Need some practical ways to help your child switch gears between home and school, home and leaving, library and home, etc.?
First, it’s important to first understand how kids view change. In a word—they hate it. Children thrive on routine and knowing what to expect. It’s not that they can’t change—it’s just that they’d rather not, thank you very much. As adults, we’ve gotten used to change—we know we have to expect it, that we have to roll with the unexpected. We carry on little dialogues in our head that help us through change but a child hasn’t developed that internal dialogue yet, so that makes change even more difficult at times.
Second, establishing regular routines help a child feel safe, secure and loved. So if you haven’t taken the time to work on a daily routine with your kids, make that a priority. I think you’ll find transitions easier if kids know what to expect on a regular basis.
But we can’t always stick to the same routine every day because of a little thing called life. By giving kids the tools they need to manage the anxiety that comes with change, to stop apocalyptic thinking and keep their eyes on the positive, they will be happier and less stressed.
Here are 10 ways you can assist your children in adjusting to change—whether it’s a small one, like stopping by the store on the way home from preschool, or a major one, like moving to a new home.
Know how your child handles change. Some kids are more flexible when it comes to change, while others act like if we’ve done it this way once, it’s set in stone. One of my daughters prefers things to stay the same, and even at 13, I strive to not spring trips or visits on her at the last minute. We live in a fluid world, and sometimes we need to go with the flow, so to speak. A trip to the store takes twice as long as anticipated and now your child has to miss his favorite TV show. Or someone gets sick so planned trip to see grandmother has be postponed. By expressing that you, too, are sad about the change in plans can help your child handle it.
Be calm yourself. When we are frazzled, our kids pick up on that and sometimes can be as stressed as we are. Figure out how you can approach life with more calmness and less chaos, and you’ll find that transitions go a little bit smoother.
Think about what hampers your child from handling transitions easily. Is it around nap time? Meal time? Is it after school or before a soccer game? Discovering what might contribute to fussiness about changes will help you counter those and not be surprised when the balking starts.
Let him express his feelings—up to a point. A child should have more leeway when the change is a big one than when it’s a small one. By allowing him to say he’s sad or cry when disappointed can be a good thing, as long as we don’t then fuss too much over his feelings. A child, even a young one, needs to learn how to control his emotions. I’m not saying that he won’t have them or has to keep them bottled up, but rather it’s part of our job as parents to help him master his emotions—or they will control him.
Don’t over-schedule yourself or your child. Too much of the time, we try to pack too much into too short a time. We sign up our children for too many activities and sports, leaving precious little down time and time for play and being at home. Sometimes we create our own stressful transitions by packing too much into our days or weeks. Make sure you have regular intervals of time for your children to be at home without anything on the agenda but play and fun.
Give a 5- or 10-minute warning. This allows the child to begin to mentally prepare. I know when I’m caught off guard and need to leave right this instance, it throws me off, so I usually tell my kids, “In 10 minutes, we’re leaving for the library.”
Get yourself ready first. This seems too simple to have much impact, but if you’re not rushing around gathering things together, then you’ll be much calmer when readying a recalcitrant child. Have a staging area near the door that you can put all the things you need to take to the car, and have a place for your child’s things, too.
Outline the steps. For younger kids, give only one or two verbal steps at a time—more than that and the child won’t be able to remember. Use the Short and Sweet principle. For example, don’t say, “We’re going to the library for story time and to check out books. You want to get that dinosaur one, right? So you need to get on your shoes, go to the bathroom and get on your coat.” Way too long for a preschooler and most kids, frankly. Instead say, “Get on your shoes right now.” After that has been accomplished, tell him the next step. As your kids get older, you’ll only have to inform them where you’re going for them to know what they need. But be available for questions that might come up.
Set a timer. For young children, the concept of time has yet to become concrete. They have no idea how long things take or how long they’ve been “getting dressed.” A simple kitchen timer can be of enormous assistance in getting kids ready. I used one frequently for my kindergartners, who loved to race the clock. The timer keeps the child’s focus on the task at hand in a quest to beat time itself. So remember that the timer is your friend!
Build in extra time. Figure out how long it will take to get to where you need to be when you need to get there—and then add an extra 5 or 10 minutes. That way, when your son can’t find his shoe or your daughter decides today is the day to make mud pies, you’ll still have time to deal with the crisis and still be on time. There’s nothing more stressful than running late, so adding an extra cushion of time can help make you calmer and thus your children.
These steps should help you get out the door and home again. You can easily apply them to larger transitions, such as school to summer or summer to school as well.