DS 23 months struggling to settle in nursery (in France)

(45 Posts)
Romilly70 Sun 30-Sep-12 08:47:12

(I originally posted this in pre-school education but didn't get a response so perhaps some mums of children at creche / halte garderie or even maternelle may have some advice for me, please?)

DS is almost 2 and i have got him a place at a nursery (halte jeux) for a couple of afternoons a week. Basically it is 3 hours 13.30 to 16.30. The children normally nap for the first 1 1/2 hours have a snack then play.

I am not sure how this compares to the uk system as have never used it apart from a few visits to surestart centres when i visit my parents and i always stay. he also goes to a mother & toddler group (centre d'acceuil, run by the mairie) so i stay there too with him.

He is going through "adaptation". Normally, i would stay for 5 minutes then leave him for 5 and then see if he cries or settles with his key-worker (Let's call her Amelie). For the last couple of weeks, we have done it differently and i have stayed to helped him settle and then left for 5 minutes. (After telling him i am going to the toilet or something and will be coming back.) The minute i leave he starts crying and Amelie cannot even approach him without him running back to me. The staff are fantastic; really patient and particularly flexible for him. He has his teddy to cuddle in the few minutes I am not there and they do their best to play with his favourite toys, but DS is not having it.

I know he like the nursery as he is absolutely fine with the activities, the other kids and the staff as long as he can see i am in the vicinity. He is also only there for an hour maximim. We get there at 3pm after the other children have woken from their sieste (and hopefully DS has had a prior nap at home too, but not always - his sleeping is not great.)

Also outside school he has got clingier and i struggle to even leave him with his dad when i go to yoga once a week or with his grandma when i have to pop out occasionally. Although DP says after about 5 minutes of rolling round on the ground he is usually distracted and fine.

I need him to settle as he is way too attached to me. Even sleeps in my bed and can't settle without me (is a long story). However he needs to be a bit more independent and also learn french (he barely speaks, even in English; apart from No, although he understands everything.)

Well i am going to persevere as it will just be even worse for him trying to repeat this in a year's time for maternelle. But I just need some tips, recommendations of books to read (for him) to prepare DS a bit more and make it less traumatic for him to be seperated from me and enjoy nursery without me there.

thanks if you read this far! smile

Bonsoir Sun 30-Sep-12 10:17:25

I think the key piece of information here is that your DS hardly speaks (even in English). How can he communicate with the nursery staff who are from a different culture and language, when he can barely communicate with you - he is still a baby who sleeps in your bed and likes to be with you. Can't you let him grow up a bit and learn to talk before throwing him in at the deep end in a French environment?

natation Sun 30-Sep-12 10:21:03

Every child is different, if the saying goodbye and telling the truth you'll be back in a few hours (not to the toilet) doesn't work, then you might just have to hand your son over immediately to the key worker, whichever system leads to the least amount of stress for all. You must however be consistent. 2 afternoons a week is not a lot, so it is of going to take longer than if he were full time. I do think an hour is a very short time, I'd imagine your son is spending a great proportion of that time settling, if it were a longer time, he would be spending more timee constructively enjoying himself and finally he'll get to a point where he'll remember the nice time he spends there, at the moment he is probably associating the creche with sadness at not having his mum, instead of happiness at having some new things to do, new people to play with.

I can't see what is wrong with your son sleeping with you, IF you are happy with this. I've slept with all 4 of mine, 2 left aged 2, 1 aged 3 1/2 and 1 aged 5. The elder 2 wouldn't dream of sharing a bed with me now, the younger 2 would still be next to me if they are ill as they are still quite young. If you are comfortable with him sleeping near you, then it's pretty normal, just look at how our ancestors slept and how people still sleep in societies where whre family units are still strong. Independence is gained not through sleeping patterns but by giving children the tools to think for themselves little by little, as they mature emotionally and socially.

Sorry this sounds all harsh doesn't it? Are you able to increase time at the creche, as I suspect your son isn't currently able to make attachments to the ladies there, because he is too upset, if he is there longer, more time spent calm, it should all settle down. But is it necessary to be at the creche if it is causing so much stress? Any half-way compromise of a mums and tots session instead?

Good luck. It will all work itself out honestly.

I totally disagree with this part:

Well i am going to persevere as it will just be even worse for him trying to repeat this in a year's time for maternelle. But I just need some tips, recommendations of books to read (for him) to prepare DS a bit more and make it less traumatic for him to be seperated from me and enjoy nursery without me there.

