Whether it be back to school time or any time, transitions are difficult. Not just for our children but for parents too. How we handle these situations can have an enormous impact on how our children experience them.
So let’s have a look at some ways to ease transitions for EVERYONE.
1. Saying goodbye
When my children were starting preschool, I received the best advice from their Montessori school. Keep things positive. Keep things short. And keep things pretty matter-of-fact. For example, “I know you are going to have fun and I’ll see you after singing time,” rather than a lot of “I’ll miss you so much!” and sad good byes.
By giving a clear and positive message, we are signalling to our children that we have chosen a safe, loving place for them to go.
2. Letting your child know what to expect
One of the main reasons that transitions can be difficult is the child does not know what to expect. I like to prepare the child by letting them know what is going to happen with a simple, age-appropriate explanation.
It could be as simple as telling the child that you will be leaving soon and asking them if they would like to finish the puzzle they are working on, or leave it somewhere to work on later.
Another example is if your child has never been on an aeroplane. You could read books about aeroplanes, visit the airport as an outing before your flight, tell them what will happen, or role play taking off in the plane.
Possibly it is a big transition like having a new baby. This is a big change for a young child. Getting them familiar with some of the changes beforehand by visiting friends, reading books, and lots of extra cuddles, can help this transition.
3. Establish a routine
Young children really thrive on routine. It doesn’t have to be a strict schedule with things happening at exactly the same time every day. However, doing things in the same order each day allows some predictability to the child. They know what to expect. They know what is coming next. They cooperate more easily.
A getting out the door routine may involve waking up and going straight to the toilet/potty. Hopefully there is time for some snuggles in bed and some books (see below “Filling their emotional bucket”). Then getting dressed before making breakfast together and eating. Children may help to make their lunch and pack their bags before leaving for the day.
It’s not complicated but, as adults, we don’t always follow the same routine every day. We expect our children to adjust. And there can be meltdowns along the way. Instead, try building routines into your day to give them a feeling of reassurance.
4. Make a (visual) checklist
If you have a big change ahead or a recurring transition moment causing you grief, a checklist can be a great tool. Useful for children around 2.5 years and above, you can sit down with your child to draw up a checklist of all the things you need to do to transition between two things.
This can be particularly useful if, for example, bedtime is being drawn out and your child is battling everything. You can make the list, check them off as you go, and simply ask your child, “What does the checklist say is next?” The result – less need for us to nag them.
You can use checklists even if your child can’t yet read by using simple pictures or photos instead of, or in addition to, the words.
Singing or playing an instrument can be a great way to transition children. At the end of my classes we come together for a short singing time. To signal that we are getting ready to sing, I begin humming the song “Come and make a circle” which we use to open singing time. Sometimes I feel a bit like the Pied Piper as I start to hum the familiar tune and the children don’t take long to finish their activity and follow me to the mat where we will sing together.
6. Allow time
Not only do children need more time to get dressed or eat breakfast, they also need processing time. We often make a request from a child and expect them to react straight away. We ask them to put their shoes on, and they seem to ignore us.
Next time this happens, try waiting before you repeat yourself. For me, I like to count to 10, not aloud, but in my head. I notice the urge to want to repeat myself, but by the time I get to 8 or 9, I often see the child beginning to respond, getting up to get their shoes.
Allowing time can also mean having a buffer. Instead of always rushing out the door, why not set your alarm 10 minutes earlier so you have some extra time in case there is a last minute toilet stop or a frustrated child to help. Even better, wake up half an hour early to have some time to get yourself ready before the children wake up and ask for your help.
7. Fill their emotional bucket
I highly recommend making time in the morning to connect with your child before any jobs need to be done. Taking the time to hug them, read them a story or listen to some music can be a great way to check in with your child and start the day with their emotional bucket full.
The child is often then more open to requests as they feel loved and nurtured. Taking 5 or 10 minutes out first thing in the morning, can save you time during the rest of the day.
8. Positive attitude
The last thing I want to suggest is to notice the language we use and our attitude to transitions. Children absorb everything including how we react. If we moan that we are tired at breakfast, or we are irritable and rushed, our children will be the first to pick this up and respond the same way as us.
If we are dropping them to school and have any concerns about leaving them, the child will usually immediately pick up this feeling and likely have more difficulty letting go.
So let’s keep our attitude positive and supportive.
And let’s rock these moments of transition.
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