How many times in the last four years have you had to deal with a major transition in your life - the birth of a child, moving, new job, change in relationship? How easy was it to deal with the change? Now consider the major life changes your pre-schooler has lived through… being born, moving from cradle to crib to bed, giving up breast feeding or a bottle, saying goodbye to a pacifier, getting teeth, starting pre-school, switching from a car seat to a booster seat, potty training (the list goes on and on). Learning to make transitions, the ability to bring one activity/routine to a close and switch to another, is an important developmental step that everyone needs to learn to do. During our open house season this year we were frequently asked “Why is the Bugs class on back to back days instead of alternating days during the week?” The answer has to do with managing transitions.
Young children do best with consistency – not just with consistent routines, but also with a consistent schedule. When you look at a typical young child’s week she begins at home often with both parents and perhaps other siblings at home with her. Then she transitions to her mid week where one or both parents return to work, she is with a caregiver or grandparent, and older siblings return to school. Then she faces another transition when she comes to school. If we broke up the school week we would be adding to her stress by complicating an already changing routine. So as part of the plan, we block the school days for each class in the most favorable way possible.
Other ways to address transitions with young children are to establish a daily routine – including when to eat and sleep, giving a warning that a transition is about to occur (we are leaving for school in 5 minutes), set clear limits and enforce them, give clear and simple 1-2-3 directions (put on your coat, put on your shoes, put on your back pack), and minimize wait times (young children shouldn’t have to wait once they are ready to go because you need to check your email first).
It is also important to respect that if a child is really engaged in an activity that it will be harder for him stop. He may need more time, an extra reminder, and he will need to know if there will be an opportunity to revisit the activity later. When a child is frustrated at having to shift gears—listen, respect that change is hard, and let her know that you understand. Sometimes she may just need to have a tantrum and cry it out. We always feel better after a good cry, even if we don’t get what we want.