I think in your position (assuming you don't need childcare to work but are doing it for him to learn French and get used to being away from you) I would stop and give up the place and let him have a year at home with you. Starting to do the separation when he is going through a phase of being highly attached is, in my opinion, slightly mad if not necessary.

I tried to put my DC into a 2 hours twice a week childcare setting when he was just 2 - and he did speak very well in English and also spoke a reasonable amount of German, but he howled the entire time I was away (except for the one session his 4 year old sister offered to skip Kindergarten - which is allowed - to stay with him, bless her, that time he was totally fine and happy and the staff said he was like a different child). He just wasn't ready to be left. A lot of people trot out lines about children always being fine once you've gone, it won't do them any harm to cry a bit, they love it really (even though they scream for a solid hour) etc. to make themselves feel better about leaving their child, but IMO the truth is some children have no real problems being left at 12 months, 18 months, 24 months and thrive on it, but others really are not ready and it does nobody any good unless parents have to go to work, in which case needs must.

When my DC2 turned 3 and it was time for Kindergarten he settled really easily, I only stayed with him for 2 sessions then he was happy for me to leave and we never had a tear - he was ready smile (We had some tantrums several months later about being left, when he decided he didn't fancy KiGa any more, but IMO that was a different issue and once settled it is definitely worth battling through rather than giving into a boundry testing phase in an older, verbal child).

All children are different and yours sounds as if it is not the right time for him to be going into child care without you, but that is just my opinion. I think the whole "s/he" needs to get used to being away from me" argument is a red herring with very small ones, they will (almost always) be ready to be away from you in their own time, and forcing it is only necessary if you have to work or perhaps for a rather older child (3 or 4).

DD goes to creche 4 mornings a week including lunch time. Originally I wanted to put her in the afternoons but they advised mornings would be better : less tired, in theory, and more stryctured activities. They would also only have her a minimum of 4 half days a week in order to be able to fit in more socially.

Make sure the creche people understand the language barrier, and stay with him as much as you need to. It can takd kids weeks to settle in to what must be quite a strange situation, and for your ds it must be even more settling.

My advice? Persevere but don't insist on leaving, and possibly see about changing the hours to something more suitable?

winnybella Sun 30-Sep-12 11:07:12

Just be brutal and leave him there, I don't think that hovering over him/running back every time he cries etc instills confidence in his new environment. Most probably in a week's time he would be ok.

It could be that you pander a bit to his dependence on you. It sounds ridiculous, I know, as he's only little...Perhaps I"m only saying this because I spent the afternoon yesterday with my friend whose 3 yo DS is still making a hell out of bedtime, wants to be with his mum non-stop, we couldn't even talk as he would disrupt every two minutes or just come and sit on her knees and want her attention (even though DD was there to play with-they did end up having lovely time, but it took a couple hours). My friend is letting him do all that and tbh it looked exhausting.

Btw I find it weird that Amelie is running to you every time he cries hmm I found with DD that staff in jardin d'enfants, creche and maternelle were v.good at distracting children and had the sort of tough yet v.friendly manner necessary to make kids feel confident in new place if that makes sense.

I would ask the creche for advice and follow it. The French do things differently - and the sooner your ds fits in with French structure the easier it will be for him next year at maternelle.

I wrote you a long long reply this morning but managed to get myself disconnected...

I was in a similar position to you over the summer with my not very verbal, clingy, cosleeping DS2 (then 18mo ish)-the adaptatation took over 4 weeks, and even then he cried at drop off for another 2 weeks. No language barrier though, so can't comment on that.

Now DS loves crèche and does 4 mornings and one full day so that I can sleep off my night shifts.

I took the bright and breezy approach-happy to leave him, no stress, no chance of me changing my mind, and the crèche staff were great-no nonsense, firm and kind. How do you really feel about leaving him?? I ask as I have a friend whose son really picked up on her 'sadness' that he was growing up, becoming more independant etc, and they both really suffered at drop-off at the crèche.

I did have to insist that they take him for a bit longer-5 minutes or even one hour is probably not long enough for him to get 'into' whatever is going on at crèche.

I also agree with La petite râleuse when she says that mornings are a much better bet if you can switch-arrriving tired for naptime isn't ideal imo

Good luck with it, I find crèche really brilliant-and since he has started there DS2 has finally got words smile

Romilly70 Sun 30-Sep-12 18:07:25

Hi Everyone,
thanks for your responses.

