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Healthy and Secure Transitions: Parents, Children and the Environment

Moving from a place of following your child’s need to taking charge can be a tricky area for parents. Much of our own “stuff” can show up during this time. Perhaps we can edge toward controlling or mean behaviors under stress. Or maybe we get overwhelmed and give up easily. Or maybe we use ineffective strategies like bribing, threats or walking away from our child.

Knowing yourself and your struggles is key to making transitions more successful. Use the next transition with your child to gather information about yourself. Allow yourself to mentally stand back a little and watch how you interact with your child. Watch how they react back to you. Observe without judgment if you can.

If you find that you tend to be a little too distant, you may not adequately fill your child’s emotional cup. You may tend to rush through the transition and expect your child to “be fine”. Your child may respond by trying to please you and act like everything is okay, while inside they are feeling nervous, scared or anxious. Taking one extra minute for hugs or to play with them as they transition could make both of you feel better about the separation.

Perhaps you are a parent who has a hard time leaving your child. Maybe you feel guilty about having them in childcare or you lay in bed with them every night until they fall asleep. You may be giving mixed signals to your child that it isn’t okay for them to transition. Your lack of certainty and confidence translates to them and they may show it in clinginess or tantrums. Your child needs you to shorten the transition by letting them know what is going to happen and then follow through on it with strength and kindness.

Maybe you are the parent who drops the child off at the front door or tells your child to stop playing video games and get their homework done. You may see your child as self-sufficient. Unfortunately they learn that you might not be a resource and they will turn to other (unhealthy) things when they need help. It may be helpful to remember that your child needs you – and usually it is just for a short window of time. When you are with them as they transition, they learn that they can count on you and as they grow and learn, they will do more things independently!

Child Struggles

Your child could be struggling on his or her end for so many reasons! Your child may need extra tender loving connectedness during transition if they are young, or sick, or if there have been recent changes in your family. If your child has gone through something traumatic or if there was a rupture in the relationship before the transition (a rough morning, perhaps?), your child will need more patience and support from you at the transition.

Children with certain diagnoses such as anxiety or autism spectrum disorder will need structured and connected care at transitions. Different developmental ages also struggle with different aspects of transition.

If you are new to Circle of Security Parenting and you are trying new approaches, your child will need more time during transitions to change learn your new approach.

Environmental Issues

Perhaps the transition struggle has to do with the environment. If it’s at a childcare, school or with a babysitter, check in with the person who cares for your child. How does your child do once you leave? Does your child use the caregiver for comfort when they need it? How tuned is your caregiver with the emotional needs of children?

Parents should also be tuned into their instincts. Check your gut about the caregiver, school or childcare center… is this person/place trustworthy to take care of your child? Do they interact with your child in an interested, engaged way? Do they delight in your child? Do they allow support for exploration but remain present and available in the background if needs change? Has there been turn over with the people who care for your child?

Does the person, center or school follow a similar parenting approach to you? For example, if you do “Time Ins” but they believe children should simply obey authority figures, it could be confusing for your child. Many caregivers are open to new information and most childcare centers are required to attend trainings each year.

If the transition is out in public, has your child been given a few warnings of the impending change? It’s hard to leave a park, for example, and a 5-minute warning, a 2-minute warning and a choose-your-last-thing warning can be helpful. Call out pleasantly to your child to give them a heads-up of the transition, or even better, go play with them for the last few minutes so you can be right there to help them transition physically and emotionally out of the activity.

If the transition is at bedtime, have there been any changes? Is it staying light out later? Has the child been allowed to watch television soon before bed? Has the structure of bedtime been getting lax? Set up a bedtime routine and use the clock or a timer to help guide both of you through the steps.

Part three of this series will address scenarios of transition. For now, we will leave you with these wise words from “Raising A Secure Child”:

“A major “Rule” of the Circle of Security is, Whenever possible, follow your child’s need; when necessary, take charge. To figure out which is the best response at any moment, we need to Be-With the child and also remember that as parents we are bigger, stronger, wiser and always kind. We are parents first, not friends. Emotional discomfort can be managed when we take charge and help our children find a way through current struggles. Problems can be solved – together – with trust and encouragement from us.”