Our Play-school Saga or What to do when your little one refuses to go to nursery

Little T started going to play-group when she was two.  She went every Wednesday, it was mostly my husband who took her when he could, which gave me a free morning off.  That’s where she met F, her best-friend.

There’s little F and little T at the play-group, they were both two years old when the above photo was taken.  Then when they turned three, most of the kids in that play-group (including little F) started going three times a week to play school.  We held back a bit and just wanted her to stay with us.  I for one felt she was too  young.

But when she turned three last year, we though it was time.  We prepared her by talking about it and letting her choose her own lunch-box.  She seemed really excited about it too.

There she is on her “first day” at play-school.  Things went well for a couple of weeks.  At one point, she would even wave me away.  So I thought – Okay, that’s done then.  It wasn’t so bad was it?  I spoke too soon.

Then it happened.  She had a bad day and wouldn’t stop crying.  The play-school phoned us and we had to pick her up.  I knew she was tired, because she didn’t have a good night’s sleep and should’ve just let her stay at home.  Since that day, she would absolutely refuse to go and wouldn’t let me leave her behind.

So we stopped going.  I know some parents might not approve of my decision.  Some may think I should’ve just let her be and cry it off and she’ll eventually stop crying.  I know I could’ve done that.  But the thing is, I know my daughter.  Had I done that, it would’ve totally put her off play-school.  I didn’t want it to be traumatic for her.  I didn’t want her to think that play-school was a place where she cried her head off.  I wanted her to think of play-school as a fun place where she played with her best-friend and made friends with other kids.

So we bided our time.  I knew my husband didn’t agree with me, but he also knew his daughter.  He knew that little T is stubborn and will make up her own mind.  So months came by and Christmas came and went and she stayed home with us.  She wasn’t really bored though, she still went to her rugby class and then she also started her swimming lessons.

In the meantime, we waited for her and let her decide whether she wanted to go to play-school or not. We however, talked about it A LOT.  We didn’t nag her though.  We just talked about how fun play-school is, about making friends and doing lots of fun stuff.

Until one day, she decided she wanted to go but had her condition:  She wanted me to stay with her “forever.”  My husband and I have actually been talking about my “volunteering” at her play-school.  It also happens that F’s dad is the chairman of the committee of the nursery and he mentioned that the staff welcomes  volunteers from parents or anyone for that matter.

So that’s what I did.  I went with little T to play-school for about a month.  Wiped snotty noses, played with the kids, read to them, helped them put their helmets on.  She was a bit clingy the first day, but as the days went on, she didn’t even want to go home.

I was talking to the supervisor one day and we were discussing the way forward with little T.  It was a Friday and I was thinking maybe it would be good to start leaving her behind for a couple of hours next week and see how it goes from there. I remember it was just after lunch and it was almost time for us to leave.  So I told her we were going in awhile and she didn’t want to go.  I told the supervisor about this, and she said, why not try it now?  Tell her you’ll be back for her later.  So I grabbed the chance and asked T if she’d like me to come back later to pick her up instead?  To my surprise, without any hesitation she said “Okay, mummy!  Bye, see you later!”  I left as fast as I could!  But called them up when I got home, just to see if she was okay.  She was very much okay.

And now she absolutely loves play-school!  She nags me in the morning and even wants to go at 7am!  We have to constantly remind her that it isn’t open yet.  She goes every Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.  If she had her way, she’d go everyday!

Before this, we were even worried about her starting reception school.  All her friends are ready to go by September.  Here in the UK, parents have a choice whether to send their kids to “proper” school when they turn four years old or five.  We thought at the rate little T was going, she’d go when she was five.  Actually if my husband had his way, he doesn’t want her to go so soon.  He said, once they start school – they’re gone!  But as always, we will let little T decide whether she wants to go or not.  I have a feeling though that she will decide to go this year.

I have mixed feeling with that.  I’m happy and excited that she wants to have fun, be with friends and learn new things at the same time, I’m a bit sad that she’s not constantly with us and I terribly miss her.  Most days it feels like I’ve actually lost an arm and I’m not so sure what to do with myself.  But like little T, I’m also learning how to fill my hours without her!  In fact, I’ve just finished a book. It used to take me months to finish one, now it only takes me a few days!  Whoopie-blood-doo-dah!

