Having Harley in nursery school has changed my life. For a few (surprisingly short) hours of the day, I have time to do the things I need to get done. Mostly, that’s work. But sometimes it can include a quick waxing appointment, some yoga, or writing some words here. She just goes for the mornings, and those mornings go by ridiculously quickly. But they still make a huge difference, and I’m so incredibly grateful for them. Nursery school is fantastic, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.
When Harley started, she would cry. Like, a lot. Not just at drop off… she would scream and cry throughout the day. I was really wondering if it was just too traumatic for her, if I was making a horrible mistake. Every morning when I would drop her off and she would wail, I felt like the worst possible mother – not just because I would leave her while she was upset, but because I so desperately needed that time apart. I was filled with so much guilt, feeling like the worst mom on the planet. Now, things are way easier, so here are some things to keep in mind (and do) to make starting nursery school as easy as possible.
Spend time letting other people take care of your kid
This doesn’t mean you have to leave your little one with a nanny, or even her granny, for hours every day. It’s more a thing of helping her learn that other people can comfort her. We all get so sucked into the role of primary care giver, and as much as we want (and need) a break, we often only really trust our partners… and some people don’t even have that. So when the baby cries, we lunge for her, even when her aunt or uncle could maybe help calm her down. Give them a chance to soothe your little one – you’re still on hand to help if she really becomes hysterical, but being exposed to other wonderful adults in her life will make the transition to being cared for by teachers and teachers’ aides that little bit easier.
Create a goodbye ritual
Every day when I say goodbye to Harley, I give her a big hug, a kiss, and then I tell her “mommy goes but she always comes back for you”. And then I walk away, give a quick last wave and I’m gone. Find what works for you and your kid – maybe it’s a hug and a high five, or a kiss followed by a hug and another kiss. Whatever suits you and the munchkin, but make sure you do it every time you say goodbye. It adds routine to the farewell, which somehow makes it less scary for them. It was really cool to see Harley understood what was happening when she stayed with her godmother for the morning; I could do our little goodbye ritual and then leave and she didn’t flip out. Then again, it helps that she adores her godmother… but still, rituals are useful.
Find the right nursery school
There are tons of schools out there, and take your time to shop around. Ask loads of questions. Find out about the school’s philosophy – how do they deal with discipline, with kids with separation anxiety. How many kids are in the school? Is there a religious affiliation that you like (or not)? Even in my darkest moments of wondering if I was traumatizing my kid, when I was wondering if maybe she just wasn’t ready, I really and truly knew that the school was lovely. They had the teacher to student ratio I was happy with, they were warm and loving, and I knew that they were being lovely to Harley even if she was losing her mind without me. Without that level of trust and comfort, it’s just a nightmare. So take your time and make sure you are putting your precious person in the right environment.
Those first few days, leaving my kid behind as she would scream for me, my heart broke. I seriously didn’t think I could continue doing it. In fact, I was beginning to wonder if maybe Harley was too young, if maybe I shouldn’t put her in school at all, but should rather hire an au pair and keep her at home. But a few weeks later and she was totally fine. They were the longest weeks, but they did pass and she found her feet there. Think about how long it takes any of us to adjust to a new job, new school, new environment. I like to think I’m pretty resilient, make new friends easily and am comfy in most places, and it still takes me a few days or weeks to find my place. Try not to get too worked up if your kid takes a couple weeks to sort themselves out.
Finally, remember that you are not alone in this. Most every parent I know has had some trouble with nursery school. It’s not always at the start – some kids are fine for the first few days and weeks, and then all of a sudden start screaming and crying. You know your kid best, you know if she is happy but looking for reassurance, or if something is really and truly wrong. Trust your gut, trust yourself, and know that it really and truly does get easier. And then harder. And then easier again. Also, it is all worthwhile when you see their artwork, and when they send home cookies they baked at school.