a problem. Meet the childcare assistants too: they’re the ones who will be looking after your child day-to-day and can tell you how they’re spending their time. Talk to them about your child’s habits: when they usually sleep, what they like to eat and so on.
4. Adjusting to nursery You won’t be leaving your baby alone at nursery from one day to the next! All nurseries plan for a period of adjustment: one or two weeks (depending on the nursery and your child) of gradually spending time there to get used to their new way of life. You’ll start with spending time with your child at the nursery, then leave them for an hour, then two, then for a meal, a nap... and finally, a whole day. Plan to start their adjustment period several weeks before you go back to work to avoid rushing your baby.
5. Reassure your child... Your child needs to know exactly what’s going to happen. Whatever age they are, explain that you need to go back to work and that they’ll be spending a few hours a day at nursery, but that you’ll always come back to collect them. Don’t sneak out when you leave them: always let them know you’re going. And don’t let the goodbyes go on for too long: a cuddle, a kiss and off you go! Be brave even if they cry the first few times: they’ll probably calm down once you’ve gone.
6. ... and relax! The first few days at nursery are often harder for mums than babies! Your child is very aware of your emotions: it’s therefore important for you to be as calm as possible so that they don’t sense your anxiety. Don’t be afraid to talk to the nursery staff if you feel upset or worried: there are bound to be ways of helping to feel calmer, for example making a quick call during the day to check that everything’s OK.
Also think about asking dad to come with you to drop your baby off at nursery the first few times: it’s easier to face it together!