It was a little bit like walking into the dentist’s office as a little kid — nerve-wracking, unknown possible outcomes, and crying children. That’s a little dramatic, but pretty close to what I remember it felt like as new parents walking our son to nursery for the very first time.
We had been at our church for years; yet, somehow, we felt brand new to it that first day leaving our son in the church nursery. I’ve talked about that feeling with several friends of mine, and it seems that this is fairly common. Now, every church and every parent is different, so our experiences don’t all line up perfectly, but there’s quite a bit new parents do have in common about what they’d like kidmin leaders to know about their first time leaving their child in nursery.
1) It didn’t matter if we were visiting for the first time or if we had been attending for a long time, we didn’t know where to begin. We could find the rooms with our child’s age on it, but then some of us were sent back to a check-in desk we didn’t know about so our child could get registered.
“I wished they had a sign that said ‘First time in nursery? Right this way…’ or something that showed or informed us about the first place to start. It felt like it was geared toward insiders who knew the ropes, but we had never left a child at nursery before. We were already nervous. I can only imagine how visitors must feel!” one friend shared with me.
Nothing exacerbates the nervous emotions of new parents like not knowing what you’re supposed to do or where to begin. Helping new parents and even visitors know right away where to start can help this experience be much more comfortable.
2) New parents need to know that their child is safe, and that you know what you’re doing. When they are leaving their kids in your care, they are especially curious about how safe, clean, and secure this environment is that they are leaving their child in. Your check-in, safety systems, and procedures matter (as well as how you handle things like allergies or special needs). Be open about how your system works, explain procedures clearly and thoroughly to new parents, and enforce these continually.
Having a system that ensures my child can’t be picked up by anyone other than me or my husband, or that my child won’t be given something he is allergic to, and seeing the volunteers with photo ID name tags are just a few things that help me know that my child is in an environment that values their safety. I was a new parent and I’m a millennial — I’m not leaving my child in any place that doesn’t feel secure, clean, and safe… even if it is at church. This looks different for churches of varying sizes, but every church needs to have clearly articulated safety systems and procedures in place. It communicates care and love to families.
3) Once our son realized we were going to be handing him off to a few strangers in a room filled with lots of other kids (some of whom were sobbing), he lost it. The separation anxiety came on like a flood, and the volunteer we were handing him over to didn’t seem prepared for that. While we understood she was a volunteer graciously giving her time and talents to serve for a few hours on a Sunday morning, her lack of confidence and training to handle separation anxiety made my husband and I wonder if we had just made a very bad decision for our son.
New parents need to be able to hand their child off to confident, smiling, and trained volunteers. There is a world of difference between a volunteer who is present and can follow instructions, and a volunteer who is trained in not only procedures, but embodying the values and vision of the church and children’s ministry. Their demeanor and how they handle kids really struggling to be apart from mom and dad make a big impression on new parents.
“Our church has trained staff at the nursery which are there almost every week. I know that’s tough to do with volunteers, but it helped a lot when our kids were crying to be confident that they knew and were trained to deal with that separation anxiety rather than an unknown volunteer thrown in at the last minute. I understand not every church can have nursery staff, but I now think it’s such an overlooked opportunity for ministry to the young family that needs a more intentional focus” one friend shared.
Especially when it comes to serving new parents or new families visiting a church, well-trained volunteers make the biggest difference in their experience. It’s what will determine if they come back or not.
4) New parents would really love to know what those few hours in nursery are going to look like for their child. After we figured out dropping my son off in the nursery, and we made it through the service without getting up to check on him, we eagerly left the service (ok, we pretty much ran) to pick him up. We walked in nervously anticipating and entirely curious about how he did (and what he did). As we walked in the room and looked around at the kids, we realized our child wasn’t there. A volunteer must have noticed the panic and confusion on our faces and said, “Oh, he must be on the red wagon.” (We learned later that the red wagon she referred to was the ‘waaa-gon’ — it’s the big multi-seat stroller where the crying kids go.)
We began roaming the halls for the wagon, and then we spotted it. I’ll never forget his face when he saw us — the biggest smile and giggle possible! Now, as weeks went on, he began to stay and feel comfortable in the room. However, that first day, we had no information about what his experience was going to be like.
What was that time in nursery going to look like for him? What were they going to do? How extreme of an issue does it have to be for them to page us? We didn’t know about the wagon, but we would have loved to know that was an option for him if he was having a hard time in the room.
Several parents I’ve talked to have mentioned that an orientation or even a paper that outlines for new parents what their church’s plans are for your child in nursery would be so helpful. Information is one of the best ways to help new parents handle this momentous day well. We’re curious about what our child will experience, we’re curious how intentional you are with your time with them, and we want them to love being at church just as much as we do.
It’s been awhile since that first time dropping our son off at nursery. Now, he usually doesn’t cry when we leave him, and the nursery worker has to coax him out the door when we come to pick him up. We love seeing his coloring paper and hearing him talk about the trains he played with and his snack.
So, the last thing all of us parents what you to know is that we are so grateful for the leaders who invest in our babies and toddlers. Your love and your time and all of the tiny details that go into making the nursery possible have not gone unnoticed. You give us parents a great gift — the opportunity to fully engage in worship and hearing from the Lord, all while loving on our children. You’re our heroes. You are loved.