ONE of the best things about young children is how free and unfiltered they are.
So it should come as no surprise that your nursery teacher probably has a very good idea of what goes on behind closed doors in your home.
Maria Biggins*, a nursery teacher with almost 40 years’ experience, told Fabulous: “The children do tell us loads of stuff but their secret is always safe with us!”
After nearly four decades of working in nurseries in different areas and in both the state and private sector, Maria has seen it all.
So we asked her for the parenting mistakes that she witnesses again and again – and what to do instead.
TOO MUCH CHOICE
Maria says: “Children don’t have to be asked about every single decision.
“They need to feel secure. That’s one of the things they like about school actually.”
Clear structure and expectations set boundaries helps children know what to expect and how to behave.
This helps youngsters to thrive – even if they don’t always like it.
“They don’t need to be asked all the time would you like this or this for supper, you give them it. And then if they like it they like it,” says Maria.
“I always say to mine you have to try 44 times before you can say whether you like it or not. Obviously I don’t keep count, I pull a number out of thin air!”
TOO LITTLE CHOICE
At the other extreme, too little choice has a negative impact too.
Maria says: “Some children are very prescribed and the parents are choosing everything that the child has to do.
“And you just think, well, no wonder they’re being, for instance, picky about their food – it’s a place to have control.
“Or they don’t want to put their shoes on in the morning – well, that’s because it’s something they’ve got control over.”
Some children are very prescribed & the parents are choosing everything the child has to do -you just think, ‘no wonder they’re being picky’
Maria, nursery teacher
As well as avoiding difficult behaviour, giving children some choice (starting small) will aid their development.
The ability to evaluate situations and make decisions is something they will need as they grow up, and giving children freedom in their play also allows them to pick toys that suit their age, stage and mood, helping them to hone physical and cognitive skills.
NOT SAYING NO
“I think sometimes parents like to be their friends, and sometimes you have to be the parent and have to be saying no,” says Maria.
“One of the things that really bugs nursery teachers and nursery staff is we get parents all the time saying, ‘Oh she won’t do such and such’.
“It could be anything – ‘She won’t drink her milk at night, will you tell her she has to?’
“And it’s so annoying! Why do I have to be the bogie man who says you have to drink your milk? They may not like milk!
“But also, what are you saying? That you don’t have any authority over your child and I’m the only one that they’ll listen to? Really, that’s not a great way to parent.”
Saying no to your child might feel hard, but it helps with setting boundaries, which will help them developmentally.
Never saying it can leave them ill-equipped to deal with the real world.
Maria says nursery staff have noticed how the pandemic has made this worse. She says: “We’ve had children that just, if you said no to them, could not cope with it. On the ground, temper tantrum.
“And I think that’s because they’ve had parents at home struggling to work and keep these under-fours occupied.”
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Similarly, not setting firm boundaries and expectations can lead to unhealthy habits which are difficult to break.
Again, the pandemic, lockdowns and juggling homeschooling with remote working has exacerbated these problems in young children.
“It’s been really noticeable,” says Maria.
“I caught one father at the end of the day and told him, ‘I’m really sorry but she [your daughter] really did not eat anything at lunchtime.’
“And he said, ‘Oh it’s because you haven’t got Peppa Pig on – to get her to eat at home, we have Peppa Pig on the TV or her iPad and she watches.’
“And I thought, ‘Oh yes, that’s what’s been happening with a few of them.’
“They weren’t used to sitting and eating communally as it were and once she had to concentrate on her food, she saw what she was eating and didn’t fancy it.”
Teachers are understanding though of the unprecedented pressure parents have had to cope with over the last 18 months.
“I really, really felt for the parents,” says Maria. “I mean, I couldn’t imagine working with little-uns running round when you’re trying to do a meeting or write something important.”
Pandemic or no pandemic, every family will have times where everything feels out of whack and it’s time to hit the reset button.
With consistency and purpose, you can work towards new routines and home habits that will create happy, balanced and well-behaved kids.
LEAVING WITHOUT SAYING GOODBYE
If you have a child that’s clingy or cries when you drop them off at nursery, do not be tempted to sneak away without saying goodbye, warns Maria.
She says: “We’ll deal with the tears, but you have to say goodbye. I think it’s wrong to run away.
“You’re just reinforcing the fact that they can’t trust you.”
We’ll deal with the tears, but you have to say goodbye. I think it’s wrong to run away
Maria, nursery teacher
It may feel stressful and upsetting in the moment, but every time you say goodbye is also an opportunity to tell your child that you will return.
It’s important for kids to hear it and, over time, they will grasp that you will always come back.
Maria advises parents to trust the nursery and the staff: “We’ll make it alright with them.”
TOO MANY TOYS
Yes, there is such a thing as too many toys!
Maria explains: “I think that one of the mistakes parents make is thinking they have to have something new all the time. They don’t.
“Children like the familiar and they like to play with the same things again and again.”
In fact, from a developmental perspective, it’s actually very important.
“The thing with play is we’re encouraging children to return to the same things and then they develop them,” says Maria.
For example, a child might repeatedly go to a set of Playmobil, but each time they will create a new story from it.
Or, from returning to a set of scales over and over, they will see what happens when you add feathers versus dried pasta.
“What you have at nursery is a core set of things that are the same, then you will enhance the play and learning by popping new things in that might interest them,” she says.
NOT POTTY TRAINING
Not being able to use the toilet independently deprives your child and the rest of the class of learning-focused activities that promote child development.
“It’s time-consuming when you’re trying to teach,” explains Maria.
“If you have to go and take somebody to the toilet, we’ll all do it – but it’s actually quite a difficult thing because of child protection safeguarding.
“There’s always got to be two of you around, we have to have gloves on, you have to write it all down and log any intimate care.”
The pandemic also seems to have had an effect, with more children wetting themselves than usual because overrun parents haven’t been able to potty train them in the usual way at home.
Maria says: “If you’re changing a child who’s wet themselves, it takes a long time.
“So that means somebody who would be working with a child, sitting and playing with them, extending maths skills and language skills, isn’t because they’re busy.
“It’s quite wearisome when you’re changing the fourth child of the day. And we run out of spare pants!”
Plus, being potty-trained is a confidence boost for little ones, knowing they’re doing something that “big girls and boys” do.
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Plus, we reveal what time your child should REALLY be going to bed – and how to get them to sleep when they don’t want.
And one mum raves about cheap ‘potty bomb’ hack which she swears had her son toilet trained in half the time.