Life is full of transitions. Transitions occur often for children, particularly in the early days when they make their way from home to childcare, kindergarten, prep and then school. While it’s an exciting milestone, these transitions can be a little daunting for parents and children. Some children find change easy, while others may find it difficult and take time to settle into their new surroundings. Both these responses are normal, as each child develops differently. Guiding your child to feel more comfortable and confident in their new environment will enable them focus on their learning so we’ve gathered tips to help your child handle change.
How to Help Your Child with the Transition Process:
1. Find the right fit – Visit several centres or schools to get a sense of which environment feels right for your family and have your questions answered. Explore the facilities and meet the educators or teachers. Most childcare centres are more than happy for you to have a playdate and / or do a half day – easing your little one into a full day. If the school has a transition program, this will help build familiarity of names, faces and places giving you the opportunity to have conversations about these at home, reducing first-day stress.
2. Speak positively – Speak positively and confidently about the changes ahead, building a sense of security for your child through your own confidence. Remind them about all the exciting things they’ll play with and learn. You may even want to role-play with some toys – a typical day they will experience at the childcare/ kindy or school, to help build familiarity. Be prepared to answer any questions your little one may have.
3. Keep up the routine – Starting childcare, kindy or school means some changes to your child’s (and your) routine. Developing a morning, evening and bedtime routine will help make the transition easier. You may like to do a practice run of the first day to eliminate any issues that may arise. For morning drop-offs encourage your child to put their items away every morning (such as their bag, lunch box and water bottle), say your goodbyes and tell them you’ll be back in the afternoon to pick them up.
4. Self sufficiency – If your child is transitioning to school, make sure they are mostly self-sufficient. They should be able to open their own lunchbox, items inside the lunchbox and go to the toilet. Let your child help pack their bag so they know where everything is, including spare clothes. Avoid sending your child to school in shoelaces if they can’t tie their shoes yet – buy Velcro. Try using role-play for what to do if they get hurt in the playground and encourage them to speak up in class if they need help. Be involved in your child’s education, attend the parent teacher interviews and ask questions.
5. Comfort item – If your child has a teddy, toy or blanket they use to comfort themselves, let them bring it along. A transitional comfort item can help the child feel safe in an unfamiliar environment. If your child is ready for school you might suggest leaving the comfort item at home or in the car, ready to cuddle when they finish school. Discussing and making changes in advance can help prepare your child.
6. When the objections happen – “I don’t want to go!”, “I want to stay home with you!” These are all common objections you may hear on the lead up to the first day. Make sure your child has the chance to be heard; get down on their level so you are eye-to-eye, and ask them what they are concerned about. Reassure them that their feelings are valid rather than dismissing how they are feeling. Speak positively, direct their thoughts to something they have to look forward to and let them know you’ll see them soon.
7. When it’s time to go, it’s time to go – Once you’ve said your goodbyes, it’s time to go. Lingering or going back to your child when they’re upset can reinforce this is part of the routine. It can be difficult to walk away knowing your child is unsettled, but educators and teachers are experienced in these situations. There’s a high chance your child will be happily playing in no time. Talking to your child about how drop off and pick up times will work in advance and the fun they will have during the day will help when it comes to the real drop off. Most importantly, try and stay as calm as possible at drop off time (especially the first one) – as your children will pick up on your fear, making saying goodbye harder.
8. Checking in – If you’re really concerned and your child seemed considerably upset when you left, it’s perfectly okay to call the centre or school – to put your mind at ease. If troubles persist and your child is having difficulty settling in, arrange a meeting with their educator or teacher to get clarity and plan how you can work together to help. Seek advice from your doctor if you feel there may be a contributing factor such as anxiety or learning difficulties.
The Queensland Government has prepared some great transition to school resources to help you can find them at earlychildhood.qld.gov.au