Day 1 of nursery went well for Mini. So did Day 2. She had Wednesday off and we went swimming. Day 3 was fine, also. Then she had the weekend to think about it. By Monday morning, she was begging not to go back. “I got sore tummy! I don’ wanna go to nursery!” she wailed. She also had a cold, so I decided she should stay off. We pottered about and made coffee buns again (I can’t get to grips with this bloody oven. The only way to learn its foibles are to make cakes. Lots of ’em. Often. I’m LEARNING, I’m not being greedy… OK: oink)
The next day, she threw a shrieking tantrum about going to nursery. Proper screaming, squirty tears, drumming heels, incoherent ragey shouting, tugging hair, clenched teeth, waving fists at me, the lot. It was hard to keep calm. God, it was also hard not to snigger! All that rage in one so small! Poor little mite.
I applied a multi-pronged approach: a little explaining (“Mummy doesn’t meet up with anyone here: you need to go to nursery so you can meet other people”), a little insistence (“Whether you stay or not, you are going. You can tell your teachers that you’re not coming, in person”) and as much empathy and understanding as I could muster (“Poor tummy. My tummy gets tight and sore when I’m doing something new… I can see you’re very upset about going to nursery…). I tried asking her why she didn’t want to go. No coherent answer. I tried to teach her simple exercises to loosen up her tight tummy muscles. No joy, she refused to try them. I tried the confusing-but-gets-you-straight-answers of “What would have to change to make you want to go to nursery again?” Aha! That got a result: she said she didn’t like the wee boy hitting her. Oh? She was vague about whether it was an accident or if he’d said sorry or if a nursery teacher knew. I reassured her that it was an accident, and to tell someone: all the usual good stuff.
The staff didn’t fail to notice Mini’s new attitude. Neither could the kids. One wee girl raced off with her hands over her ears to protect them from certain extreme volume damage. All 3 ladies took it in turns to try to distract Mini and engage her in different activities. I asked if there were any other kids who liked to play with each other rather than alongside. One lovely wee girl was quickly ushered over, and she tried to hold Mini’s hand. Miss Truculent was having none of it.
I stayed, and over the next half hour gradually backed away a bit more and a bit more. “I’m going to sit down. I’m tired. Look, you can still see me. I’m just over at the coats”. It was a hard balance, because although the staff were encouraging of me staying, it was upsetting for some of the other kids (“Where’s *my* mummy?!”) I said goodbye when I had told her I was going to go and Mini went ballistic, lying on the ground, clutching at my ankles, screaming for me. I smiled and waved and walked. I deserved an Emmy for that acting performance!
The next few days were very similar. The staff were all, 100%, entirely behind me. They were happy for me to take a Tough Love approach, and they were happy for me to stay. Or do whatever I felt suited me and Mini. I was very grateful! Because I didn’t need to be at work for a certain time, a tough approach wasn’t right for us (never mind philosophically – she’s not being manipulative: she needs me there just now). But it wasn’t fair to the other kids for me to stay. I suggested I phase it, spending less time each day.
One lovely lady took a photo of me and uploaded it to the computer so that Mini could look at me whenever she felt lost or lonely. Another wonderfully empathic teacher came in on her day off to drop-off a dressing up outfit for Mini because they’d talked about it earlier in the week. They laughed with me when I said goodbye to Mini and hid for 5 minutes to make sure she was ok, then had to crawl on my hands and knees to attract their attention to get the door unlocked to get out without Mini spotting me. They commiserated when I felt terrible when my little girl was shrieking, “I want my Mummy! I want to be with my Mummy! I need her! Mummy, don’t leave me here!” They also wryly smiled with me when we all watched little Mini switch from those desperate, heart-rending screams to smiley inquisitiveness at another game within 10 – 20 seconds of me disappearing from sight.
I fussed and fretted over the right thing to do. Had we still been ‘home’, she’d only be doing 2 or 3 half-days a week at nursery because I’d a thriving social life with a really wide variety of friends. I don’t ascribe to the notion that children need to be ‘socialised’ by mixing solely with kids of the same age. I think they get far more from meeting babies, young children, teens, young adults, old people: a really wide variety of humans. But with me having zero social life here at the moment, this was the best opportunity for my most gregarious of children to meet others. And she hated it.
Over the 2 weeks that this went on, she’d cry every time nursery was mentioned. She’d burst into tears suddenly whenever she thought about it. I tried asking more. We established that the ‘hitting’ was possibly a little boy who was deaf and patted you to get your attention. I explained that, and Mini never mentioned being hit again. But she still couldn’t explain why she hated nursery so much.
In the end, perhaps my initial instincts were spot-on (!!) One day she came home with a smile on her face, said she’d had a lovely time, and talked the whole afternoon about another little girl who coincidentally has the same name as Maxi. The next morning, there were no tears. The other little girl came up and held Mini’s hand and the pair skipped off. Mini flung a quick “Bye, Mummy” over her shoulder and I was instantly forgotten. And that was that. The end. No more nursery angst. Woohoo! Happy 3 year old!
So: all she’d needed was a friend to play with! And it’s hard, because lots of ante-pre-school kids haven’t taken that developmental leap yet – it’s normal still for them to want to only play side by side. But Mini will be one of the oldest in her class and she has 2 big sisters, which is perhaps why she so desperately wanted to play with someone. I’m so relieved that she’s actually enjoying nursery now, and not just the (yummy) snacks…