Families are all unique and as parents you determine when your children will leave the family home to experience life outside in other learning environments. For some parents the decision is reached when either mom or dad returns to the workforce full time. For others, they may decide that their child will be leaving the home for the first time to enter a learning environment such as a daycare program or the school system as a student entering Junior Kindergarten.
Transitioning Toddlers From Home to Daycare
All children regardless of their age experience a period of transition or adjustment when they move from one environment to another. This is true whether their first transition is spent in an afternoon with a grandparent or it’s the first day in a daycare setting. For many children this may be cause for them to be unsure of what to expect resulting in anxious moments. Some may not feel ready or willing to be away from mom or dad and experience separation anxiety. When a child is feeling somewhat anxious but is able to accept reassurance and feel safe, anxious feelings tend to subside quickly. A flexible child will settle into their environment and do well within a short time. However, for the child who is anxious, struggles with behavioural challenges, has serious attention problems, is less willing to risk or simply does not like change, they may cling to one or both parents and/or resist a smooth transition into day-care.
Anxiety or Behavioural Difficulties Compromise a Transition
For anxious or shy children it may take time to make the transition from home to daycare. Concerned parents may have to watch as their children scream, refuse to leave the car and/or be unwilling to relinquish the tight hold they have on their parent. Once their child is attending the daycare program parents may learn that their child does not listen, follow directions and that their behaviour is difficult to manage. Words such as ‘difficult day’, time-out and conflict with others may begin to describe how their child is behaving at daycare. While many children do learn to independently manage their behaviour and emotional states over time, some children do not. Some children will require counselling or Play Therapy to learn to manage life changes, new people, new environments and their own feelings. For an anxious child or a youngster who is acting out, their ability to self-regulate could be further compromised after a holiday, change in daycare staff or routine at the daycare.
Starting Junior Kindergarten
For parents whose child may have struggled in a daycare setting they will need to consider how they are going to have success with the transition into Junior Kindergarten well before September. School based learning is much more structured, focused and demanding on children then they would have experienced at their daycare facility. Recognizing that most Junior Kindergarten programs have, or will soon have full day services, it will be essential to ease a young child’s ability and willingness to make the smooth transition to school. For children who have struggled with transitions and change in the past this may not be easy for parents, school personnel or the child.
Children beginning school have to learn to manage classroom rules, safety, routines and teacher expectations. They will be required to listen, follow directions and become increasingly independent over time. Children need to focus, sit still and respond when asked or directed. Socially, children must have some ability to understand how to make friends, co-operate and be willing to share. For a child who has difficulty regulating their feelings, behaviour and attention or, does not transition well from one activity to another, this can be intolerable.
Preparing a child to embrace a new environment takes time, reassurance and the self assurance instilled in your child that they can do well. For children who already lack the confidence, feel unsure or have some fear and anxiety of new situations, beginning Junior Kindergarten could be a difficult time.
Children thrive when they feel safe and secure. They like the predictability of routine and when things are predictable they can relax play and learn. When situations are stressful, and children cannot manage their feelings, abilities or their environment an escalation in behaviour is often noticed.
Often, young children are simply unable to identify what they feel or how they feel. The one feeling that may surface quickly might be the child’s anger if they have not established the self-control to not strike out when angry or frustrated. Conflict with peers may begin to happen and if your child has had a tendency to be strong-willed and demanding with peers this behaviour will become more prevalent.
Parents will come to recognize that their children are in a new learning environment in which their child is expected not only to complete the assigned work but to be able to learn, comprehend and be successful in a classroom of their peers. For some this might be a task they have mastered and find that they are bored or do not have enough stimulation. For others, they may not be able to focus, learn or adapt to new learning. Either way, children’s behavioural issues may surface. It may look like noncompliance, refusal to try or avoidance with a tendency to want to return to play. For others, assigned work might be completed quickly, followed by wandering restlessness, interrupting the work of their classmates or mischief. None of the aforementioned behaviours would be acceptable.
The Value of Change and Growth through Transition
Children need to be able to embrace transitions and change. For many an inability to do so may limit the choices they make in future endeavours. They may avoid embracing new challenges and/or refuse to change even when it might be in their best interest. Transitioning from one environment, adventure or challenge, is something many people struggle with and this refusal often begins when children are very young.
Play Therapy at Toronto Psychological Services
Once a parent recognizes that their child is experiencing more than average difficulty adjusting to the transition to daycare or Junior Kindergarten, they may wish to meet with me to consider Play Therapy at Toronto Psychological Services. Play Therapy is a meaningful and significant way for young kids to express fears, confusing thoughts and/or distressing feelings. In the Play Therapy room at our clinic, children use toys and play materials to “say” what they may be unable to say with words. I am a professionally trained child therapist/counsellor who enjoys working with clients as young as 2+ years of age.
In a specially designed Play Therapy room, I help a child to learn to relax, handle transitions and new challenges and, build self esteem. Your child will learn how to risk successfully, and be able to transition from one situation to another with much less distress and upset. Ideally, I like to prepare a child for the transition to Junior Kindergarten prior to their enrolment in the new school; however, while it would be advantageous to begin early it is not too late to support a child who has already started school. If your child is presently in either a daycare setting or Junior Kindergarten and is experiencing difficulties managing the environment and/or their behaviour/feelings it would not be too late to provide therapy so they are happier and less resistant to change.
I would be pleased to consult with parents in regards to the best possible strategies which would enhance their child’s adjustment to a learning environment as they progress through school, as well as provide parenting strategies to assist parents with children who may not welcome change or risk. I offer clinical services, both Play Therapy to young children aged 2+. As well, I enjoy counselling older children and adolescents.
Psychological services are covered by your workplace benefits. Please contact Toronto Psychological Services to book an appointment with a Child & Adolescent Therapist.