If your toddler takes a little longer to settle into a new situation, or even the regular routine, know you are not alone. Many toddlers need time to adjust to new routines and find transitions a bit difficult or overwhelming.
Here are a few tips to support your child as they learn strategies for navigating transitions:
1. Communication is key. Toddlers are not developmentally capable of telling time and in turn understanding a concept such as days of the week can be a challenge. This is where routine is helpful and where strategies such as a weekly calendar come in handy. Plan to leave time for communication as you navigate between home and school. Keep a weekly calendar in the kitchen and review what day of the week it is each morning with your toddler. Discuss what activities he/she will participate in on that day. Use a picture of your child in an activity or an adult they will interact with (such as a swim teacher) or have symbols (picture of a bus for school) to place on the various days of the week. These cues give your toddler a means for "reading" the information independently.
2. Allow your toddler to make choices in each portion of the day. When it comes to the school routine something as simple as what shoes or coat to wear may make a big difference in helping your toddler feel some control in the transition. If your toddler is exceptionally upset and difficult to calm duirng the transition from home to school, taking a moment to provide a clear choice (e.g. you can show mommy one activity before I leave for the classroom or we can read a story from the library) may help lessen the possibility of feeling overwhelmed.
3. Consider using a transitional object. When transitioning to something new (like leaving home to attend preschool) it can be helpful for the child to take a toy with them as a transitional object. As with other support techniques, provide clear guidelines for this measure (e.g. lovey will come in the car but when we get to school he/she will need to stay in your cubby). Setting parameters allows your toddler to receive the needed security in bringing the transitional object, but also creates boundaries for you to adjust as needed.
4. Sleep is key. At StrongTots we talk about sleep often. A well rested toddler can tackle just about anything, while an overtired toddler is likely to demonstrate more tantrums and difficulty with transitions. Maintain an appropriate bedtime for your toddler (typically between 7-8 pm). If you would like to read more about establishing a healthy betime routine check out our "Getting Back to Sleep" suggestions.
5. Work with your child's teacher. This is probably the most important step you can take. As the parent you know your child best, but you want to respect the classroom guidelines and goals the teacher has in place. If you feel there is a disconnect or you are concerned about how things are going, set up a time (separate from drop off or pick up) to establish a plan together for transitioning into the classroom.
Unfortunately there is no magic switch to make a toddler comfortable in a new setting or routine; there are a number of factors that create a sense of security and comfort with independence. As parents/caregivers the best we can do is provide the right support to promote smooth transitions and read the cues our toddlers give us.
This adventure was also featured on Project Underblog
ABOUT CHRISSY K
I am mom to three boys (one with several life-threatening food allergies) who will never own too many picture books or create Pinterest-worthy snacks. Simply Chrissy K is a place to find helpful tips on parenting that stem from my work with families as an educational consultant and parenting coach.
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Based on a work at http://www.strongtots.com