Support Circle Focus: Big Changes
The Totter + Tumble Support Circle series is rooted in connection and support. We have been inspired to create content that will connect you to businesses and resources who can support your unique parenting journey.
In our Focus pieces, we take a closer look at a topic we think will help you. If you are in the Toddler and preschooler stage, you may find our Support Circle content Toddlerhood to School Days useful too.
To coincide with the back to school season, which could include nursery, preschool, forest school and every other setting in between, we are unpacking the topic of Big Changes. Transitions such as moving to a new setting, meeting new teachers as well as simply the process of growing up, with potty training and new siblings arriving, are huge milestones for toddlers and preschoolers.
For expert insight and advice on this emotionally heavy topic, we spoke to Dr Emma Svanberg, clinical psychologist, Founder of The Psychology Co-operative and author of Parenting For Humans, about supporting toddlers and preschoolers through these monumental changes.
How can we best support our toddlers and preschoolers for big changes such as new daycare settings?
Dr Emma: It's useful to know that (just like adults) all children are different. Depending on factors, such as temperament, some will navigate transitions with ease while others will find them challenging. There is no 'right' way of supporting them, but you will learn as you go through transitions what works for them.
Some children will like information about what is to come, and many nurseries and preschools will help you prepare by sending letters or brochures with photos of the setting, outline of the day and trial days to help with settling in. For others, this will raise anxiety so simple, matter of fact information might be more helpful. And others will need a mixture!
Think about how your child has coped with other changes (such as a home move, or return to work, or new member of the family) which will give you some clues about what might help to support them.
Do you have any tips for working through new feelings with little ones who may not have a full grasp on communication?
Dr Emma: We can often feel overwhelmed by our children's feelings, especially when they are expressed in ways that don't always make sense to us as adults. It would be so simple, wouldn't it, if children could say 'I'm feeling sad because of this change and I need you to let me know that you love me and you're here for me'. But even as adults we can struggle to identify and express our emotions, so interpreting and managing our children's emotions can feel really difficult.
Often emotions will come out in unexpected ways, for example a child might be cheerful when you pick them up from a new daycare setting but then fall apart because their dinner isn't the right temperature - or they may be warm and loving to a new sibling but then hit you at bedtime.
It can help to see these expressions of feeling just as a storm, which often passes quickly if we can just stay still and calm through it. We can get preoccupied with saying the right thing or giving the perfect reaction, but actually just being there and remaining present and patient is often enough. We're giving the message then that, yes, this feels like a big deal and yes, you're having an understandable reaction to that big deal but I'm not shaken by that reaction.
Think about what you need if you're going through something big. Often we don't need people to explain or make it better, we need someone to just be by our side and offer understanding (and maybe a cuddle). This can give our children the support they need to progress through this transition with us alongside them.
This is easier said than done, especially if you have big feelings around the transition yourself and it can take some weeks to feel settled after a transition so do expect a few rocky weeks. If you feel after this time that your child is still very unsettled, then you might want to think about whether the setting is right for them and they are getting the support they need. It is absolutely normal for a child to cry when you drop and pick them up - they are expressing their worry about separation and their relief at reunion. But if they are very unsettled then this is a sign that something isn't working for them.
To learn more about Dr Emma Svanberg please visit her website here.
Totter + Tumble tips for easing into big changes:
The Hug Button
During the first week of change, draw a special heart shaped hug button on your wrist and one on your child's. If they are missing you during the day, they can put their fingers on the little heart and they will feel their pulse, like a reassuring heartbeat. Let them know that you will press your love heart if you are missing them too.
A Piece of Home
For the nursery and preschooler stage, settings will usually be happy for little ones to bring a comforting object from home. It could be a pacifier, comfort muslin or their current favourite soft toy. Just be sure it gets safely stored in their bag before home time!
Child-focused affirmation cards are a great resource for helping children turn negative thoughts into positive ones and can become a wonderful daily habit. Bloom & Bliss cards are designed to help build strong self-esteem and positivity as well as to help cope in new situations.
Celebrate Big Changes
Involving your little one in transition preparation can be a brilliant self-esteem booster. From putting name stickers onto their new uniform, choosing a brand new bag as well as getting to grips with dressing themselves, these small empowerment elements provide a sense of satisfaction and develop independence. Positive language such as, 'I love how you tried...' builds important confidence during this period too.
Picture books are a great learning tool for children. Random House Kids have curated a list of 8 beautiful books to help children process big emotions, from feeling scared to sadness. For quiet time during the day, relevant books can offer a support little ones can grasp.
If you are providing lunch or snacks for your little ones, you can make food time fun. Whether it is adding a hand drawn doodle, lunchtime art in a bento box or a hand-drawn smile on a banana, you can go all in or just a little for a well received tasty pick me up.
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