On hindsight, I don’t think I’d do things differently.  So if someone would ask me advice on what to do if their little one also refuses to go to play-school or nursery, I’d say:

1.  Don’t force them.

2.  Talk things over with them, but don’t nag or scold them about not wanting to go.  Remember, they should associate play-school with fun and not tears!

3.  Talk to the play-school staff and see if you could volunteer, just till your little one gains their confidence  back.  And they will, however, don’t be impatient and expect them to love play-school after a few days of going.  It takes time.

The good thing about volunteering too, is that you’ll also get to know the staff better and the children too.  I love it whenever I take little T to school and the kids would greet me with lovely little smiles and when I pick her up, they show me whatever art work they’ve been working on.

4.  Lastly, trust your child and yourself.  You know your child more than anyone else. Don’t compare them with other kids.  Children are different, just because your neighbour’s kids seem to have it easy, won’t mean that it will be the same for your child.  People mean well when they give advice, but at the end of the day, only you know what’s best for them.

Perhaps, one important thing to remember is that our little ones won’t stay little.  Soon they’ll be flying through the door and might not even want to be with us.  They’ll want to be with their friends.  They’ll want to learn new things and explore the world … without us!  So don’t be in a hurry and too worried that they don’t want to go just yet.

Have you experienced something like this with your little one?

How did you deal with it?  Please share.

This post is linked-up with PODcast’s #WhatsTheStory


I know that things may be different and difficult for single mums and working parents as well, where they don’t have much choice about leaving their kids behind.  Already there is much guilt/stigma about leaving children at such a young age, even when they’re upset and absolutely refuse to be left behind.  It’s difficult isn’t it?  I can only imagine the stress these families are going-through or have been through.  Like I mentioned though, whatever situation we are in, at the end of the day we should be governed by our own instincts as parents and not the opinions of others.

Also linked with:


  1. Kate @ Did That Just Happen?

    Love that you listened to little T and adapted to what she needed, not what you wanted! Since it was just me and Mr. T, I didn’t have any option but to have him go to daycare so I could go to work, but one day, when he was about 2, his favorite day care teacher was leaving and she pulled me aside and said that she would keep him – so I had someone watching him, and in a home environment, and it was so much better for all of us. Over the years he did have to go back to day care some (like right before he entered school so he would be used to interacting with kids!) but for the most part, I feel his daycare was balanced for what worked for him, and it made me a very happy mom!

    • Thanks Kate! I was thinking of mentioning that for other mums it might not be an option like you mentioned. I guess we are lucky to have that option, but I can imagine how difficult it is for other parents (especially single mums) who just have to bite the bullet and hope for the best. Like I said, at the end of the day, we as parents should just trust our instincts and that we know what’s best for our child 🙂

  2. The Vanilla Housewife

    Great points! We don’t want our kids to associate school with bad memories. It’s supposed to be fun and something that they will look forward to!

  3. suzanne3childrenandit

    I really take my hat off to anyone who is completely selfless in parenting. That’s what you did in this instance and it paid off. As you say, only you know your child but I had an episode like this with my middle one and I carried on forcing her to go, through tears. Eventually she got over it too but having another younger child made it difficult to stay with her. Having said that, I’m not sure if I would have been so lovely and patient as you, even if I didn’t have another child! So pleased she is loving it now 🙂

    • Yes, I’m really relieved that it has paid off! Then again, she’s an only child. It would’ve been different if I had other kids like you, though like I mentioned at the end of the day, we know what’s best for our children 🙂

  4. Charly Dove

    What a great post Dean – it’s been such a journey. What a great idea working there as a volunteer, sounds like it was such a help to T. And look at her now, absolutely loving it. You couldn’t ask for more. Thank you so much for sharing #whatsthestory

    • Yes, it has indeed been a journey for us and it has totally paid off. She loves it now and looks forward to going to play-school 🙂

  5. Life in the Wylde West

    You did everything so right. People don’t give those little enough credit and you know your child better than anyone. I was happy to read this. It went so well.

