Most babies born during the Covid-19 lockdowns of 2020 and 2021 will have missed out on regular contact with a wider network of family members and friends including aunts, uncles, grandparents and cousins.
These babies have probably spent far more time in their own homes and with just their parents and siblings.
This loss of early social interactions has caused many parents to worry – even more than usual – about the separation and settling in process when their child starts nursery.
Separation anxiety is commonplace in babies from the age of around eight months and fear of strangers can last up to at least three years old. When their parent leaves them, they are naturally afraid about whether or not the parent will come back for them. Trusting that their parent will return is something children will only learn through experience.
There are several important steps parents can take to ensure a smoother nursery settling-in period for their baby.
First and foremost, it is vital not to transmit your own anxiety to your child, because that will worry and unsettle them.
It is the most natural thing in the world for parents to find leaving their child stressful or upsetting. But, if you can arrive at the nursery with a smile on your face and say goodbye to your child in a relaxed and unworried way, you are sending them a message that you are happy and they are safe with their new carers.
Thankfully, with the removal of lockdown restrictions, vital settling-in sessions before your child starts nursery can now take place. Where practical or necessary, we can arrange a virtual meeting to allow the key person to meet the child in their own home environment prior to settling in.
It’s really important for your child to come into the nursery with you to get used to the unfamiliar smells, sights and sounds of their new environment. At our Thrive nurseries, we ensure only one new child and parent is present in any room for a settling-in session at any one time. This is an unhurried opportunity to meet and start getting to know their key person, other carers and peers.
Settling in usually involves three visits, which parents are not charged for. The first time, the parent usually stays in the room but steps back when possible, allowing their child to start interacting with their key person.
The second time, the child will stay for two or three hours while the parent leaves them. Where possible, we will have a third session where the child stays unaccompanied for half a day.
However, where we feel the child would benefit from further settling in sessions, we are happy to arrange this in order to ensure a smooth transition.
It’s important during this settling-in process that your child sees you leave and return, even if you have just left them for an hour or so. This will help them develop trust over the first few settles that you will always return for them, even when you leave them for longer periods.
It is important that you say goodbye to your child with a kiss or cuddle when you leave as sneaking off without saying goodbye (which may feel better for adults) can leave babies anxious and unsure.
We do everything possible to ensure the child’s key person, and their buddy or co-key person, are present as the child settles into our nurseries. The buddy system ensures consistency, so when the key person has their lunch break, for example, your child will be left with another familiar face.
This key person relationship is vital, building up trust with both the child and the parent. Sharing information about any additional needs or issues and ensuring the key person understands your child’s individual routine is so important.
We need to know how you usually comfort your child, the songs you sing to sooth them, and the way you hold them, as well as their sleeping and feeding routines. We will try to mirror these as much as possible.
The emotional wellbeing of every child is our absolute priority and that means building trust and sharing information – the parent sharing information about anything happening in the home and the key person sharing details of your child’s day at nursery.
For some babies and toddlers, Covid-19 will have made settling in harder because your child may not have had much opportunity to form attachments to your wider family.
If possible, it may help to start leaving them with a trusted friend or relative for a few hours in the weeks leading up to starting nursery. This will help to reassure them that, when they are left, their parent will return and help to reassure you as parents that your baby will be ok without you for periods of time.
Our nursery teams are well-trained to understand settling-in anxiety. We expect the child to have times when they become upset and our focus in the early days is helping them form a new attachment.
Our nursery managers also play an important role as they keep a close and supportive eye on our practitioners, ensuring each child is looked after in the way that meets their individual needs and monitoring practice and provision throughout the session.
While most children soon settle to nursery routines and enjoy the excitement and social interactions, sometimes it is the parent whose anxiety persists and this is completely understandable. Please do not hesitate to contact us during your child’s settling-in period for updates, we want this to be a smooth transition for you too!
Ursula Krystek-Walton joined Thrive Childcare and Education six years ago and has spent her entire 25-year career in nurseries and early years education. Her roles have included nursery management and support positions covering safeguarding, quality improvement and being an Early Years Advisor for the National Day Nurseries Association.