The Other Transition Time

Hedda SharapanIn early childhood we work hard to help families deal with the transition at the beginning of the day, but it recently occurred to me that there’s another transition time that needs just as much help from us.

A few weeks ago I was at a child care center at the end of the day, and my heart went out to the parents – and their children. So many parents came in looking like they had a tough day at work, but the minute they spotted their children, their eyes lit up. Most of them called out a warm hello, but then followed with an urgent plea, “Come on, let’s get your coat on and go home.” Then I saw parents looking discouraged, impatient and even upset when their child ignored them, started to cry or went into a tantrum. What a tough thing for parents to deal with at the end of the day. At times like that I want to tell them one of Fred Rogers’ messages: “Your child is glad to see you at the end of the day, even though it may not look like it.”

Fred also realized how important transitions are, and he built them into many parts of his Neighborhood program. From the pan across the opening model to the time he came in the door and then put on his sweater, he was helping children settle in for their time with him. All through the program he talked them through the transitions, helping them know what’s next and connecting one experience to the next. And he used visual transitions like the model Neighborhood to visit other places, and the Trolley to take us in and out of Make-Believe.

His transition at the end of his “television visit” was as carefully planned as the beginning. You could always tell the end of the program was coming because he signaled it when he started to sing “It’s Such a Good Feeling” and changed from his sneakers into his shoes and his sweater into his jacket. He also left you anticipating being together the next time.

This video is a great example of how Fred intentionally prepared children for the end of his “television visit.”

Here are some ways teachers have helped parents with the transition from child care to home at the end of the day:

A few kind words

Your kindness and empathy can mean so much. Parents are exhausted, and they still have a full evening ahead. If you can tell them about something their child has said or learned or managed that day, you’ll help parents leave with a good feeling about their child – and their parenting. (And, as I wrote in one of the past newsletters, sometimes and with some parents, it’s better not to talk about a problem that arose in the day.) Keep in mind anything you can do to strengthen a parent will help strengthen a child.

A transition object

Just as some children bring a transition object from home into child care, I’ve seen teachers offer a transition object from child care, like a book, to take home. Of course that book might not be back on your shelf a while, but I’ve seen a parent’s grateful look when the teacher handed over a book that helped a child be more willing to leave. By loaning a book, you might also be adding extra encouragement for parents to read with their child in the evening.

A bit of transition time

We all know parents are in a hurry to get home. But they may find that just a few minutes of transition time can save them from much longer struggling time. When you think about it, parents arrive while their children are engaged in an activity. Imagine being pulled away in the midst of something you’re doing. Some teachers make a special point of helping parents feel they’re welcome to stay there a bit. Sometimes that little bit of time to finish a puzzle or a picture is all that it takes to help children be more willing to leave. Limits can help here, too, like when a parent says, “We’ll leave right after you finish that puzzle.”

A way to play about transitions

Playing about what grownups do, like going off to work, is natural for children, and connecting it with reunions can add another meaningful element. Some teachers encourage children to pretend they are parents going to work and then coming back to their babies (dolls or stuffed animals) in the doll corner. They offer simple props like purses, briefcases and coats, and they set up an “office” with keyboards, phones, pens and paper. That kind of pretending can give children a chance to work on the feelings they may have about separation, so the end of the day transitions aren’t quite as hard for them.

If you think of it this way, parents are depending on a partnership with you, and this time of day is a transition from you to them…just as the morning was a transition from parents to you. It’s another time that reminds you that you’re not just there for the children. You’re there for the parents, too. And we’re glad to be partners with you to help support you in the important work you do – from the first hello in the morning to the last goodbye of the day.

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