Of all the challenges early childhood can bring, transitions (transitioning from one activity to the next) might have the number one spot.
Whether you are trying to move your child from playing to getting dressed, from the dinner table to brush teeth, from the park to the car, the issue is the same. They are doing one thing and you want them to do something else.
We have been taught that we should always be in control of our child, that they should always listen to us (aiming for the first time), and that if their behavior contradicts our request they should be punished in order to learn right and wrong.
But what I have witnessed in hundreds of parent-child relationships, is from the child’s perspective, the person laying down “the law” cannot be trusted. Because the law rarely takes them, their feelings or their needs into consideration.
Trust is important in any relationship, but with your child it is crucial.
They need to know their voice matters, that you value their desires, their thoughts, and their feelings. That you see them. That you value their life process as well as your own.
If you are simply barking orders and punishing when they don’t listen, you are slowly chipping away their ability to trust you. This may not seem important when your child is 3 or 4 years old, but becomes very apparent in the teenage years.
Most of us lean, a little bit, into the opinion of others. Especially if we have been raised on control tactics. Because we haven’t been taught to rely on our inner voice. We have been conditioned to rely on external forces to guide us.
So if you are falling into conflict with a teenager, void of connection, and they are pushing back at you, where are they going to find guidance? Who’s order are they going to follow?
Is it going to be a best friend? And what kind of values are these suggestions based upon?
Is it going to be a bully, because they are simply frightened?
Or is it the opinion of their girlfriend or boyfriend now?
Because the hormones in play trump your rules any day.
I am not saying that your child should be in charge.
Far from it. What I am saying is that your child deserves respectable relating.
I am also not saying that when you are respecting them, that things will always be easy.
But you will be building trust. And when they see that you care about how they feel and are willing to hold space for them, the resistance will lighten up.
I would love to share some helpful ways to support your young child to transition.
Because, let’s face it, none of us really enjoy it.
I’ve had many moments in my life, as most humans have, when I have changed my plans to avoid the transition. Simply because the transition from one activity to another takes a lot of energy, a shift in perspective, a letting go of what we are involved, and requires navigation.
The most important and definitely most helpful is developing a daily rhythm and routine.
Getting clear on what you are doing and where you are going at each stage of the day and week, then finding playful ways of moving into each stage with your child.
When first establishing a daily and weekly routine, you may face some resistance. Your child’s and your own. Some parents literally cringe when I mention it because they feel like they have already lost so much personal freedom. And the idea of doing the same thing in the same way each day sounds terribly monotonous.
But it is counter intuitive. When we know where we are headed, we can relax into the flow and lean fully into our spontaneous side for the time we have set aside.
This also gives you a clear background on which to see your child.
For example, if every day you come into the house, you put your shoes in the basket then go potty and wash up. And one day they collapse at the door and start screaming “No! I don’t want to!”
If that is the routine you have, and you do that every day, your first thought will not be, “They are so defiant!”. You will easily be able to lean into curiosity instead. “Hmm...that’s strange, we do this easily every day. They must not be feeling well, or that extra hour we stayed up before bed is affecting them now.” You can make better decisions in the moment because you are able to see more clearly what is really going on.
“They seem to be coming down with something. We had better rest instead of our planned activity.”
The easiest way to step into developing a routine is to begin with rest. Begin with sleep.
If your child is still napping, you decide on a time frame that you commit to every day.
For example, 12:30-2pm. Then bedtime at 7pm. Commit.
You don’t have to focus on the entire routine all at once. One step at a time.
Once you have the time set, you can co create a fun ritual that will carry you.
Children Love Ritual! They love it!
It brings confidence, ease, and freedom into their lives, as well as ours.
The routine take away the stress of having to parent moment by moment.
Children want to be good. They want to be in alignment with you. It’s just so difficult because we are all over the place and then expecting them to follow.
So we are creating a routine of when certain things happen so the basic needs can be met without having to worry about it all the time.
All the years of my preschool, the rhythm and routine carried us.
And a priceless tool I picked up in Waldorf training was learning transitional songs.
When we make the transition an activity itself, even if only for a few moments, it has all of our attention. Instead of being something we have to “make it through”.
The preschool children would arrive and begin to play freely. At 9:30 it was time to clean up.
If I were to walk in the room and say, “Ok, 3-5 year old children, it’s time to stop playing, listen to me, and put all the toys away now, so we can do the next thing.”
I would have zero success.
So instead, I learned to enter the room a few minutes before it was time to begin cleaning and observe. I would attune to each of them while accessing what needed to be done to straighten the playroom. Then, I would start singing our “clean up” song. I didn’t have to tell anyone what to do. I didn’t have to try and control any of them. I barely needed to talk.
The room could be a complete disaster. I would just start singing and putting things, thoughtfully away. Everything had a home, and a few of the children would start helping right away. The song would gather them, if not physically right away, it would draw their attention. Moving them at their own pace towards our transition.
If a child was really struggling, I might walk over, still singing, hand them a toy and point to where it belongs. Helping them to join us.
Eventually our room will be tidy and we are finished.
We then honor the moment. Sitting together to talk about How we will move to the next activity.
From clean up we would go to snack time. If the children were needing support to calm down, I might tell them a short story of a group of mice who really wanted to go for a nibble of food, but they had to go so quietly so not to wake the cat. Then invite them to be the mice as they went to the snack table.
Now in the space, they are excited to find out who’s turn it is to pour the water and who will serve. We are not wasting time trying to figure out what we are doing, we are co creating How we want to live it. We are all able to let go into the authenticity of the moment.
They are all simply coming into the room, sitting down at the table, scooting themselves in, placing their napkin on their laps, chatting to each other, and waiting for everyone to be ready.
Even if you are home with one child, you can co create a beautiful day together. An atmosphere of joy and presence.
We are modeling for them how to honor the moment, how to be grateful for our nourishment, and how to be respectful to others.
You see how quickly children learn to play games. They learn just as quickly any ritual you develop. Visiting parents would delight in getting to witness all the sweet children sitting properly at the table, serving one another, asking to be excused, washing their own dishes, and floating off to play, all on their own.
It makes our lives much more pleasurable when we can focus on How we can do something instead of the fact that we Have to do it.
The fact that you Have to get to the grocery store, to a child, is really just a boring old fact.
They don’t care, and most likely, don’t want to go.
So this means you are going to need to plan, in your schedule, some time to connect with them, before you redirect them. It is a respectful thing to do.
Instead of showing up in the playroom, keys in hand, shoes on, demanding it is time to go.
Give you both some time. Time to walk into their space, notice them, respect their life.
Watch what they doing, you might be surprised. Children have incredible imaginations, focus, love, and intention in their play.
Try sitting down next to them quietly and observe. Give space for them to share with you, their world. When they feel seen and connected to you, it is much easier to bring them along with you.
Here you are again digging into How you will transition, not the fact that you Have to.
Children want to be a contributing member of the family. They want to feel important.
Help them to discover the fun and connection available for them through participation.
“You get to set the table” (finding creative fun through choosing colors, etc) vs “You have to set the table. It’s your chore”.
The more your child can predict and participate in their day, the more confident they will feel. And when you take the time to connect with them, let them know what is coming next, and make it as joyful as possible, the smoother transitions will become.