The time has finally come, your little toddler is off to nursery. But how do you cope with the separation?


“When it comes to preparing your tot 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 tot 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. That and remembering this wise phrase, passed down through generations:

There are two things you can give your child, one is roots and the other is wings.

Make it easier for your toddler before the big day

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.

“We were convinced Carl was going to hate nursery, but when we took him for a look around he wandered off and plonked himself straight in the sandpit and started playing with the other kids,” says Emma, 35, mum to Carl, 3. “We had more trouble getting him out and taking him home.”

2. Brief the staff

The more information you give the staff, the better time your tot 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.

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3. Share some positive ideas about nursery

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 little one what a great laugh nursery can be.

“We stuck a picture of the logo of the nursery that our daughter was going to go to on our fridge,” says Felicity, 34, Ellie, 22 months. “We looked at this and said ‘nursery’ every morning to help get her used to the idea.”

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.

On the big day

5. Keep on smiling

No matter how torn up you’re feeling about your little one 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.

“The first week I left Jovan at nursery, he cried the moment I got up to leave,” recalls Eleanor, 28, mum to Jovan, 2. “I couldn’t bear it and would rush back to give him another hug and tell him I loved him. At the end of the week, the nursery staff quietly told me I was just making things worse. After that, I had to steel myself to say goodbye and leave, but then I waited outside the door and within two minutes he’d stopped crying.”

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 her social life

It’s simple… make friends with mums who have kids of a similar age to your little one 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.”

Before the big day

10. Be organised

Nothing’s going to make that first day at nursery more fretful than you tearing round trying to find a change of clothes and the paperwork you need to sign. Pack her bag in advance every night before a nursery day.

11. Get label happy

Nursery-age children can be little clones – each with the same pair of Start-rite shoes and H&M trews – so make sure you put your little one’s name in every item that may come off.

“Gemma loves trying on my shoes, so she would ‘borrow’ shoes from children at nursery too,” Liz, 33, mum to Gemma, 3, and Toby, 6 months. “But the staff knew she’d swapped when they found her labelled-up trainers still sitting by the pegs.”

On the big day

12. See her settle

It’s a truism that the reason most toddlers cry when you

drop them off at nursery is because you’re still there, and once you leave they’re fine. “To assure parents that this really is the case, nurseries will often invite parents to leave the room and watch the CCTV in an office for five or 10 minutes, until their child calms down,” says Purnima. “Then you can leave with your mind at rest.”

13. Plan a distraction

Whether it’s coffee with your mum or a shopping trip with a girlfriend, make sure you have something fun to keep you occupied during those first few days. If you can meet up with a mum who’s an old hand at this nursery lark, even better, as she can reassure you when you start to obsess.

14. Talk to her keyworker

“Every child who attends a day nursery should be assigned a keyworker. This person will help record her development, so make time to talk to them,” says Purnima.

Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of the National Day Nurseries Association, says: “Let your keyworker know if there are any issues at home that

might affect your child’s behaviour (one that comes up quite often is the arrival of a new baby) and the keyworker, in turn, can keep you updated about how your child is progressing.”

15. Remember, they will phone you

If you’re finding it difficult to relax and stop worrying, remind yourself that the nursery will always call you if there’s a problem with your child. “But if a parent wants to ring every hour in the beginning, that’s fine by us,” says Sarah.

Still concerned? Remember this…

“The most common problem we actually face is children not wanting to go home from nursery,” laughs Sarah Steel. “It’s true,” says Laura, 34, mum to Thomas, 9, Tate, 2, and Luka, 1. “I was really worried about taking Tate to nursery, but from the moment we went through the door he just walked off – no concerns, no tears, no crying.”

Day nursery or nursery school: Which of the two main types of nursery will best suit you?

Day nursery – these are designed for working parents, many are open from around 8am to 6pm, all year round. If they have a baby room, they may take babies from 3 months.

Nursery school – these tend to run morning or afternoon sessions during term-time only for pre-school toddlers aged between 2 and 4 years old.

Mum's story:

“We’re avoiding nursery blues by running one ourselves”

“My friends and I have agreed to run our own ‘nursery’ for our children starting this September. There are six of us, with seven boys aged between 16 and 32 months. We’re starting with one morning, progressing to two mornings a week if successful, and taking it in turns to be in charge. We think our boys will love it because they’re all such good friends and we’ll each get a few hours’ break, without it costing the earth.”


April, 34, mum to Ethan, 2