Handling Changes with Young Children
Some children, and grownups, handle change more easily than others. All children are different and you need to look at their personalities, ages, and experiences when you are considering how to help them make adjustments. Regardless of individual differences, there are some basic strategies that are useful to most parents and child care providers for helping children deal with change.
Infants and Toddlers
For infants and toddlers, it's all about familiarity. Change is far easier for Infants & Toddlers if their caregivers stay the same.
But there are many ways to help them, including maintaining routines or rituals. Daily routines are always good practice for toddlers, as well as older children. For example, the sequence of eating with the family, taking a bath, and going to bed are all typical daily life activities that children can look forward to as part of their special routines. In daily life activities, children appreciate knowing they can expect certain people, and things to take place at certain times. Consistency is a key to children's healthy development.
Specific examples of consistent routines for children are:
- Being held and sung to after feeding or at naptime by a familiar face;
- Washing and dressing before eating breakfast;
- Helping choose the clothes they will wear each morning;
- Taking a nap at specific times;
- Reading a book with a parent or caregiver.
When approaching transitions or changes, it is a good idea to take the gentle approach and to do things in steps if possible. As an example, if you know that your child has a difficult time with goodbyes when you drop her off in childcare, work with your provider to come up with strategies to ease this transition. In this case, you could try:
Spending at least 10-15 minutes with your child before leaving
Developing a quick, fun ritual that you and your child share when you arrive (so that your child looks forward to going)
Letting your child know when you are going to leave. You should never just disappear without saying goodbye. Reassure her you will pick her up at a specific time. "After nap, you have snack, then you play, then Mommy will pick you up." Signs of change: Having cues or clues that children can see or hear or touch to let them know change is coming is often useful in child care settings.
Here are some ways to help signal children about a transition at home as well:
- Sing a song, play music, or ring a chime to give children time to go from one activity to the other.
- Give a couple of "warnings"- at the 10 minute mark, and 3 minute mark – to help them prepare for a transition.
- Transition or comfort objects: Young children typically go through a period where they like to carry around or sleep with a "lovey," "blankie," or comfort object that help them feel secure. If your child already has one, that's a good thing. Not all children have comfort objects; some children "use" their parents for this purpose. Whether or not your child has a comfort object at home, if your child goes to child care, it is a good idea that they have objects in that setting that are familiar and comforting to them.
These are some favorites:
- family pictures;
- special toy or stuffed animal;
- specific place for their belongings;
- favorite blanket for naptime.
Preschoolers are a lot like toddlers. They like specific routines and enjoy doing things the same way each time. Adjusting to transitions between activities often plays a big role in behavior issues for some young children. They need time to switch from one activity to another. When things change suddenly, children are apt to throw tantrums or struggle against the change. What is recommended for toddlers is also appropriate for preschoolers, but here are some things that child care providers can do that will help preschoolers deal with that "between activity" time:
Lessen waiting time: Do not have young children stand in lines or wait for transitions. Keep short activities, rhymes and songs ready to use to help them with waiting.
Use cues: Use songs, music or bells as alerts for what is coming. This lets them know to prepare for 'change'. Cues work well for parents at home too. Preschoolers have also reached the age where they've started to face bigger transitions. At this age, you can use books or stories to prepare preschoolers for life's many changes.