In her new book There’s No Such Thing as Naughty, BBC presenter and mum to two young children, Kate Silverton shares her groundbreaking approach to parenting under-fives that will help make family life so much easier and a lot more fun!
This extract originally appeared on Independent School Parent. Here, Kate tackles the separation angst that can occur when your child starts nursery and shares her simple and effective strategies with easy-to-follow scripts…
One cold September morning I was sitting on a wooden bench, nursing my three- month- old son. I was surrounded by wet raincoats and brightly coloured miniature wellington boots that were covered in the mud from the field through which the children had splashed on their walk to school. I huddled under my own warm coat and held my son close to me while he fed, his snuffling mews coming up from beneath the material.
‘Mummy are you still here,’ cried a little girl in pigtails as she ran in from the room next door. She wore a blue- and- white gingham over-shirt that fell below her knees. She was not yet three years old. My heart swelled.
‘Hello, darling, Mummy is right here’.
Clemency turned and ran back into the melee of a classroom of toddlers sitting among blocks, building towers and reading books. Another ten minutes and she was back, the blonde bobbed hair swinging through just before she did. ‘Hello again, Mummy!’ she sang. She smiled at me, ran over to pat Wilbur on the head and ran off again. It was day five of my daughter’s September start at pre-school. I had already spent three long, cold mornings in that boot room. I felt ridiculous at times; I should have been at home with my young son in the warm. But after the first terrible morning with Clemency screaming for me not to leave her, I had been torn. My husband and I had reassured ourselves it was the right time to send our daughter to pre-school given she was nearly three, but with hindsight I realised the arrival of a new baby brother had made it far from ideal.
Traditionally, in our society, three years old is considered an appropriate time for our toddlers to attend nursery. With a new baby in the house, however, Clemency was torn between having fun with some newfound freedom and having serious FOMO (fear of missing out), given the imposter of a baby brother had arrived and threatened to take Mum’s attentions away!
The nursery staff tried to reassure me that ‘She’ll be fine, she’ll stop crying after you leave’, but having my child taken from my arms when she was crying for me broke my heart and, after day one, I couldn’t do it again. I asked if I could stay with my daughter until she was more settled. I worried I would be seen as somehow difficult or an over- sensitive mum and found it hard to know what was best, so I sought advice from psychotherapist Liza Elle:
Why would anyone want to take your child from you when they are in distress?’ Liza asked me gently. ‘And why wouldn’t she be in distress? [In this instance] she has just lost you to a baby brother and now you want to leave her in a place that’s unfamiliar to her. Consider, too, that she has no real concept of time yet, which means she’s unsure when or even if you will be coming back.’ Liza fixed me with a look that was at once both kind yet firm.
I sat in silence. I finally understood. If we, as adults, would find that situation tough to deal with, what must it be like for our children?
Kate Silverton’s Tool Kit Tip
When my children were very young, Liza advised me, ‘Even before you return to work, start building up a ritual to allow the children to know you will be “coming back”.’ When you leave the room temporarily, even just to go to the loo, tell them that, “Mummy’s coming back’. Even when you think they are too young to understand you. Simply say, “Mummy’s coming back” each time you go. And when you walk back in the room, starting after a separation of just a minute or so, you say brightly, “Mummy’s back!” ’
Liza states this is setting up a pattern of security, a little ritual, something they can depend upon, because children cannot tell the time or have a clear concept of ‘how long’ you might be gone for. Over time, when they hear, ‘Mummy’s coming back,’ they will start to settle, understanding from those early days post-birth that that means she WILL come back.
This idea extends to when you start to leave the house without your young child, perhaps in the care of a child-minder, relative or friend: those very early, tentative steps outside without your precious little one, even for just a short period. Old-school parenting often advised leaving our children without saying goodbye, because it was thought that if we did tell our child we were leaving, it would ‘upset them’. This is – again – where I say old- school parenting was misguided. If we leave our children without telling them we are going, it not only upsets them but puts them on edge because the person they thought they could trust simply ups and leaves. In building up little rituals, in being consistent with our ‘goodbyes’, our children will build the flexibility and the capacity to cope. But if we sneak out of the house (and, later, the nursery) without saying goodbye, it can do quite the reverse.
Children aged one to three years
Once your child is beyond the newborn stage, our adult lives will inevitably start to impact on when and how we need to be away from our young children, whether that is with babysitters, relatives or, naturally, childcare and education. There are really helpful techniques we can use that can help to ease the stress of the transition and/or the separations our children might have to endure and which you can read more of later on in my book.
There’s No Such Thing as Naughty by Kate Silverton is out now and is published by Piatkus, £14.99.