It’s the beginning of the new school year, which means I’m teaching multiple staff development workshops for preschool teachers as they prepare to welcome new and returning families into their care. It also means I’m consulting with many families about transition difficulties, morning routine battles, separation concerns, and adjustments to new schools, classrooms, teachers, and friends.
As we know, transitions are challenging for many young children. They need preparation, structure, routines, and support as they move from one activity to another, as they transition into sleep, waking up, getting into the car, and, certainly, as they move into a new preschool environment.
One big issue that arises from both teachers and parents is that there never seems to be enough time to have relaxed transitions. Everyone knows the futility of rushing children through a transition, but we all have external time constraints, which may force us to hurry through our regular routines. One reason this causes so many transition troubles is that young children have a much slower processing speed than you may think. Developmentally, they need time to comply with your requests.
Remember a time when you asked your toddler to wave “bye-bye” to a friend or family member who was leaving your house? The child may have looked up, but didn’t seem to make any effort to say goodbye. Your friend leaves, and a few minutes later your child lifts her hand, waves it, and says, “bye-bye!” Well, that’s how long it took for your child to process your request. She had to think about lifting her hand, moving it in a way that indicates “bye-bye,” say the word, “bye-bye,” know the intention of the person who is leaving, process a feeling about that person leaving, and put it all together before that person leaves the room. That’s a lot to think about!
Now think about your morning routine. “OK. Let’s get up! Let’s get dressed! Let’s brush our teeth! Let’s have some breakfast! Let’s get your shoes on! Go, go, go!” Your child may still be processing, “Get….Up…” We must remember to slow……it……down. Depending on the age of the children in your care, you may need to build 15-minute transition times into your day. Getting from the house to the car is just as important as walking into a new classroom. Both deserve your attention, your relaxed manner, your advance preparation, your creativity, and your time. If you invest in transitions and allow extra processing time for your child, it may eliminate some of those transition difficulties that leave you feeling frustrated and rushed.
Heidi Emberling, MA