Just to respond to the points made:

Although I don't work in a paid job, we are in the process of renovating a farm (to move to and run as gites), it is about half an hour away and for the last 4 months, DP has been living there to speed up the work, so i have DS 24 hours a day by myself. (As well as going there everyday to do cooking, and sometimes helping out with some building work, DS's naps etc permitting.)

I did do sleep training with him when i was last in the UK (in April) and had DS in a good 8pm to 8am sleeping routine in his cot. However when we came back to France he took exception to sleeping in his cot and started climbing out, so we swapped him to a bed. Then he started climbing over the stairgate, so in the end, i let him fall asleep in my bed, returning him to his and just got even more exhausted returning him to bed at 3am.
He can't fall asleep by himself anymore and because we have a gite next door, i have taken the path of least resistance and let him sleep with me, so that his crying does not disturb the people on holiday next door.

I know in an ideal world i should just keep him at home with me, but i know i will go mad if i don't get a break from him. I have no evening whatsoever as it is rare to get DS fully asleep before 9.30 / 10pm, so two 3 hour sessions a week is not unreasonable.

As regards the creche, he was on a list for a year, as another mum warned me places are like gold dust. I called back at the rentree in september and I got a place which another family turned down. There are only afternoons available, so much as i would love 4 mornings a week they are not available.

As regards the Creche staff, I have complete confidence in them and they seem to know what they are doing! btw, Amelie does not run to me when DS starts crying, he runs to me the minute he sees Amelie.

They have been really flexible in accommodating DS and Amelie does speak English to DS. He is fine in group activities and playing with the other children.

The creche's adaptation period is sometimes only 10 minutes for some children, so they are definitely accomodating DS by letting me stay 1 - 1 1/2 hours. Any more is not possible as the other children are asleep from 1.30 to 3pm and Amelie is watching over them.

So I definitely feel that i have to go down the tough love route. I completely appreciate the situations that have worked for other families with co-sleeping and keeping their child out of pre-school for a little longer.

I don't have any family support in France, and not a huge amount of help from DP, due to circumstances outlined above. I am not exaggerating when i say that I have had DS with me solidly for 2 years, and I really need the seperation to make me a more tolerant mother as much as i adore DS; i am getting to the point where i really resent him being with all the time and want a bit of breathing space.

There's nothing wrong with needing the time apart so that you can have a break - don't feel guilty in any way about that. I'm not working at the moment (maternity leave) but wouldn't dream of having DD1 with me full time at the moment - she is a massive handful and health wise I am just not up to looking after her full time. I honestly believe that a few half days a week apart is good for everyone concerned - your son will be more ready for maternelle, and learn more French, and you get the break you need - and your needs are important too. (I might have been living in France for too long smile )

Shame you can't change the slots they have allotted you. I guess the tough love approach will work in time - my good friend works in a crèche and it can apparently take days or weeks - but he will get there and won't feel rejected as long as he gets lots of love from you when you are with him (which I am sure he does).

On the way to the crèche talk it up - really enthusiastically - and on the way back talk to him about what he has done and how proud you are of him for having such a good time etc etc. Even if the conversation is one sided talking it into a positive experience might help motivate him. The creche staff are quite good at giving a run down of what they have been up to in the session so you can repeat that back at him with big smiles and positive tones and tell him what a clever kid he is.

I'm currently having a similar issue regarding sleeping - DD doesn't want to go to sleep in her own bed so is dropping off to sleep in ours and being taken through once asleep. It's hard. I've just ordered her a big girl's bed in the hope that she will want to sleep in that. Fingers crossed!

Good luck with it (and with your gite - where is it by the way?)

natation Sun 30-Sep-12 19:27:56

Given the added information, I'd go for a very quick exit and leaving him the most time possible in the sessions allocated.

As for sleeping, if you don't mind co-sleeping, then take advantage of it and get yourself a full night's sleep, rather than moving your son in and out of beds. I never got out of bed even once in the last 16 years, except to deal with ill children, those few interrupted nights with ill children were enough to know I could not have beared doing sleep routines any differently.

Hi Romilly

I am one of the ones who thought you should keep him home, but I think in the circumstances you describe you do need the short break from him twice a week and so need to treat the situation as you would if you had no choice but to go back to a paid job - so yes, as others have said, be really positive about creche, and as he has now been a few times so it is not totally unfamiliar I'd say the most likely approach to succeed now is to stay 5 mins max during which you show interest in the toys and show thing sto him, then if he is playing leave him playing, but if he clings put him into Amelie's arms and leave briskly with a cheerful kiss and goodbye rather than lingering. I used to childmind and that was what worked with new children then, but then I only minded for a year so only ever settled in 4 new children and only 1 ever got upset, so my experience is not extensive!

