9 tips for settling your child back into nursery after lockdown

Updated: Jun 18, 2020

Settling your child in to nursery can be daunting at the best of times, and perhaps more so after the hiatus brought about by these unprecedented times, and where social-distancing measures remain in place. We’ve pulled together some top tips to help ease the transition from lockdown to nursery for you and your little one.

How to get yourself ready:

1. Be kind to yourself.

As we’ve said before, we are in new territory - this pandemic has brought its challenges (not least for parenting!) and transitioning back to ‘normal’ life will likely present yet more. Remind yourself that you are doing the best you can, and do whatever helps you feel as relaxed and positive as possible – whether it’s snatching 10 minutes to listen to music, going for a short solo walk, or treating yourself to your favourite scented candle or meal. Your little one will pick up on any anxiety or negative energy so the calmer you are able to feel, the better.

2. Set realistic expectations.

Your little one may have been perfectly settled at their nursery before lockdown hit, but that’s no guarantee that their transition back will be without its challenges. Recognise that we have all been through a stressful time, adapting to a new way of life and dealing with worries about ourselves or our loved ones becoming ill, finances, what the future holds. Your little one will have felt some of this stress, whether they understood what was happening or not, which may mean they are feeling more anxious than usual about changes in their routine. Be prepared for your child to react differently to how you would expect when they return to nursery and to support them however you can.

3. Acknowledge your own feelings.

We will all have different emotions as we navigate the changing guidelines and start to re-enter our communities. Some parents may feel worried or panicky about their child going back to their setting, where others may feel relieved to have more time to work from home or to yourself. Many will feel guilty that they feel either one or the other! Rest assured that whatever your emotions are, they are valid and recognising them will help you to prepare for the transition.

4. Take stock.

Before you head back out into the world, consider the things you have learnt during lockdown, about yourself, your little ones and your family as a unit. Use this as an opportunity to set intentions, to continue the things that have been working for you and get rid of anything that no longer serves you. Perhaps you’ve enjoyed cooking with your little one, or have made more time to read with them? Set a goal to continue these practices once lockdown ends (be realistic!) Importantly, acknowledge and celebrate any progress you have made collectively or individually, whatever form it’s in (emotional, physical, social). (Check out our blog post about finding your focus as a family here).

5. Communicate with your setting.

All settings will be planning carefully for re-opening and should fully brief you on the measures they are putting in place to keep little ones and the nursery team safe and healthy. Be clear in your own mind about any specific concerns you have so that you can talk to your little one’s setting about them. Don’t be afraid to ask questions – it’s important that settings and parents work together to ease this transition, and the more information you have, the more comfortable you will feel.

Similarly, be sure to update the setting on any changes and experiences that have taken place in your little one’s life. Eight weeks is a long time in the life of a child, and they may have taken their first steps, started potty training, or transitioned to using an open cup - even knowing something as simple as a new favourite book will help the nursery team to ‘catch up’ on your child’s development and ease them back into their setting.

If your nursery is providing any engagement activities like Zoom sessions, take part as much as you can. Interaction with teachers and friends will help your little one to understand what is happening and get them excited to return to nursery life. Use visual reminders you may have such as pictures of nursery teachers or pictures and videos of your child at their nursery space, or even look through artwork that your little one has made at nursery previously.

6. Get organised and ready for drop-off and pick-up.

There will be new restrictions at your setting to ensure social distancing, including at drop-off and pick-up. Make sure you are fully aware of these and leave plenty of time to navigate them to avoid adding unnecessary stress to your day. Similarly, your journey to your setting may be different, especially if you use public transport, so take this into account. You may need a little extra time to talk to the nursery team about any concerns you have or how your little one is feeling or behaving, and the less pushed for time you are while you are doing this, the more comfortable you will feel. With social distancing in place, time spent face-to-face may be more limited than before, so consider writing a short note or sending an email with any crucial points for the team to consider.

Your little one may become distressed when you leave them in the early stages, but try to remember to remain positive and don’t be tempted to ‘hang around’ to settle them – the sooner they understand you won’t be taking them home again just then, the sooner they will settle. Don’t be discouraged if your little one cries at pick-up time too – they are most likely tired from a day of new experiences, not distressed to see you! Remember that these are rollercoaster times for us all and our emotions won’t always make complete sense!

How to get your child ready:

1. Open up the conversation.

Just like us, little ones may have mixed emotions about transitioning back to their pre-lockdown routine. It’s not always easy for children to express these emotions, so chat to them about the change over the few weeks before they transition back so they have time to identify and process their feelings. Try to lead conversations with positivity, asking them what they have enjoyed about their time at home with you, but also what they are most looking forward about going back to nursery – their friends, their teachers, the different toys or books they can play with there. In talking you are not only helping your child to process their feelings, you are helping them to learn new sounds and words.

It can be harder for younger children to express less positive emotions, so try using pictures or reading books to open up conversations about any worries or sad feelings they are experiencing. You can also use visual cues such as emotion flashcards or drawing different faces on wooden spoons and asking them which one they are feeling and why. When reading books, use them as a conversation starter to help your little one identify their own feelings – see our top 5 books for starting conversations with children about their feelings here.

Make sure that your little one knows that any worries they have are valid but reassure them that you will help to make sure that everything will be ok. Share any worries with the nursery team so that they can also support. Prepare your child for the fact that things may feel a little different at first, especially with social distancing, but that they will always be safe at their setting.

2. Re-establish a routine and gently re-introduce independence.

Your family routine may have changed during lockdown, and it will be helpful for your little one’s transition if you can start to re-introduce a routine similar to the one they will have at their setting so the change doesn’t feel as great. Gradually enforce more consistent bedtimes and waking up times if these have changed – making sure you and your little one get enough rest will make a big difference to how you both cope with this change.

If you can, start to reduce screen time and introduce more nursery-style activities, including arts and crafts, movement and stories. If you know some of the songs or activities that your child enjoys at nursery, use these to remind them of what they do at nursery and to build excitement. If you’re short of ideas, browse our video classes and crafts here on maggieandrose.me, all of which are designed to support Early Years development.

Your child may have become accustomed to having a grown-up just for them whenever they need, or display ‘baby-like’ behaviours to express anxiety. Try to gently nudge them towards more independence while remaining supportive, practising putting on their own shoes or coat, cutting their own food during meals or going to the toilet by themselves, and praise them when they achieve these. Place a strong emphasis on hygiene (without pressurising), encouraging them to sing songs while they wash their hands so they can translate this activity easily to their setting.

3. Give them some coping strategies.

Although it may be tempting to spend as much time with your little one as you can before they head back to their setting, try to find a balance between time together and independent play. It’s important that they feel able to explore and discover at their own pace, as they will do back in their setting, rather than relying on you to keep them entertained. That said, joining in with role play is a great way to help them visualise being back at nursery and consider how they might approach any challenges. Gently steer them to act out elements of their daily routine, like saying goodbye at drop-off, having circle time and playing with their friends, asking if they have any worries along the way.

Consider introducing a special ‘goodbye’ to help your child think of drop-off in a positive light, like waving and blowing kisses from the window or singing their favourite song together before you leave – ask them what they suggest so they feel it’s a special thing between the two of you. Try to role-model a positive, resilient attitude, and remind little ones (and yourself!) that though it’s ok if they feel sad or worried sometimes, there is so much to look forward to both at their setting and when they come home afterwards.

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