Change happens. It’s a part of life. Unfortunately, some people find change to be difficult. It’s particularly tricky for little ones. As a parent, there are many things you can do to help your toddler cope with change.
What Is Change to a Toddler?
For a toddler, change is anything that’s different from their normal routine. Children crave structure. They want to know what to expect and when to expect it. This is why a visual schedule is so helpful when managing a toddler’s day.
As a parent, you’ve probably created some structure to your child’s life without even realizing it. Maybe you eat at the same time, go to the same places regularly, and your child’s bedtime and naptimes are structured.
Minor changes, like eliminating a nap, can be navigated without too much difficulty because you have established such a predictable routine for them. However, significant changes like moving, divorce, daycare or a new sibling can throw your toddler’s little world into a whirlwind. This can be a very confusing time for them.
1. Talk to them
Whether it’s a small change or a big one, you can help your toddler manage change by telling them what to expect. Talk to them in a language they will understand. For young toddlers, it’s direct and straightforward. For example, if you’re eliminating a nap from their daytime routine, then you can let them know that they’re growing up and only have to take one nap a day now. Tell them when the new rest is going to occur and then celebrate their success.
If it’s a significant change like a move or a new sibling, take time to prepare them well in advance. This gives them plenty of time to absorb and accept the information. It also gives them time to ask questions.
2. Help Them Learn to be Flexible
Sometimes change happens spontaneously. For example, you were going to go to the park, but it’s raining. Some children feel tremendous disappointment even with the smallest changes. Explain that you understand their frustration and help them find something else to do that’s fun. It’s ok to teach them the word flexible. Tell them it means that sometimes plans change and it’s ok. We will do something else instead.
3. Monitor Your Emotions
You can also help your toddler cope with change by helping them to navigate and manage change by being calm about change themselves. Your mindset as it relates to the change is noticeable to your toddler. They know if you’re stressed or upset even if you don’t express those emotions.
Try to do more than put on a good front if you’re anxious or upset about a change. Look for the silver lining and focus on the positive aspects of change. Your child will absorb that positive mindset and have a better attitude about the change.
4. Get them talking
Encourage your child to discuss their feelings about change. Happy, sad, frustrated, scared – whatever emotion your child is feeling, make them feel safe enough to discuss their feelings. You might ask how they’re feeling to get them talking.
5. Expect Some Regression with their Behavior or Habits
Some toddlers can handle change in stride, it’s part of their personalities. But for most toddlers, change is just too much to deal with, and they may revert back to unwanted behaviors or habits. Stick to the rules and expectations, but give them a little grace. Remember to validate their feelings while restating your expectations.
6. Read to Them
Books are very powerful in helping young children understand their feelings. Here is an excellent resource for books on different kinds of change.
Change is a part of life. By helping your child learn to manage it at a young age, they’ll have a much happier and successful adulthood. These practical tips with help you help your toddler cope with change.