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Finding ways to help babies and toddlers weather difficult transitions, in particular morning drop off, will help them to ease into their day with feelings of safety and comfort.
1. Allow Children to Adapt
Remember that a child’s ability to adapt to separation may vary depending on his/her unique temperament, family background, age, etc. and that some children may need more time to ease into their day. Acknowledge their feelings and respect their boundaries when it comes to personal interaction. Offer support and comfort to the child who desires it, and space and time alone to the child who does not.
2. Encourage Transitional Objects
Familiar faces and objects can help ease infant/toddler stress during separation times. Encourage families to bring in a family photo album and/or a comforting transitional object such as a favorite toy, blanket, or article of clothing that smells of home. Allow him/her access to these items to soothe him/herself as needed.
3. Develop Rituals
Develop hello/goodbye rituals to help ease the emotional turmoil of separation times. Talk with the family about ways that they comfort their children at home and come up with a set series of actions for them to do. For example, they could exchange a kiss, a hug, and then a wave from the window. Help families to stick to this order as closely as possible.
4. Put Families at Ease
Leaving their small children with other caregivers for the day can be scary for families, and children in turn can pick up on this stress. Caregivers can help to put families at ease by welcoming each one individually as they arrive, engaging in pleasant conversation about their night/morning, and reassuring them that their children will be safe.
5. Teach Through Peek-a-Boo
Separation can be hard for infants and toddlers because they do not yet understand that their caregivers, once out of sight, can and will return to them. Help them to learn this concept by playing “peek-a-boo” several times throughout the day.
Activities that allow children to prepare for and to participate in the process of transitions help to decrease the stress of these challenging times of the day.
1. Use Adjustment Activities
Children need the time to adjust to new situations. Create rituals for greetings and goodbyes. Try an activity: have the child find his or her name and move it from “at home” to “at school”; have the child sign in when their adult signs in or shake hands and greet the teachers and other children.
2. Use Transition Cues
Use visual cues, songs or a change in the environment such as turning off lights to indicate an upcoming transition. Use several cues to be sure children know what to expect. For example: a stop sign to indicate a 5 minute warning, a song for a 2 minute warning and lights flashing when they should begin transitioning.
3. Use Environmental Transition Cues
If transitioning from active to quiet activities, set the tone with the environment. Dimming the lights, stretching, singing quietly, and putting relaxing music on are all hints to the children on what they can expect.
4. Let Children Know When Transitions Are Ahead
Young children have a difficult time understanding the concept of time. Young children are less likely to become frustrated when they know in advance that a change is coming and what is expected of them. Give children advanced warnings and specific directions regarding what is expected during and after transitions.
5. Keep a List of Transition Activities
Keep a list handy of short and simple activities to use during transitions. For example: Describe what a child is wearing and have the children guess who you are describing, hum a song and have the children guess the name, or make a face and have the children try and guess the emotion.