Bathrooms? Without a doubt.
As our children begin new chapters, we watch with anticipation. The changes happen little by little, day by day, but the moments of transition are large and sudden. I am looking ahead to a week wrapped in welcoming: a new friend to join our Abundant Life family, a new chapter for one of our oldest friends as she makes her way as a kindergartener. Transition is tricky and turbulent; honoring the turbulence rather than resisting it serves to steady us with confidence and assuredness for the road ahead.
We often applaud children for being “brave” – which we define as “facing uncertainty with confidence, without tears, and without pulling a parent’s arm out of the socket in fear.” I challenge us to extend our definition of bravery to “embracing uncertainty with full emotional integrity.” Crying if we need to cry. Laughing if we need to laugh. Hugging our parents and skipping off without looking back, if that feels right in the moment. Experience confirms our capability, and children will be successful at the new phases of their lives. When we permit their “brave faces” to be truthful and honest, we open up a world of emotional wholeness.
How do we honor transitions with children, marking time in a way that respects their unique emotional process without encasing it in too much of our own uncertainty and stress?
1. Make room. Weeks laden with transition require extra room for heightened behaviors. My mom always says, “They need an extra wide berth.” and I think she’s very wise. We know from child development experts that when children have a large demand in one area of development, other areas must sacrifice to make room for all the extra growth. A child learning to talk, for example, might have irregular sleep patterns where they were once steady and predictable. Remembering the context can enlighten our responses. Children may need several reminders to sit at the table for mealtime, or multiple requests for help cleaning up toys. Rather than reacting to their “poor cooperation” or “silliness”, we can effectively and respectfully offer the support they need to navigate the turbulence.
2. Plan. As someone who relies almost exclusively on child-directed experiences to direct our daily schedule, I do more planning for days that I know will be filled with emotions. I try to cook in advance so more of my attention is available moment by moment, and I set out supplies that we might use for the day before children arrive. I expect to handle more of the cleaning up and try to work as the day moves along to keep our space tidy. With elevated emotions, tasks like cleaning up can feel overwhelming to young ones very easily.
One of my greatest tips is to have a “collection box” for cleaning up – something shoebox sized to handle small pieces in the few moments before naptime. Helpful for gathering all of the single items that remain after a concerted clean up effort, this box can help keep a space feeling organized without rushing an clean up. And, after naps, while the crew is at work getting their nap items put away, I can reach for the box and circulate around the room, putting the miscellaneous items in their spot.
3. Reflect. When we lay our own language on top of a child’s process, we risk confusing their experience with our own. I ask many open-ended questions: I wonder what kindergarten will be like? How do you suppose the first day will go? Then, I reflect back to the child what I think I am hearing. It sounds like you are hoping for lots of story time.
4. Read. I tend to steer clear of books specifically about the first day of kindergarten, because I find that they typically depict a child who is afraid of the great unknown who ultimately finds that school isn’t scary after all. These stories are problematic for me for two reasons. 1. If a child isn’t already scared of school, now they have a reason to be. 2. If a child is scared of school, the process of overcoming that fear may feel unimportant if it is worked through in a matter of a few pages. Instead, I try to select stories in the weeks leading up to transition that empower children to connect with their emotions and be authentic and integrated. I love The Big Orange Splot by Daniel Manus Pinkwater, Wild Child by Lynn Plourde, and Pickles the Fire Cat by Ester Holden Averill (filtered a bit for its outdated gender stereotyping), and Little Bird by Germano Zullo.
5. Model. Transition is tough on me as an adult. The logistics of managing the heightened emotional energy of the crew alongside welcoming new members to our group is tricky stuff. To add to logistical trickiness, the children who have been in my program since baby-hood are now leaving for kindergarten, and this is an emotional process for me.
I want to model my process without disrespecting the child’s experience. “I’m so sad that you’re leaving.” or “I can’t believe you’re in kindergarten. Why do you have to grow up so fast??” can make a child feel guilty or responsible for my sadness. Anytime we say things like, “I’m feel ____ because you ____” we make others responsible for feelings. Small changes in wording choice can model our emotional experience while maintaining the responsibility for our own emotions. I can say, “I feel uncertain about what our days will be like with a new mix of friends.” or “I miss my friends when they are away from me.” Instead of verbally describing my emotions, I might sit at the art table with the crew and make a card as a way of sending them off with my love. For more, read Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life by Marshall Rosenberg.
6. Celebrate. Taking time to mark the passing of time is vitally important. Here are some of the things we do to celebrate: eat a special meal, wear special clothing, look at pictures from throughout the years, include types of play that are meaningful for the children being honored, sing special songs, write letters and make cards for the children we are honoring.
May you find emotional wholeness in your weeks of transition that lay ahead.
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