You don’t have to tell me that change is hard. I have trouble eating something different for breakfast each day; I’m the queen of routine. The last few weeks have been especially difficult at home; So much so that we needed to put our heads together to figure out the reason for the increase in whining, tantrums, regression, and just plain cruel behavior. Once we started reflecting, we realized how many changes the kiddos have incurred in the last month. They have started to independently get dressed (picking out clothes to putting them on), wiping themselves, saying goodbye to Pull-ups at naps, starting swimming lessons at a new location, and the biggie- bidding Uncle JD farewell as he continuous his academic and professional journey in Chicago.
What is it about change and transition that is so hard?
We are creatures of habit and change takes more energy, especially emotional and mental energy. Pediatric behavioral specialists believe the primary reason is because it requires that we stop something we enjoy and feels comfortable, in order to, do something very different that we need to do and may not want to do. Many of the negative consequences related to transition, even simply transitions like leaving the park or putting away a toy, require intense emotional management. Since strong emotions like anger, anxiety, frustration and sadness require practice to explore and manage; young children simply haven’t had the time or experiences to learn how to do it well. Our youngsters often look to us- their parents and caregivers- for tips on managing transitions; if we throw tantrums, they will, too. I often catch myself whining, complaining and throwing a pity-party from time-to-time and this negativity is as contagious as the common cold. I try to remind myself that like most things in life, prevention is the best medicine.
How can we help?
Create boundaries with freedom. We all know that people thrive in routine; perhaps because we have the comfort of predictability. I have found that if I set boundaries, create a structured schedule or routine and then grant freedoms within the structure, the kiddos flourish. For example, we eat and sleep at the same times every day but, what we do between these marker-activities is up to the children. Another example, we enjoy four different food groups at every meal: Protein, Grain/Starch, Vegetable and Fruit, but the V5 get to collectively- or individually- decide what we eat.
Prepare for change. We often give several countdowns to transition such as 15-minutes until clean-up time or 5 more minutes in the bath tub. If we’re at the park, they also always know that they get “one-more-thing” and after the last thing, we head to the car. These countdowns are more difficult with big changes, such as moves, starting school, surgeries, etc. From my perspective, you don’t want to start mentally preparing children too early where it can breed anxiety but also want to allow for adequate time to process. Any suggestions from our readers?
Transition Tunes. Life can be better as a musical. Certain activities lend themselves to a soundtrack such as cleaning up toys (clean-up song playlist); we love Daniel Tiger’s Clean, Pick-up, Put-away song. We also sing songs as we head upstairs for nap. We are always open to new tunes, so send them our way.
Visual Cues. It often amazes me how disoriented our children are to the days of the week. Nana B created a color chart for us which has a color for each day of the week. Each of the V5 has their own color and thus their own day. We try to celebrate each day by wearing the color of the day:
- Lucky Lily Green Monday
- Cool Blue Dude Tuesday
- Purple Princess Bella Wednesday
- Red Rosie Thursday
- Orange-You-Glad-You’re-The-Only-Boy Friday
- “Play-doh Rose” Pink Saturday
- K-Mae Yellow Sunshine Sunday
It truly lends itself to a colorful wardrobe and the children have learned the days of the week. Frank also added little pictures of Nana, Uncle JD, himself and I to the chart so they would know who their primary caregiver was for the day. This was uber-helpful and cut-down on the number of questions each day.
Consistent Consequences. This is a difficult strategy for us. We have our go-to consequences based on our stoplight approach:
- Green Light: you get a smiley at the end of the day. After three smileys, you get to pick from the prize bucket.
- Yellow light: Verbal warning and a 2-minute time out
- Red light: 2-minute time out and lose a toy
But, what happens when they earn several red lights? Or, the caregiver becomes so weary that they can’t keep up and thus be consistent. This is where we struggle. When the number of bad choices outweigh the good, it is tough to remain positive and thus reward the good choices with verbal praise, stickers, etc. I think this is when it’s necessary to let the little lights shine and truly make a big deal out of the good choices so, they can encourage more good choices but also fuel positivity so we all don’t become frowny brownies.
Catch Quality Zzzz’s. Quality, routine sleep is definitely good medicine for physical, mental and emotional health. Life can get in the way of adequate sleep but it is well worth shifting priorities to achieve it.