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Parenting: 'My two-and-a-half-year-old is struggling to settle into crèche'

For this week's parenting slot, a parent is looking for advice as her toddler is struggling to se...
Stephen McNeice
Stephen McNeice

10.57 11 Sep 2021


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Parenting: 'My two-and-a-half-...

Parenting: 'My two-and-a-half-year-old is struggling to settle into crèche'

Stephen McNeice
Stephen McNeice

10.57 11 Sep 2021


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For this week's parenting slot, a parent is looking for advice as her toddler is struggling to settle into crèche.

It's one of the listener questions Joanna Fortune - psychotherapist specialising in Child & Adult Psychotherapy - answered on Moncrieff this week.

The question

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I have a two-and-half-year-old that I’m trying to settle into crèche but feel like it’s constant setbacks. She started in early July but it was interrupted by a vomiting bug, head cold and then Covid. Her attendance in August has been consistent but we’re still hitting hurdles.

I gradually built up the time in crèche; I drew pictures (of her in school, me going for a walk, dad at work); I speak to her about what activities she has done in school that day; I talk about who loves her before she sleeps and we include the carers.

However, she sleeps with a t-shirt of mine and brought it to crèche. I didn’t realise it, but they were taking it off her after she arrived and giving it to her for rest time. They’ve asked to not bring it anymore because it’s “becoming an issue” (she keeps asking for it when she gets upset). I spoke to her about leaving her “Momma Top” just for bed and she agreed.

But she is struggling again in crèche. Her minders think it’s the noise (there are now 18 toddlers in the one room so you can imagine). She was cared for in her home environment with a one-on-one caregiver, so adapting is a big adjustment. The crèche minders say she is looking for their attention and doesn’t understand that they can’t focus on her immediately.

I find myself oscillating between thinking that she will adapt in time, to thinking that there is more I need to do to help her through this transition. I would appreciate anything at all you can advise me on: discussion points with the crèche; activities I can do myself with her at home; things to consider myself… anything at all! I’m returning to work in less than two weeks time and this is breaking my heart.

Joanna's advice

"There's a lot of anxiety there. But everything this parent has done is really appropriate and really lovely.

"It's unfortunate you had that stop-start period... but anyone who has ever started a child in crèche knows for the first few weeks they come back with every cough and cold.

"You're still four or five weeks in - I know it felt very long for you and likely for her, but it is still early days.

"This is a massive adjustment - she has had one-to-one caregiving at home, and now she's one of 18 toddlers. That is a lot of activity in a room, and she's trying to find herself.

"I think you've a very smart little girl - when she gets upset, she knows what's going to make her feel better and she asks for it. Smell is so evocative of memory, and that top brings mum to mind for her in a very visceral way.

"My confusion is not around why the child needs the top - it's around why the child can't have the top. Maybe there's a good reason for that - I'm not saying the crèche is doing anything wrong.

"I wonder if there's a middle-ground with it. At this age, children are so sensory-seeking - they need that for regulation. I wonder could she bring in a piece or section of the t-shirt, or a section of a scarf mum wears?

"It's not the entire garment, but something that could be stuffed in her pocket and she could take out and rub and smell if or when she needs it.

"Maybe people in childcare can give me a list of reasons why that's not possible, but I'm just thinking of it from the perspective of the two-and-a-half-year-old.

"We also have to be careful about how we dismiss children at this age as attention-seeking. At my experience, children at this age are connection-seeking rather than attention-seeking.

"She's a wise little girl who knows what she needs, but isn't able to get that. I don't think the caregivers are withholding from her - with 18 toddlers, all with various levels of need, I can only imagine [the workload].

"But maybe it's enough to acknowledge - to say 'I know you're looking for me, and when I do a and b I will be with you'. Just remember you said that, because children will remember you said that.

"I think it's just going to take some extra time with this. This parent has excellent insight... the prep has been really good. Perhaps you could approach the crèche and ask how they typically support little ones who are struggling to settle - she's absolutely not the first child who has had a wobble in settling. Crèches would typically have a process.

"I would say it could take six to eight weeks for her to really settle - it should get better, but don't panic if it's week seven before you see that.

"At home, keep doing as you're doing - increase her sensory play, and get her outdoors. Lots of outdoor time will change that physical environment just to reset her busy little brain when she's had to work hard all day in crèche."

Main image: File photo. Image by bethL from Pixabay

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