Have you ever heard the expression, “the only constant is change” and thought that sounded just like life in Early Head Start? Although we work toward providing continuity with families and staff, sometimes things just change. Transition means that something is changing. Not all transitions are equal, and everyone experiences them differently. There are big transitions like the birth of a baby or joining or leaving a program option. Smaller daily transitions might include changing activities in a classroom or socialization and beginning or ending a home visit. Every day there are many small transitions for infants and toddlers. Think about how many times a day very young children start an activity, stop an activity, wash hands, eat, go outside, go inside, go to sleep, wake up, and so much more! Because transitions are such a huge part of every infant and toddler’s day, it’s important that we make the best of them.
Think of how hard change can be for you as an adult. That might give you some idea of how it can affect infants and toddlers. Of course, we are all different. One person might love change and find it exciting, whereas another dreads the same upcoming change! Each child in your program is an individual and will experience transitions in their own way. In this News You Can Use, we look at ways to support some of the different kinds of transitions that go on in Early Head Start.
Lupe has always been very careful to maintain her routine in her family child care program. She has just joined an Early Head Start program and will be enrolling her first child. The child development specialist, Rosa, has noticed that Lupe keeps to a schedule for all children and is working with her towards individualizing each child’s experiences starting with transitions.
When Lupe looked closely at her daily schedule, she realized that there were a lot of changes going on each day. Any time children go from one activity to another, they are experiencing a transition. There is a big difference between transitions that children choose for themselves and those imposed on them by adults. For example, rather than having a designated snack time,offer an “open snack” where older toddlers can wash hands and sit at the table when they are hungry. Rosa assures Lupe that making changes like this is not only responsive to children but also increases one-on-one time. Now Lupe realizes that, while some children are busy playing, she can sit with a few at a time while they are hungry.
Young infants determine their own schedules. Working together with families, group care should attempt to match the home routine. Pay close attention to each baby’s cues, and respond when they are hungry, tired, bored, or wet. You probably already do this—especially when it comes to diapers. Although there are certain requirements that diapers be changed every 2 hours, if a child needs a new diaper after an hour, of course you would change it!
When each child’s schedule is individualized, it is much easier to meet the needs of children within a group care situation. Imagine how would you feel if your day was that full of other people telling you to stop activities you are enjoying, or eat when you weren’t hungry? It’s no wonder that transitions can be a difficult time of day for infants, toddlers, families, and caregivers. Just think—every time you ask a 2-year-old to do something, it gives them the opportunity to say their favorite word: “No!”
Whether you work with young children on home visits, in your own home, or in a center, here are some ways to individualize transitions:
Estelle and Shari are great teachers who are trying to provide a lovely art experience for the children in their classroom. What is the problem here? Although they planned the experience, they forgot to plan the transition! Young children’s excitement for an activity is unlikely to last if they have to wait. Estelle and Shari brought this experience up with their education manager, Carla. Together, the three of them decided to split responsibilities at times like these. They planned to have one teacher set up the materials while the other teacher reads a book and sings songs with the children. The very first time they tried this plan in their classroom, they had a successful experience! As soon as children knew about the activity, the paint was ready for them to use.
Reducing the amount of time young children are expected to wait for food, activities, or even in a line to wash hands will make these transitions much smoother. Infants and toddlers are still learning about being patient, and you can help. If a child is calmly sitting at the table before lunch, mention that they are being, “so patient.” That way, the next time you ask that child to be patient, she’ll know just what you mean!
Sometimes waiting just cannot be avoided. Maybe the kids are dressed and ready to go outside but another group is still straggling. When these situations come up, be prepared with a few songs and fingerplays to keep children engaged while they wait. This will be much more fun and effective than asking such young children to stand patiently in a line.
Annabelle has been attending Susan’s family child care program for over a year. Although she is nearing her third birthday, she still struggles whenever something out of the ordinary happens. Just the other day when they decided to take a “nature walk” in the park, Annabelle had a tantrum about leaving the house. Susan is very patient, but she still wonders why everything seems so difficult for this child and how she might help Annabelle cope with change.
Annabelle is a child who has trouble going from one place or activity to another. Her mom, Candace, describes her as battling every transition all day long! How well a child handles moving through the day depends a lot on a child’s temperament and personality. For children who are really struggling, there are some things that can help:
Create and stick to a routine that is similar both at home and in child care. This does not mean that children must eat, sleep, and play at the same time every day, but when things regularly flow in the same order, young children feel a sense of security in knowing how each day will unfold.
Home visitor Anna is leaving 18-month-old Joseph’s house. Every week when it is time for her to leave, Joseph throws himself down on the floor, crying and screaming. His mother, Yvette, apologizes again to Anna, who assures her it is OK. On their next visit, Anna and Yvette think together about what might help Joseph through saying goodbye at the end of her visit. Yvette mentions that Joseph seems to do better when he knows what is coming next. They decide to try giving Joseph a few warnings before Anna says she must leave. Anna even sets an egg timer for the last 5 minutes of her visit. When the timer dings and it is time to go, Joseph is prepared and knows what is going to happen. Anna reminds him that she will come back to play with him again soon, and although he cries a bit, he does much better than he did during the previous weeks as she waves to him on her way out.
A home visitor might be met by a child with great joy on their arrival, but when it is time to go, it can be hard for a child to end their special time! They have just spent the time being the center of their home visitor and family’s attention, and now they must let that go. Providing warnings as Yvette and Anna did for Joseph can help a child understand what is happening and what’s coming next.
Toddlers can benefit from being reminded of what is coming up next. Often during the toddler years, children can understand much more than they can tell you, especially children who are bilingual. This means that they can’t always ask, “What’s going on around here?” even if they feel confused. When you let them know what is coming next, you are not only easing their confusion but also helping their language development with words and ideas like “next,” “later,” and “soon.”
Transitions can be some of the most frustrating times of the day for families, caregivers, and especially very young children. They rely on you to provide a sense of safety and continuity as their environment, caregivers, and activities change. When adults provide as much stability as possible, along with intentional planning, children will be better able to cope with life’s little and big transitions.