Do you follow Early Childhood Ireland on Instagram? If so, you will be familiar with our regular Monday Motivation feature, with inspiring quotes from theorists, educators, authors and academics in the Early Years field. The Monday Motivation quote this week, from the great John Bowlby (1951) caught my eye, ‘If we value our children, we must cherish their parents’. I had been mulling over my colleague Paula Bradley’s recent blog about the impact transitions have on parents as well as children. She spoke about how she has found strategies to support her little girl with the transition from home to creche in the morning, because her daughter can find this change difficult. Her reflections and the quote about cherishing parents really made me think.
Two worlds colliding
No matter how supportive educators are in a setting, some children can find that moment of change hard. At one stage in my career I worked as a childminder. When I was reassuring parents if a child found the transition difficult I used to describe it as the moment a child’s two worlds collide. In ways, it’s like they change person, they’re now playing a different role. They go from being a daughter or son, to being ‘one of the toddlers (or preschool children).’ In that change, there are different environments, different people, different expectations, different noise levels, different rules. It can be confusing. Some children can make that adjustment easily, while for others it can be challenging. They may react by being reluctant to move into the new ‘role’. They might get upset, cry or be clingy and seem unhappy about making the change. This can make parents wonder if their child is happy in the setting if this happens in the morning. Or if this is the experience at pick-up time, they can wonder why their child doesn’t want to come home. Both experiences can be upsetting and frustrating. But, in my experience it is the transition that is upsetting the child, not the place they are going to.
I suppose we as educators, who see this reaction frequently, understand what is happening for the child. We know the upset is generally fleeting and once equilibrium is restored and the child is settled in their room at the setting, or back with their family, all is well again. The collision of the two worlds has passed and order is restored. Parents may not realise this however, and can be anxious. Providing reassurance that this is normal and indeed often to be expected, is important. In the general busyness of drop off and collection it is not always possible to provide that reassurance at the room door. By taking Bowlby’s words about valuing children requiring us to cherish parents, we can look at other ways of providing this support by:
- Perhaps including a few lines in your settling in policy explaining about transitions and how some children can find the moment of transition challenging and frustrating.
- Writing a learning story about how that child reacts when the person who has dropped them off has left.
- Devising a brief ritual that can be performed each time. This can be as simple as taking the child to their cubby or coat hook to hang up their coat and bag and then waving from the window, with a favourite teddy or doll in their hand. (Keep it short and simple so it can carried out daily).
- Welcoming ideas from parents about the strategies they use to support the transition. In Paula’s case, her daughter cycles the last little bit to creche, so maybe asking her what she saw on her cycle might be an idea.
I recall a four-year-old boy who was very upset at his Mammy leaving him at my Montessori setting. She took off her bracelet, a simple plastic bangle, and asked him to mind it for her until she came back for it. It was like magic. The tears dried, he minded the bracelet and loved being in the setting, playing happily until his Mammy collected him. At the time I didn’t know it, but Donald Winnicott describes this as a transitional object. While I can appreciate why settings have policies about not bringing toys etc from home to a setting, I feel strongly that exceptions must be made for transitional objects. A simple object from home can make all the difference to how a child manages the change from one environment to another.
It’s always interesting and thought provoking to put ourselves in the shoes of another and see things from their perspective. We could spend our time well by reflecting how we already cherish parents and discussing ways in which we can make this more evident.