The most trying times in your parenting life are probably the transition times: mornings, drop-offs, pickups, bedtimes — basically, any time you and your child are shifting gears and entering into a new environment. How can you help your child (not to mention you!) navigate the transition times in your day?
Remember that kids thrive on routine and structure; they like to know what's coming next. They tend to find security in predictable patterns and routines. Providing a way for your child to gain an understanding of how his day will go may eliminate some of the undesirable behaviors (tantrums in younger ones, lack of listening and cooperation with the older ones) that tend to rear their ugly heads during transition times.
One effective way of helping your child visualize what his day will look like is to create a picture chart that depicts the day's activities and the order in which they will happen (think of it as a child-friendly Day Runner). Small children are not as concerned with what time things will happen as they are with the sequence of events, so having a visual picture of what comes next will speak to your child in a way he can comprehend. For example, for a child who attends preschool and is picked up after naptime, I would make a chart that describes his day with photos of the following: a sun, breakfast food, a toothbrush, shoes, a car, a school, blocks, a sandwich, a bed, then a picture of you and your child. This type of chart can be as elaborate or as simple as you want it to be, but the concept behind it is what makes it effective.
When you are planning your child's routine, thinking through what will happen on an average day allows you to come up with many ways to simplify your day, lessen your stress and make transitions tantrum-free for you and your child. Here are some of my best tips for creating a transition-friendly routine:
Have a place for everything. A designated place for each child's items eliminates lots of morning chaos (and the added pre-caffeine stress) associated with last-minute search-and-rescue missions for lost shoes, homework, library books and so on.
Utilize a corkboard. A bulletin board that is used for school notices and the family schedule is a great visual reminder of what's happening and when.
Have a specific place for morning necessities. Getting your child in the habit of leaving his packed backpack by the front door (or wherever your point of departure from the house is) at night will eliminate frantic morning homework hunts.
Set out clothes for the next day the night before. Laying out Mandy's clothes the night before on the edge of her bed is one less thing to have to deal with in the morning. Then do the same for yourself — you'll save time and energy in the long run.
Use verbal cues to wind down activities. Phrases like "You have three more minutes to finish eating" or "We are leaving for preschool in five minutes" help your child prepare for what comes next.
Sing loud and proud. Creating songs for activities also helps kids to transition into them. Who wants to clean up? No one — until you burst into your rendition "Clean Up, Put Away," which is personalized to include the name of every child in the room. It works with older kids, too; they'll do what you want so you stop singing.
Keep goodbyes short, sweet and final. One of my pet peeves when I volunteer in the church nursery is the prolonged goodbye. You know the parent I'm talking about — the 15-minute goodbye that leaves Charlie screaming for Mommy, who then returns, unable to handle the tears. Sometimes the nanny in me wants to issue a time-out to Mom for making matters worse. I want to scream, "Leaving him is not an option — you are going to do it, and you know that when you peek around the corner in three minutes, he'll be fine. So stop prolonging your departure!" But instead I put on my happy nanny face and gently escort the mommy out the door, assuring her that I will page her if for some reason her son doesn't settle in the way he has every Sunday for the past two years. Week after week, I wonder if I am starring in an episode of a new reality show, "Drama Drop-offs" or something of the sort. This is all to say that if you've chosen a caregiver or caregiving situation that you trust, and if you are determined to have your child stay there, put on your happy face, appear to be confident and, with a relaxed smile, say "See you soon!" and get going. The transition will go more smoothly than you think.