Preparing your toddler for big changes

One of the most common tips many new parents get is to set up their children’s lives so that they follow routines, and have a certain amount of predictability, but life has a habit of getting in the way of even the strongest routines for and then. Change is inevitable, but sometimes the change is minor, even if it feels like a big deal at the time, like the shift from a crib to a big kid bed. Other changes, on the other hand, are major, and can have a big impact on little feelings. Whether it’s moving to a new home, starting daycare, or something more extreme, there are a few common ways of handling big changes that can help to ease the transition.

Be prepared

For those changes that come with warning, it’s generally helpful to do your homework and start to work on the transition early, for a more gentle change. If your family is moving to a new area, read up on the location, and learn about child-friendly spots in town before making the leap. If it’s possible to spend a little time there before you move for good, it can help to make sure that the place she is moving to isn’t totally unfamiliar. And if she happens to find a particular aspect of the new location that she likes early on, it can be a great thing to focus on. Baby is much more likely to react well to the new neighborhood if she really loves going to the great park down the road.

If she is about to start daycare, this might look like making sure to have many conversations about what that might be like so that on the first day, she knows what to expect. If you can, it can be helpful to go in to visit the center with Baby for a little while in the days before she starts, so that both the space and the caregivers at the center are a little more familiar, and so that she can start to get to know them with the chance to retreat to the safety of being with you, or another familiar parent or caregiver. Another way to help the transition into childcare run a little more smoothly is to let your toddler’s teacher in on as much information as you can think to offer about how she might react or what she might find comforting.

Often, big changes for Baby come on the heels of big changes for the adults in her life, such as a job change or another major life event. While doing extra research is certainly an added step during a potentially stressful time, taking extra steps to help Baby feel at ease can help the whole process run more smoothly for all involved.

Get excited

Some changes may seem exciting to you, but significantly less fun to Baby. A change that will disrupt her routine, like the addition of a new sibling, is likely to give her some mixed feelings, even if it’s something you’ve been working towards, and are excited to see happen. The good news is that many changes like this come with significant warning, and plenty of opportunity to get her excited about it. Reading books about becoming an older sibling, or moving to a new home, gives her a framework to use when she thinks about these changes. Telling her what a great helper she will be, and keeping the conversation positive, helps to frame the change in a way that she may even be able to start to look forward to it.

Encourage emotions

While certain changes are positive and predictable, others can flat out hurt. Ideally, Baby won’t have to deal with any major heartache at such a young age, but life can be unfair at times. Having to explain the death of friend, relative, or pet to a child is something every parent dreads, and the best approach is to be there for her, and to support her in her emotional response, in whatever form that ends up taking. Listen, comfort, and help her remember in a way that is age appropriate. The grief surrounding a profound loss can be expressed in a multitude of ways, but encouraging these emotions can help her cope.

In general, when life changes happen, giving Baby plenty of notice when whenever you have the chance to can help ease the blow for her. Keep your conversations honest but upbeat to minimize her anxiety about the coming change, and remember that any change takes adjusting to, but with time and a little TLC, your little one will adjust and even thrive in her new routine.

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