Little ones struggle with change. The change might seem small to us. Having the ketchup on top of his scrambled eggs instead of on the side. Having papa at home in the morning when he’s usually at work. A week long visit from grandparents.
As parents, it can be hard to remember, especially if the change feels positive to us, that to our little ones, just because a change is positive doesn’t mean it will be easier for them to manage. For our little ones, change is just change, and it’s not often easy to handle.
Toddler development expert Tovah Klein writes eloquently about this in her wonderful manual “How Toddlers Thrive.” As director of a large early childhood center, she frequently meets with parents who are at their wits end with their two – four year old’s behavior. “We just can’t understand what’s wrong with him! He’s gone from being pretty easy to be with to kicking, punching, and fussing over every little thing.”
Klein shares that in each of these situations, she asks one question.
“Have there been any changes in your life recently?”
Invariably, she explains, there has been change. It might be a big thing, like a move to a new school, a new job for a parent that means spending less time with the child. Or it might be a small thing like not getting to press the elevator button, as one usually does in the morning.
Whatever the change, any disruption to their routine can be very hard on our little ones. They feel uprooted, and it will take time for them to regain their equilibrium.
Now, the above is probably not a surprise to you… If you’re parenting a toddler, chances are you’ve been through it before, those moments when you ask “What’s gotten into him?!” And then you remember, “Oh, that’s right, we’ve only been back from vacation for a week, pre-school was out yesterday, and we just went to the dentist. No wonder he’s acting like this.”
What we may not have thought so much about is how change affects our children even in a “normal” day.
When my son was two, I had a major aha moment, inspired by the book I mentioned above, How Toddlers Thrive. My son was going through a difficult developmental stage, and I was having a hard time understanding the reasons behind his behavior.
Then it hit me. We were walking down the street in our old neighborhood in Brooklyn, when, suddenly, I was able to see things through his eyes. And guess what? On that single city block, within twenty minutes of activity, were eight transitions I’d never noticed before.
Getting off the bus, watching it pull away. A transition.
Waiting at the light, crossing the street, getting to the other side.
Going into a store was a transition. Choosing a lemon. Putting it back and choosing a different one. The checkout line.
I thought about our daily lives in general.
Going outside, going inside, getting dressed, getting in the bath, going to bed, waking up, sitting down for a meal… Now that I was looking through this lens, I could see that even the easiest days were full of transitions. I suddenly appreciated how much I was asking of him in navigating them all. And I felt my compassion for him deepen in a way that has remained to this day.
And then I began to experiment.
Slowly, I learned how to better meet my sensitive child’s need for consistency. I began to structure our time so that whenever we did something, we did the same things in the same order. I introduced a meal rotation so that noodle night was always on Wednedsay, and on Saturday morning, we had pancakes.
I found the places where I could honor his need for consistency (such as walking a similar route to the park each day), and saved introducing novelty for the places that really mattered to me– like meeting a new friend or going to someone’s house for brunch on a special occasion.
AND, I gave myself a new role in mothering. I began to think of myself as “Priestess of the Transition.” I know it sounds a little nutty! 😉 But let me explain…
Priestess of the Transition
Just as a priest or rabbi might help you through a moment of transition in your own life, such as the birth of a new baby, a death in the family, or a marriage, you can help your child move from the known to the new with a greater sense of safety and trust.
There are so many pieces to this. The first and most important thing is simply your presence. Whenever you are going through a transition, no matter how big or how small, take a moment to try to see it from your child’s perspective, and hold your child in the light of empathy.
Then find your own equanimity, and boldly captain the ship! Don’t ask questions. Don’t get mired in talking about feelings. (Though if your child is resistant, a little acknowledgment can go a long way! “You don’t want to put on your socks right now! You’re feeling frustrated.” Say this, but don’t stop helping them get those socks on!)
As you move through any transition, try to hold your child in love and mindfulness. And hold yourself this way too! It’s not easy being a Mama! We carry so much, often without as much support as we’d like. But you’re doing this. You’re doing it so beautifully. How often do we really let ourselves feel the beauty and magic of what we’re doing, as every day, we strive to give the very best parts of ourselves to our children? I think we give ourselves more opportunities to feel it.
A few times an hour.
What if we could remember it all the time? Who would we be, if we could really, truly feel the beauty of what we bring, every day, to our children?
And there’s something else we can do– something that can help us stay in touch with the levity, and the joy. Sing!
Incorporating songs into your transitions helps so much on a practical level, because songs signal to your child what’s coming. But they do so much more than that! Singing can help to stabilize YOU too. You’ll be amazed how it can ground and settle you when you just launch into the first notes of the familiar song that always goes with a particular moment of your day.
The tooth brushing song.
The putting on shoes song.
The dish washing song.
The going out the door song.
You’ll feel yourself thinking, “ah, yes, this is the moment when we go down the stairs. We all know what’s coming, and now here we go. What a relief!”
So speaking of stairs, here’s a very sweet song I recently discovered, thanks to the wonderful folk music anthologist, Ruth Crawford Seeger.
In my family, we’ve been using it for our own comings and goings, and it’s wonderful how it helps to get everyone out the door dressed and in one piece.
To make it easier to learn it, I’m including two videos– one of the song accompanied by my guitar, and the other of the song in action, as we head out the door to start our day.
Thanks for reading, everyone. Have a wonderful week!
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