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Managing Transitions With Grace and Humor
We always feel a step behind as parents. Just when you feel like you have it all figured out, something ch
anges: they drop a nap, start eating solids, start potty training, etc. Parenting is all about managing transitions. With just a little forethought, you can have a simple plan in place to make them easy for both you and your children.
I’ve always been someone who is comfortable with change. It’s monotony that always gets me – well, at least that was the case before I had children. Now I feel that my whole job is to maintain routines, structure, sameness. Those things are comforting and make a child feel safe.
I read a great business article a few years ago that said that the core of a manager’s job is to reinforce the standard of quality, gently but firmly, over and over, an approach they call “constant, gentle pressure.” The example was putting the salt shaker in the middle of the table at a restaurant. Substitute “children” here for “employees” or “customers,” and it all makes sense for a parent:
“[They] are always moving your saltshaker off center. That’s their job. It is the job of life. It’s the law of entropy! Until you understand that, you’re going to get pissed off every time someone moves the saltshaker off center. It is not your job to get upset. You just need to understand: That’s what they do. Your job is just to move the shaker back each time and let them know exactly what you stand for. Let them know what excellence looks like.”
This quote embodies a few of my most closely-held values: set your expectations based on what is likely, not some impossible ideal; model the behavior you want to see; and don’t be afraid to stand for quality and excellence.
Think through in advance how you will react
I will never forget some great advice I got from the staff pediatrician when we were in the hospital having our second daughter. “At some point, your older daughter will hit the baby,” he said. “Try to think through now how you will react to that when it happens.”
That was a revelation to me – we don’t have to just hope it all goes well and then react on the fly. We know what is likely to happen – the older child is naturally going to be thrown off by this new creature taking up all Mommy’s attention, and eventually she will take out her frustration by trying to hit the baby.
Over the next few months, we talked about it and came up with a few things to try. In the immediate, we would separate them and then try to give the older one some extra time with me while my husband looked after the baby. Sure enough, our theories were tested several times. But since we had already opened the discussion, we were not taken off-guard, and plus we had each other to bounce ideas off of and get support from.
Here’s my approach
Some transitions are developmental, like potty training, and some are external, like starting preschool or even daylight savings time. The most painful part of a transition is the unexpectedness of it all. If you can be mentally prepared for the most common bumps in the road, you’ll be more relaxed, and that will help your child to follow your example with grace and humor.
Here is my method for managing these transitions:
- Think through the most likely path in advance, including the most likely bumps in the road. For example, if you are going to start potty training, you can expect to have some accidents, back-sliding, and unexpected messes to deal with. Plan on what you will do when these things happen, because they will happen, and they will always be inconvenient. You might want to make yourself a little clean-up kit of rags, wipes and change of clothes, one for around the house and another one for the diaper bag.
- Talk amongst yourselves. Talk through it with your partner and agree upon the approach you want to take. This may be evolving, but at least you have a dialogue going and will not cause additional stress by inadvertently undermining each other.
- Talk about it with your child. Way in advance of the transition, start casually discussing what’s coming up with your child. Talk about what she can expect and what she is expected to do, very low-key and without exerting pressure. Talk about how she should handle her feelings as well. Drop all this in a little bit at a time, and paint a picture with your words of what it is going to be like to see, feel, and hear. For example, you can start by getting a potty book to read and talk about, and put the potty seat in the bathroom with no pressure to use it.
- Repeat, repeat, repeat. Keep talking about it when the opportunity comes up in everyday activities, like when you use the potty, when you have to change a diaper, when you see a big kid at the playground who isn’t wearing a diaper, etc. Again, no pressure here – you’re still just talking about it.
- Schedule it. Decide on a week or day that you will start making the change in earnest, and make it as convenient for yourself as possible. If you know you’ve both got a long weekend coming, you may want to pick that time to start the potty training in earnest.
- Get support. As much as possible see if you and your partner can manage to do this together, take turns, or otherwise share the load. It may also help to do it together with another family with kids the same age so you have support. I was posting constantly on my local mothers’ group web forum when we were going through potty training, and the encouragement and sympathy from the other moms was a huge help.
- Get excited. As the time gets closer to actually implementing the change, start talking about the transition with some enthusiasm and excitement (e.g., “Soon you will be using the potty instead of wearing diapers, just like in your book! Look at the new big-girl underpants I have for you!”)
- Make the transition. As you go through the process, reaffirm all that you have been discussing that is now quite familiar to both you and your child.
- Deal with any bumps in the road. There will be bumps – no amount of preparation can change that. The key here is in your attitude. You will be more of your best self if you have some notion of how you will handle problems and can see the road ahead.
- Celebrate! You did it! Make sure to give yourself and your child a reward for all the hard work you’ve been doing. Cookies and milk for everyone!