A Fine Line

A friend’s four year old has recently started kindergarten, as have so many others. This little girl is quite shy and anxious and my friend was concerned that she would find it difficult to settle in even though she had previously attended child care (where she experienced ongoing settling issues). The teachers at the kindy were not keen for my friend to stay and thought her daughter would be fine. We talked through some possible strategies for my friend to try during the lead up to kindy.

This got me thinking about ‘the fine line.’ You know, the line where you want to prepare children from what is ahead but do not want to make them overly anxious or too excited. Too much stress and anxiety affects their behaviour emotionally and physically in the lead up to the event and too much excitement…well, then it becomes ALL you hear about and you have NO chance of them going to bed easily the night before.

In preparing Immy for moving house, I tried to consider the move from her point of view. I needed to talk to her about it as we were starting to pack everything up into boxes (about 2 weeks before we actually moved) but I wanted to be as sensitive to and considerate of her needs as a toddler. Why? Because I wanted the move to be as smooth as possible to avoid settling issues at either end.

These were my strategies;

  • Talking about our new home positively but calmly and not making too big a deal out of it.
  • I did not count down the days or tell her which day we were moving. She is a toddler and so has little concept of time and I did not want any going to sleep hassles the night before our move. This would obviously be different for older children.
  • Leaving her play area (where most of her most precious belongings were) unpacked for as long as possible. I packed up this area the night before we moved, after she had gone to bed.
  • Leaving her bedroom unpacked until the morning of our move. Everything was still in its place, even pictures on the wall. I had a clear plan and everything ready so that it could be quickly packed first thing in the morning.
  • To help Immy digest the fact that it was actually the day we were moving, I used a large blue Ikea bag and she helped me pack all of her soft toys into it. As we packed them, we told each toy that we were getting them ready to take them to our new home.
  • Thanks to Kelly at Be A Fun Mum’s suggestions, we had Immy taken out (to her favourite park for a play and lunch with her Grandma and cousin) while we actually moved the furniture. Once we had everything at the new place, we made it a priority to get her bedroom furniture set up first. Once she arrived she had the pleasure of unpacking all of her soft toy friends in her new room.
  • Finally, I have tried to balance the need to get everything unpacked with the need for Immy to still enjoy her regular routine. Yes, the boxes are driving me crazy but we have been to the park, out to lunch and even had a play date with new friends. We have played, painted and playdough-ed so life feels as normal as possible.

What are your tips for helping children face major transitions like starting school, moving house or going on holidays?

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  1. Super Sarah says:

    I have a friend who's daughter is very highly strung and she struggles with the balance between adequately preparing her for big events and freaking her out by telling her too much. Its hard, there is a fine line, you are so right! I find with Amy that casually introducing the topic into conversation ahead of time and then making it part of the everyday has really helped to tone down the HUGENESS of some events. We have been talking about preschool for a few months now, just in conversation without making too much of a big deal and I feel this has helped her adjust and transition comfortably.

  2. Narelle Nettelbeck says:

    We balance the fine line with my boys all the time!

    When we moved years ago our first born was 2 and we did exactly as you did and he adjusted to the move much better than we expected.

    As for settling son number 2 into school for the first time…..we are still balancing that 😉

  3. I just sent my girl to childcare in Jan 2010. As early as 6 months ago, I prepared her for school by talking to her that she has to sleep and wake earlier, that she will get to make lots of friends, that she will learn a lot of things.

    During her first week, she was clingy to me and her teachers had to ask me to leave. Thankfully, after 1st week, she has fallen into routine and is almost always excited to go to childcare.

  4. I think it depends on the child…

    My sensitive soul needed to go to school for several visits (above and beyond the ones she did as orientation) to feel comfortable with the sights and sounds of school.. especially the bell which initially brought her to tears.

    Over talking school would just make her worry more, but she came to me a few times needing to talk, so I followed her lead. But she really needed to feel physically confident in the new space before she started….

    The other one LOVED to talk about school and count down the days, so while I kept it low key I followed her lead too and that worked well for her.

    So my tip is know your child and don't be afraid to follow their lead even if it is not exactly what the 'experts' are saying.

  5. madhatter says:

    I am gearing my son for preschool which is in a few months by talking to him about how fun it would be to make new friends. I also took him a couple of times to the preschool classroom. Hopefully if he gets familiar with the place, he won't be too afraid to see me leave him there. But I guess I am the anxious mom who dreads the first day of school 🙂

  6. Monica Eve says:

    This article and the reader comments are so helpful. My 3-year old will be starting preschool this fall. You're readers advice (taking him to the school for a visit prior to start date, casually talking about school months in advance) verified my own thoughts on how to prepare my little one for his first experience with a large group setting.

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