Q. We are moving and will be switching childcare centers. How can we help our 18-month-old son say goodbye to his current teacher (someone he adores) and transition to the new center?
A. Transitions can be hard for young children, especially toddlers who are, by nature, not fond of change. Being sensitive to the fact that this will be difficult for him, especially because he will also be dealing with the house move, is the most important first step.
Toddlers don't have a firm grasp on time, so don't start talking about the change in childcare until a week or two before the change will take place. Talking about the center change too far in advance may just create more anxiety. In addition, while 18-month-olds do understand a lot, and certainly understand more than they can actually say, they can't begin to fully comprehend complex ideas such as making this kind of social transition by words alone.
Here are some ways to help him accept the change:
1. Ask your child's current teacher to write some brief notes about your son to share with his new caregiver. Some important issues to cover would be: how he handles transitions (does she do anything special to help with this?); what his routines are for naptimes and mealtimes; how to comfort him; and what his favorite toys, books, and activities are. Sharing this information with your son's new caregiver helps to ensure some consistency in his life during a period of great changes and can ease the transition into a new childcare setting.
2. Read books with him about making changes. Hearing about the similar experiences of others can be a powerful way for young children to make sense of their own situation and may help them feel less alone.
3. Create ways to help your child remember and hold on to the old center in his mind. Take photos of the teacher, the room, the playground, his friends, his favorite toys, and create a memory book for him to look at.