Good luck with nursery and the renovations and business, you have a lot going on! (Oh and I agree just let him sleep in your bed esp if DH is not sleeping there too, so you're not over crowded and sleeping on a cm at the edge of the bed yourself!)

cheaspicks Mon 01-Oct-12 16:39:40

Hi Romilly

My dd started kindergarten in Germany at 27 months (5 days a week, 9-2:30ish). The staff there were sympathetic, but quite insistent that the settling-in period was kept to a minimum and that farewells were also as short as possible. DD is also quite clingy and it wasn't easy, but she settled in soon enough smile.

What helped us the most was:

Reading "Maisy Goes to Nursery" ( I substituted the word kindergarten for nursery when reading to dd)

A cardboard pop-up nursery that my mum found in a discount bookshop - it has four children, plus two adults. I even tried playing at tearful farewells with the characters (having just read "Playful Parenting" at the time)!

Talking about going to kindergarten the next day at bedtime.

Finding things to take to kindergarten and making a big deal out of it (probably the most effective). One day MIL and DD picked apples in PIL's garden and carefully picked out enough for all the children in dd's group. She was so proud carrying in her bag of apples the next day that she forgot to get upset. When we went to a wedding in the UK one weekend we bought chocolate buttons ("look, dd, these are for all your friends in kindergarten, you can give them to Amelie on Monday, do you think she'll be happy?") After another trip home I made a little photo album for her to take in. You get the idea.

cheaspicks Mon 01-Oct-12 16:45:45
Romilly70 Mon 01-Oct-12 20:10:05

thank you all for the tips and book recommendation.
I have also been revisiting his sleep routine, went back to basics with a bath, story, bottle and settled him in his own bed (it did take an hour!!) but has been worth it as i have an evening.

I hope that this will make him less tired, sleeping on his own so that he is less crotchety / tearful tomorrow at the creche.

I will talk it up in the morning and be quick, cheerful and brisk when i drop him off tomorrow.
fingers crossed!!

I hope it goes well! smile
DS2-(former cosleeper, still a conapper) actually wakes up much less often when he settles in his own bed. That said, I left for work at 10 tonight and I could hear him playing with toys in his room-tomorrow will be horrific!

Weta Tue 02-Oct-12 02:00:58

I totally second EnglishwomanintheAttic's advice about leaving him, having had a son who found it difficult to separate (we had to abandon first creche in france at 18 months but later found out that loads of children in the village had had problems settling there (!), halte-jeux at 2 went much better).

You sound like you have really good reasons to be doing this, and he now knows the place well and is comfortable there, so I think the short, brisk approach is best, and definitely put him in Amelie's arms so that he a) can't run back to you and b) is getting comfort at the time you leave.

I also think the book ideas are good for helping him to make sense of it all.

and starting maternelle can be tough too (it took my son over a month and the first few days were extremely traumatic), so I would be reluctant to keep him out of all childcare until then as the halte people will have a lot more time and energy to put into helping him get used to this new setting.

good luck! let us know how it goes...

Romilly70 Wed 03-Oct-12 21:47:41

Hi All,
Tues was a bit better; I stayed for about 15mins, then explained to DS that I need to go for 10 minutes but would be back and Amelie would take good care of him. His little face crumpled, but Amelie was cuddling him and i went off for 10minutes.

Amelie said although he was crying all the time, it was less intense and he wasn't clinging to gates all the time i was gone, but went to her, in Amelie's words "to find a solution".

So we were there for about 25 mins in total. We are trying again tomorrow and will extend the time i am away to 15 mins.

I do feel we are making progress; DS is more accepting of Amelie.
Also, I am making a point of every time i need to go somewhere, eg yoga class or leave him for a bit, i just let him know and don;t just disappear.

Also, have been working on getting him to sleep in his own bed. He starts off in his, then comes into mine in the night. I guess we are making baby steps of progress!

natation Wed 03-Oct-12 22:51:35

As someone who has creche experience, I have to say we wouldn't even allow just 25 minutes, it has to be long enough for a child to settle and explore. The only failure in the last 2 years was a child who came for an 8-12 session 2 days max out of the booked 5 days and came at 11am and finally settled in time for mum to arrive again at 12. So the child never got to do the activities the other children did, just cried then left. The child lasted about a month, after being told we would needed the child to come earlier than 11am, then left ..... without ever paying the bill too!

