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Settling your child into Nursery

How do you help your child cope with her first day at nursery? Follow our no-tears guide...

"When it comes to preparing your toddler for her first day at nursery, every parent is different," says Sarah Steel, who runs 12 nurseries. "The most stressed parent I knew took two weeks' leave to come with her child to nursery while he settled in. Unfortunately, this was a pointless exercise because having her there meant it was no different for her child than being at home!

"And then there are the more blasé parents who phone on a Friday wanting their little one to start on a Monday, and we have to tell them it takes a little longer than that to prepare a toddler." Chances are both you and your toddler fall somewhere nearer the can't-quite-let-go category, but a little advice from experts and mums will make the transition as smooth as possible.

1. Take her for a visit

Even us adults get shy around new people in new places, so just imagine how scary it is for a toddler going into a strange nursery. That's why you should familiarise her with the place she's going to be hanging out as soon as possible.

2. Brief the staff

The more information you give the staff, the better time your child will have. "Tell them her likes, dislikes, what foods she eats, when she tends to sleep, anything that frightens her and how far through potty training she is," says Sarah.

3. Share some positive ideas about nursery

Talk about school in positive terms, as something exciting and enjoyable, even if your school days weren't exactly the best of your life. But don't belittle any fears your child may have. Find out when nursery break-time or outdoor time is scheduled and re-route your daily walk to include a detour past the other toddlers having fun, making sure you point out to your toddler what a great laugh nursery can be. And tell your toddler upbeat stories about your own days at nursery and school - the fun sports you played, the friends you made, the songs you sang.

4. Read a nursery story

There are a host of toddler books about this new stage in life. Try My First Day At Nursery School by Becky Edwards.

5. Keep on smiling

No matter how torn up you're feeling about your toddler taking her first fledgling steps outside the nest, you mustn't show it to her. If she sees you crying or fretting, you'll make her uneasy about the whole nursery experience.

6. Don't keep running back

When it's time for you to say goodbye, explain carefully that you're about to go and you'll be back to pick her up when nursery is over. Don't start to leave and then get drawn back by tears and a trembling lip.

7. Make dressing easy

Put your child in clothes that are easy for her to pull on and off, especially if she's newly toilet trained. Shoes with Velcro fastening will make her feel more independent, as she won't need to ask for help tying the laces.

8. Boost both your social lives

It's simple... make friends with mums who have kids of a similar age to your child and suddenly she'll have instant friends and a social life. So keep an eye out on day one and don't be shy about introducing yourself.

9. Allow a comforter

"If your child has a particular favourite toy or blankie she wants to take with her to help her settle in, it doesn't hurt at first," says Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of the National Day Nurseries Association (a helpful resource if you've yet to choose your nursery). "Lots of parents even bring along a child's special cup to make nursery feel like a home from home."

10. Help her make new friends

If your toddler doesn't know many children in his new class, see if you can arrange to get together with some other parents before school starts. That's what Libby Butler, 37, from Wiltshire, did when her son, Josh, now 7, started school. "Josh was at nursery at the other end of town and didn't know many future classmates. I volunteered to organise outings for new joiners: to the park, the local farm etc. It helped Josh and I make new friends."

If it’s you rather than your toddler feeling the first day nerves read our tips to ease your concerns and make waving goodbye easier for you, too.

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