Healthy and Secure Transitions: Scenerios
July 13th 2017
Parents often struggle during transitions - welcome to the club! Transitions require us to “Take Charge” of the child and the situation in a way that allows for the child to both feel protected and connected. When we miscue our child, the child will then often attempt to Take Charge. When they do this, it is usually messy and complicated - full of controlling behaviors or care-taking behaviors or out of control behaviors. Parents can end up become mean, distant or rigid. Or parents can end up being weak, intrusive or inconsistent. Staying in a place of Bigger, Stronger, Wiser and Kind while Taking Charge requires some prep work and follow through. Here are two examples of common transitions and possible ideas on how to navigate them while supporting secure attachment.
Situation #1: Childcare Drop Off
The Need: Being separated from you will be emotional for your child, so they will need to be met on the bottom half of the circle. At the same time, you must Take Charge to transition them in a way where they feel confident in their connection to you as you support them moving to the top half of the circle.
Your Child’s Perspective: While they do have fun at childcare, it is hard to be away from familiar people and places. Home is comfortable and known. Parents and siblings are predictable and your child loves and misses you!
If you are the type of parent who does well with independence and struggles with the bottom half of the circle: Create a ritual with your child that takes 3-5 minutes to complete at the drop off. Set up the ritual at home and practice it before you are leaving for childcare. Ask your child what they would like you to do at drop off. It might be a hug or it might be waiting for a few minutes while they get settled. Work together to settle on a plan that works for both of you. Make sure the ritual has some elements of physical contact that your child enjoys. Be willing to hang out for a few minutes and watch them, even if they transition quickly from you. Your child will want to see warmth and connection in your facial expressions and body language. Make sure to give them a quick wave and smile or blow them a kiss before you leave.
If you are the type of parent who does well with closeness but struggles with the top half of the circle: Create a ritual with your child that takes 2-3 minutes to complete at the drop off. Set up the ritual at home and practice it before you are leaving for childcare. Ask your child what they would like you to do at drop off. It might be a hug or it might be waiting for a few minutes while they get settled. Work together to settle on a plan that works for both of you. Be willing to be confident and matter of fact in your approach. First, we hang up the coat. Then we say hello to the teacher or choose a toy. Then we hug and high five (or whatever you decide on). Then the parent waves from the window outside the classroom and blows a kiss. No hesitancy. Just follow the plan! Your child will need to see a loving confidence from you.
Other Helpful Ideas: Having a transitional object can be very helpful for your child as they cope with the feelings brought on by being dropped off. The object could be a stuffed animal, a blanket or a picture of your family. On the way to childcare, talk about who will pick them up and remind them of their connection to you. For example, “remember, honey, today Daddy will pick you up after afternoon snack. Tonight we will get to read those new library books before bedtime!”
Situation #2: Bedtime
The Need: Your child will be on the bottom half of the circle and you need them to transition to the top of the circle. Your child will need clear boundaries, an established routine and their emotional cup will need to be filled to the tippy top.
Your Child’s Perspective: Both of you are exhausted. Your child needs you very much and you might be struggling to keep it together. Your child needs your time, patience and connection so they can move to a calm, quiet space that is ready for sleep.
If you are the type of parent who does well with independence and struggles with the bottom half of the circle: No matter the age of your child, try to hang out with them before bedtime. Spend time talking to them about their day and do something together that will promote closeness, such as reading together or playing a quiet game. Go sit on your teenager’s bed and ask them specific questions about what is going on in their lives. Play it casual but be present (don’t be on your phone). Children may want and need your help in getting ready for bed. Instead of requiring them to get ready on their own, stay near and help when they will let you. Give them a hug and kiss. Look them in the eye and tell them you love them.
If you are the type of parent who does well with closeness but struggles with the top half of the circle: Make a bedtime routine and stick to it. Your child or teen should have input on this routine but you need to make the final decisions because you are wise about what your child needs to be healthy and successful. Promote and support some independence as they get ready for bed. For example, have them get pajamas on while you clean up the kitchen. Read books on the couch and then go with them to tuck them in bed. Give them a kiss (or complete the routine you’ve decided on) and let them know you will come back in 3 (or 1 or 5) minutes to check on them. Set a timer and check on them when you said you would. If they are still awake, tell them you’ll come back again in another 5 minutes.
Other Helpful Ideas: Limiting screen time for 1-3 hours before bed will help your child’s brain calm down and start to release the chemicals needed to feel sleepy. Connecting time with baths, getting ready for bed, reading books and cuddling will fill their emotional cup and allow them to transition more easily to the independent activity of falling asleep on their own. The use of night lights, calming music or white noise machines can allow children to feel safer. Letting a child have some time to read or play quietly in their room just before bed and/or having quiet time during the day will help them feel comfortable in their room on their own.
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