A family I know is moving, and their 2 ½ year-old son Jackson has seemed troubled. Jackson’s parents have had to reassure him several times that moving houses wouldn’t mean leaving his bed and his toys behind. At a recent get together, Jackson’s mom was talking about some of the logistical hassles she was dealing with when she stopped, turned toward him and emphasized, “But we’re glad to be moving to our new house.” Jackson looked unconvinced, and as much as I hated bursting my friend’s bubble, I couldn’t resist speaking on his behalf. “No toddler is happy about moving. Moving is loss.”
One of the challenges of respectful parenting is remembering to readjust our point-of-view and consider our child’s. Jackson’s mom realized that in her struggle to cope with the move herself, she had been denying his negative feelings. I encouraged her to switch gears and acknowledge Jackson’s worries, invite him to express his grief and loss as much as possible. After all, much of what he has known his whole life will disappear.
I am a non-confrontational person and I can certainly relate to tippy-toeing around issues that might upset a child. But I’ve learned that skirting the truth can leave children holding a sack of bad feelings. Harder to bear than the actual emotions is the child’s sense that he is wrong to have his feelings because the well-intentioned parent has cheered them away, shushed, fixed or otherwise denied them.
Infants and toddlers thrive on routine. Whether we are asking them to move, take a trip, start daycare or preschool, stay in the care of someone new, give up a habit of pacifiers or bottles, or move from our bed to a bed of their own, our children need our sensitivity and respect. They need an honest, direct approach to change, and an open-armed acceptance of their feelings about the changes.
Here are 3 steps that help ease infant and toddler transitions:
Be ready and sure. The first step to any change is a parent’s conviction. Perhaps our toddler is not functioning well from night-waking and neither are we, so we decide to make a new sleep plan. We may have waivered for months, but finally both parents have had enough. Certain about the change ourselves, we can project that certainty for our child and give her the united front of conviction she needs.
Helping our child change habits is usually much easier than we imagine it will be, once we are sure that the change is best for all concerned. But if we (our child’s leaders) are tentative, uneasy or uncertain, it is much more difficult for the child to transition comfortably. Children can ‘read’ us a mile away.
Prepare. It helps both the parent and the child when we talk honestly about an impending change. The more detail we give, the more included the child feels in the plans, and the more he can anticipate and predict what will happen. Children can get excited about a ride on an airplane if we tell them what to expect or show them a book. Toddlers can even look forward to disposing of their bottles or pacifiers if we allow them to choose how they will do it. “In a few days we will put the pacifiers away. Would you like to put them away in the box or the paper bag?”
I understand parents saying that fairies came to take away the bottles (and I do believe in fairies!), but I believe in honesty for these important transitions. Telling our child the truth might feel scary to us, but it gives him a little more control, and will ultimately feel more ‘right’ for everyone.
Even with an infant, honest preparation eases a change. He may not understand all we say, but he will surely sense our intention: “Tomorrow you will meet Marina. She is someone new. Marina will come to take care of you sometimes.”
Bring it on and acknowledge. Once we have committed to the change and followed through, all that is left to do is acknowledge whatever reactions and feelings our child has. Acknowledge that he misses his pacifier, his old nanny. Acknowledge that he doesn’t want to go to daycare, or to school, or on the vacation, but that he must. Encourage him to express any feelings of grief, loss, anger. Hold strong, but don’t try to talk your child out of his feelings. If you welcome them, they will pass more quickly, and your mission will be accomplished, your relationship of trust intact.
Twigtale offers helpful book templates (to be personalized by parents) for all the difficult transitional issues young children face and my readers can use the code: Janet10 to receive a 10% discount.
I highly recommend this inspiring story by Anna Banas at Every Moment Is Right: Dealing With Change
I share more about this respectful, honest approach to parenting in my new book: Elevating Child Care: A Guide to Respectful Parenting