Education Quandary

'My daughter started nursery 10 months ago aged two. She still cries when I drop her off, but is happy when collected. The nursery seems fine, if a little chaotic. She's my third child and I've never had this before. What should I do?'
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The Independent Online

HILARY'S ADVICE

HILARY'S ADVICE

This is a horrible problem for any parent. No doubt, every morning, as she cries and tells you she doesn't like nursery, your heart is wrung out and you vow you will not put her through this torture any longer. Then, when you pick her up, you find she is playing perfectly happily, and you wonder what this daily roller-coaster is all about.

You need to accept that this is definitely about something. Ten months is a long time for a child to be so unsettled and you need to pinpoint why. Probe her gently about what she doesn't like there. Does she find it noisy? Or confusing? Do children rush around too much? Do the staff raise their voices? Is she made to do things she doesn't enjoy?

Ask the teachers exactly what happens once you have gone, and don't be fobbed off with an "Oh, she's fine". How long, exactly, does it take her to become fine once you leave? How well does she get on with other children and does anything happen in the course of the morning that upsets her?

And think about your judgement that the nursery is a bit chaotic. What causes you to feel like that, and could it be a sign of deeper, underlying problems, such as poorly trained staff or second-rate leadership? This is exactly the kind of circumstance where a fly-on-the-wall viewpoint would be invaluable to parents.

Also, examine honestly what is going on at home. Are there domestic problems she is picking up on? And is she, as a third child, getting as much attention as she needs from you? Or are the mornings bedlam, with two older children to be got ready for school, and her, the little one, just dragged along in everyone else's wake? What sort of little girl is she? Could it be that she is just different from her more robust siblings, more sensitive, and less suited to the hurly-burly of pre-school life than they were?

There is always the possibility, of course, that this behaviour has simply become a habit. As your daughter walks to nursery, she remembers the feelings that this walk have always stirred in her and behaves accordingly, even though the original causes of those feelings may have long gone. If so, a change of nursery - if you can find another one you are happy with - might be a way of breaking the cycle.

But two is young for a child to be starting an institutional setting, and the fact she is still not wanting to go there every morning may be an instinctive protest on her part at having been pushed out of her nest too early.

It's impossible to lay down hard-and-fast rules about what pre-school provision is best for all children, because family circumstances, nursery standards and children's own temperaments differ widely. But, in our brave new world of wrap-around "educare"- where childcare is too often viewed merely as a bureaucratic problem of providing places - we need to keep in mind that the real bedrock of bringing up secure and happy children is a home life where they feel loved, wanted and paid attention to.

READERS' ADVICE

I had a similar experience with my two-year-old daughter when she started at an inner London nursery with two kind carers, a lovely new wooden building and lots of outdoor space and wheely toys. An outgoing, cheerful child, she seemed ready for three mornings a week in a small nursery but she also cried when I dropped her off although I was told she stopped soon after I left her and seemed fine when I picked her up. I persisted for about three months before withdrawing her and took her to a cramped indoor nursery, prepared to stay there with her for as long as she needed to settle in. It took two days! She wasn't old enough to tell me why she disliked one nursery and was happy in the next but I think it was because at the second one there were a lot of sedentary activities like cutting and gluing, painting and making things which suited her better. It could just be that, although there is nothing wrong with the nursery your daughter attends, it doesn't suit her for some reason. I think that, after ten months, it is worth trying somewhere else.
Shirin Tata, London ECI

Every mother I know who leaves a crying toddler at nursery reassures themselves that they settle after they have left (and the nursery always says this is the case). For me there would be no dilemma. If my daughter said she did not like it, I would not send her, but instead enjoy her formative years at home.
Angela Elliott, Lincolnshire

My son was reluctant to go to nursery and would cry and cling to my legs. At the time I felt he was only doing it to make me feel bad about leaving him. All the other children seemed so happy. But the year after he left it came out that there had been serious problems with one member of staff, children started to leave in droves, and the place nearly closed down. Now I would say: never leave a child who is unhappy at nursery. There will always be a reason
Carol Goldsmith, Basingstoke

Make sure that your daughter receives a complete health check which includes a detailed history of her symptoms. She may be suffering migraine attacks. These are not uncommon in girls of her age, but often go undiagnosed. Her anxiety may be a result of her condition, not merely a cause. Proper diagnosis and suitable treatment may alleviate her symptoms. Contact the Migraine Action Association for detailed advice at Unit 6, Oakley Hay Lodge Business Park, Great Folds Road, Great Oakley, Northants NN18 9AS.
Annette Bates, Kent

NEXT WEEK'S QUANDARY

Our children's school is now down to only one properly-qualified maths teacher, and this summer's GSCE results were much worse than the year before. The headteacher says that there is nothing she can do because she cannot get teachers. But surely, given that this is such a serious problem, there must be some action she can take? By the time our 11-year-old gets to GSCE stage, it is possible that there may be no one left at the school who can teach her adequately.

Send your letters or quandaries to Hilary Wilce, to reach her by next Monday, 18 October, at The Independent, Education Desk, Second Floor, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax 020-7005 2143; or send e-mails to h.wilce@btinternet.com. Please include details of your postal address. Readers whose letters are printed will receive a Berol Combi Pack containing a cartridge pen, handwriting pen and ink eraser

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