Diaper Dialogue: Separation Anxiety in the Nursery

FIRST, imagine you are a mom visiting your church nursery:
As you enter the doors of the new church, you silently pray that God will smile on your day. You hold your child snugly—feeling hopeful, yet fearful. The colorful pastel nursery hallways please you; the happy voices and faces encourage you. Maybe you’ve found “home.” “Please, Lord, make this a ‘good’ day!”

Your smiling face and crisply dressed child feel like false advertising for how this morning really started. No one knows about the spilled coffee, the tiff with your husband, and the battle over breakfast with your one-year-old. The happy elephants and owls decorating the nursery wall calm your concerns. But you still feel anxiety about the impending “moment of separation.”

As you hand your toddler to the confident woman checking new families in, you hope she cannot hear your heart pounding. Your child starts playing with blocks on the floor. “That’s so good!” you say to yourself. You linger silently for a moment, making sure your little one can see you. Then you slip out un-noticed and breathe one long sigh of relief. Only seconds later, however, the all-too-familiar high-pitched wail reaches your ears!

“Oh no! Am I going to be THAT parent?” Your mental debate begins: “Should I even go to the church service? Maybe it’s better to pace the hallways so I’m ready for the Pager-Moment-of-Doom. Will someone know what to do to stop my baby from crying? Is it too soon to go back?”

NOW, put yourself in the shoes of the nursery volunteer:
The seasoned volunteer is facing a battle of her own. Five minutes have ticked by—in dreadful slow motion. After some of her best efforts—enthusiastic toy distraction, interaction with happy and carefree infants, and even a personal concert—nothing is working.

Five minutes extend to ten—the only thing that has changed is the number of tears streaming down this new child’s face. “Should I page Mom? Is there something else I can try to calm this toddler down?”

Here’s Help!
Every Sunday you see variations on that theme—played out time and again. Visiting the nursery for the first time is often a huge ordeal. Is the struggle more difficult for the mom, the volunteer, or the child? How your nursery team handles this transition can make—or break—a new family’s integration into your church! Here are five ideas you can implement immediately:

Five Tips for Addressing “Separation Anxiety”

Welcome Warmly: Greet each visiting child as if he or she is a long-lost relative or close friend. Your warmth can ease the toddler’s anxiety in the strange, new environment. The room atmosphere and setting can help create an inviting space that beckons, “Come on in!” Provide attention-grabbing toys and warm play-spaces; they can go a long way to ease anxious parents’ minds as well.

Communicate Clearly: Each time new parents drop off their child, clearly articulate your policies and explain the notification process. Then invite the parent to share any wisdom regarding what has worked in past transitions. Harness first-hand parental knowledge! Two-way communication encourages a “team-approach” to journey through this transition. Reiterate and assure parents that you are committed to helping their precious child acclimate and adjust to the new space.

Schedule Strategically: Nurturing infants and toddlers requires just as much skill as teaching teens! Your staff may range from excited high school students to seasoned grandparents. Each nursery worker will draw from previous experience to solve problems all morning. As you schedule your team, be sure to match “veterans” with “newbies.” Encourage your staff to cross-train one another. Experienced volunteers will help newer workers learn quickly. “On the job” coaching makes younger volunteers feel successful. This will keep everyone’s overall enthusiasm at a high level. Relational, conversational coaching sticks!

Walk Worthily: The Lord, by His Spirit, empowers your team to walk in joy, peace, and patience. Remind all your volunteers to manage their attitudes and stress levels. Your workers must set the tone for the morning. Energized, joyful staff create a vastly different atmosphere than volunteers who allow the wild mood swings of toddlers to dictate the tempo of the day.

Connect Creatively: Because each child engages differently, don’t be afraid to try new things! Model for the children how to play with new toys. Sit on the floor and act out a simple skit with figurines or puppets; sing a silly song, or gush enthusiastically about toy options. Fussy children may respond to a change of spaces and environments. Use a double stroller to take them on a church tour—or on an outside adventure. Troubleshoot and problem-solve. Check major mood busters: hunger, thirst, and diaper status. Simple songs and Bible stories bring structure in the midst of free play. Provide activity centers that change throughout the morning.

Be a gracious “host” to each new family that visits your nursery! Do everything possible to help these new children and parents feel welcome.

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.
Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.
Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others,
as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.
(1 Peter 4:8-10)

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