Try leaving your son for a very minimum of 1 to 2 hours, in order to give him some positive time, without phoning, hanging around, go and do something for yourself, put your phone somewhere you can't look at it but can hear it on the very off chance the creche will phone.

natation Wed 03-Oct-12 23:04:21

PS I really think you should try leaving immediately, just a quick goodbye, into Amelies's arms, out the door, back in an hour or 2 hours. If you keep staying 15 minutes then do 15 minutes away, then 20 minutes away, then 25 minutes away, it will take just too long to get into a long enough period away to get to the 2 hour point.

cheaspicks Thu 04-Oct-12 13:27:43

I agree completely with natation. Try saying goodbye at the door and leave him for a minimum of 30 mins, preferably one hour by the second time.

He knows and likes the place, he knows Amelie (and it is her job to distract him out of missing you). It's completely normal that he would prefer you to stay and enjoy the creche with him, but you have to show him that that's not possible.

I was dong exactly the same btw, going in for 10-15 mins to settle dd and then trying to leave. The kindergarten staff gently insisted I stop doing that, and actually it was much more of an issue for me than for dd. Let's face it, if Amelie is going to have to peel your ds off you, then it doesn't matter whether you've spent 10mins playing happily first!

Romilly70 Thu 04-Oct-12 19:35:19

Hi There,
thanks for the feedback.
We went today and DS started crying the minute saw Amelie, so she said to me, "you may as well leave now, as he knows you are going" (she said it nicely!!) so i did and she cuddled him as i went off.
He was still crying when i came back, alternating between running to the gate and running to Amelie.

I agree, it does feel like tearing a plaster off slowly.
However, much as i would like some free time to myself, i don't want to traumatise DS. I guess taking it slowly may be the halfway house between not sending him and going "cold turkey" and leaving him for an hour. I don;t know. i will speak to Amelie on tuesday when he next goes and see what she thinks. I will see whether 30mins is a possibility.

Although my concern is that he has no concept of time and will think i've gone for good, i think i will just have to build it up slowly.

natation Thu 04-Oct-12 20:19:46

I'd say either wait till he is older, or leave him for long enough he will finally enjoy being at the creche, that means a minimum of one hour, preferably two hours. I don't think half way will work, to be honest or building it up slowly.

It's also pretty normal for children aged 1 to 3 years who have spent 9 hours in creche and never cried the entire time to start crying the minute they see their parents return, what is important is how they are before you arrive and they see you.

discrete Thu 04-Oct-12 20:33:18

This may sound completely off the wall, but have you considered doing things differently?

We are also renovating a farm in France, and have been since before the dc were born.

Ever since they were tiny, they have been running around on the building site with us, or sitting in a carrier before they could run around.

They are used to it, and love to 'help' by filling buckets of sand, fetching and carrying and doing small jobs around the place. Could you not take your ds to the building site with you and dh and have him participate a bit more in your project?

Also and this is the only thing I will criticise you for (I promise) please don't say your son it too attached to you. I know the french use it as a catchphrase but it is soooo disrespectful of your son's needs and feelings. He is not too attached to you, he is as attached as he needs to be. Of course you have needs too and sometimes they must override his, which is normal, but don't be dismissive of his feelings.

GreyElephant Thu 04-Oct-12 20:42:43

My DD started Jardin d'enfants at 2.5. One morning session a week initially, lasting 3 hours. After a month she went 2 morning sessions, after 2 months 3 morning sessions etc. There were 8 kids approx with one teacher/carer.

So DD started day 1 and after 10 mins i left her. No problems. Day 2 same thing. Day 3 i received a harrassed phone call after 20 mins. DD was crying and i had to come immediatly. The teacher reinforced the rule - all parents have to stay until the kids are happy for them to leave, knowing they will not be back until the end of the morning. No assistance at all from the teacher with distracton techniques, no " i'm off to the bathroom for 5 minutes". It was simply "little Grey Elephant, can Mummy go home now and leave you to play until hometime?". If DD said no then i had to stay. No debating allowed. I would pose the question every 20 minutes or so.

So for 6 bloody weeks i sat there all morning either playing with her or watching her play. Until one morning she turned around to me after 10 minutes and said "Mummy you go home now, i play with x". Bingo. Never had a single problem with leaving her since. 6 months later still no probs what so ever. It takes me a couple of minutes to drop her off, thats all. She LOVES it and she hardly speaks any French and non of the other kids speak a word of English.

Maybe try this technique?

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