Transitions into nursery, child minder settings or school will usually be more distressing for parents than for their child however having a child who settles in quickly will help the parents to adjust too.
We have all seen it. Some children will waltz into their new setting happily without a second glance, some will cry at the initial separation from mum or dad but be fine within minutes and some will suffer from a more prolonged separation anxiety (something we will look at in another post). No matter which category a child falls into there are several things we can do to make their time with us happy and settled.
1. Show the Love
If you work in a school setting you may be used to staff being nervous about too much physical contact for fear of potential safeguarding misunderstandings but the transitioning period is a time where you may need to use your judgement and set fears aside. Children aged 4 and under do not usually have the mental reasoning skills to be brought out of an upset state by common sense and discussion. They are babies people! They have been on this earth for less time than your favourite pair of jammies or shoes. They are not little adults - they are children and when they are left in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people and no cast iron guarantee that mum or dad will return at the end of the day they need more than a good old chat. They need cuddles. So don't be afraid to get a child on your knee for a good old cuddle and nursery rhyme or story. Of course safeguarding will always be an issue but this can be allowed for in a day care setting or school by making sure that the cuddle time is in the main room with other adults present.
2. Have Different Mood Spaces
It's time to bring out all of your arsenal. While some new starters may want cuddles, some may want to be allowed their own space whilst other come in seeking excitement or distraction. Set your room up so that you have areas for exploring, areas with familiar toys and experiences and areas for quiet time. You don't need a large space or multiple rooms to do this. Just make sure that you have play experiences set out that are familiar and reassuring (such as mark making, play dough or painting), activities that offer some challenges or new experiences (duplo, messy play, jigsaw puzzles), opportunities for small world play, opportunities for more active play (toys that move, water or sand) and a quiet reassuring space (indoor tent or an area with books, teddies and cushions). In this way you can make sure that you have covered every type of learner and offered many different tools which children could use to self soothe.
3. Getting to Know You
Play some getting to know you activities. If you have done your pre-transition prep you will already know all about each new child (or at least the basics of likes, dislikes and family) but the child will not know this. Plan in lots of games and activities around getting to know each other. Games where you learn the names of each of the people in the setting and other children work well, as do craft activities where you help the child to paint a self portrait or learn about families. (Check out the Settling In page for some ideas).
4. Toy Support
Whatever your setting's policy on bringing in toys and comfort items it would be good practice to allow any children who are struggling to settle to have a comfort item from home with them. Some children may need to have the item all day and be slowly weaned off it as they settle, some may need it only to deal with the initial separation from their parent or carer and will happily give their item up with support after ten minutes or so. If you particularly object to children having their own toys into your setting then consider having a bag of 'daytime toys' - a collection of toys which can be used as a special friend in nursery/ school. Introduce these as special friends and let the child choose one that they can keep with them all day whilst in the setting then put on a shelf or bag in its bag at home time until they return the next day.
Side note: To pacify or not? Whether we agree with it or not many children will still use a dummy (pacifier) up to or beyond the age of 3. In the interests of Communication and Language if nothing else, consider discouraging the use of dummies within your setting after the age of 2 so as to encourage children to talk more often and more clearly and as a result build relationships with staff and children that will help them to settle more quickly into your setting.