    • Thanks Tracie. I’m just glad that we’ve finally over-come that “little” hurdle 🙂 I’m sort of working my way through this whole motherhood/parenthood thing and using my instincts as my guide… so far so good! 😉

  6. Coombe Mill

    Sounds like you are a very patient and caring Mum who knows just what makes her little girl tick. Only a mother can have this insight. Well done to you both.

  7. Sara (@mumturnedmom)

    Well done for trusting your instincts and knowing your daughter so well. I have to admit that when I started leaving the wee girl at the crèche at our YMCA she screamed the place down but I stuck with it, little by little, sitting in the lobby listening to her. But, I knew that she would get used to it and would love it. Now, she runs in 🙂 Every child is different, we need to trust ourselves x

    • Yes, children are different and like I said I’m just really relieved that we’ve both gotten over that little hurdle. On to the next! 🙂

  8. youbabymemummy

    Brilliant post, thanks for sharing. I’m glad you stuck to your guns and did what you thought was best for your daughter x

    • Thank you! 🙂 I guess it really pays off once you listen to your mother’s insticnts and of course, it’s also important to listen to your child and not brush it off, whatever it is they have to say 🙂

  9. thereadingresidence

    A great post. So pleased she enjoys it now, and I think the point you make about trusting in your judgment & knowing your child are key x

  10. Sharon Powell

    Great post! So glad that she now enjoy’s it, well done to both of you x

    • Thanks! It’s such a relief for me and my husband now that she’s really enjoying it 🙂

  11. Merlinda Little (@pixiedusk)

    when my LO was starting preschool he would never let me go but now he is happy to play with the other kids. But there are days that when I picked him up he would cry. I knew that he had a bad day. Its so heartbreaking even if I know that its no ones fault.

    but I am proud that he is doing well inspite of bad days =)

    im glad you daughter love her play school now =)

  12. I can definitely relate to this. Although we haven’t had any disruptions in the nursery routine, my girl absolutely loves it, but it has only been 4 months. I think I would have done exactly the same as you. Not long ago we had a morning full of tears that she didn’t want to go to nursery. Instead of forcing her, I let her stay home and we had cuddles and a play. The next day she quite happily toddled in to class and waved me goodbye.
    It’s so easy for kids to have negative associations and I think it’s important as parents to not enforce them. I don’t think it’s a case of ‘letting them get their own way’ but sometimes we have to just stop and listen to them. They may only be 3, but they sure know what they want.
    So glad that T is finally enjoying pre-school again x

    • Thanks! Yes, I am too. Sometimes I think we all should just relax a bit about things (as parents) and like you said, learn to listen more to our children. These phases they go through will never last and before we even know it, their childhood will be all over soon. So a day off school, won’t do them bad at all! 😉

  13. Complicated Gorgeousness

    It is so hard getting the balance of not pushing it too much. So glad it worked out for you. My little girl (now 6) was the same and now adores school xxx

    • That’s what I was worried about – that once my little T enters “proper” school, she’d hate it. But now those fears are gone 🙂 x

  14. sarahmo3w

    Great post, you did what was right for your daughter and you and it worked. You were lucky that you had the choice to do it like that. My daughter found playgroup hard at first, despite going to nursery from 6 months (as a working parent I had no choice on that), but she got there in the end! It turned out the main problem was that she needed glasses. She couldn’t focus on faces, so they were scary to her as everyone seemed like a stranger.
    Thanks for sharing with Loud ‘n’ Proud.

    • I know! Of course things would have been different if I were a working mum. Oh dear, glad you got your daughter’s glasses sorted out. Must have been a bit scary for her, not being able to see things clearly.

  15. Notmyyearoff

    Wow I’m really impressed on how you handled this and love how you eased her back into it all properly and how you even volunteered there. Z is still a bit reluctant about going and loves it once he’s there. It’s hard to let him go sometimes but he’s getting there.

    • My daughter was the same. Before finally settling down, she absolutely loved it there, as long as I was there too. Well, if all else fails and if your schedule allows it, perhaps you can also volunteer? Then again, I’m sure you know your son more than anyone else in the world and he might just surprise everyone and settle down quickly 🙂

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