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One important role a childminder or other early years practitioner, performs is to support children through transition periods in their life. There are many transitions a child may go through. For example, starting at a new childminder’s, moving house, the birth of a sibling or starting school.
All transitions have an effect on children. It is useful to share information with parents about what the potential effects can be so that they are not too alarmed if any of the following happen:
The body’s immune system is affected by stress which might mean, that a child catches illnesses more easily in the first weeks of starting with their childminder. They may have more disturbed sleep or not want to go to bed and may become fussier with their eating habits. (I know that children starting at my setting often eat more when they are happily settled than they do at the start of their placement when everything is new and strange.)
Children may not be able to regulate their emotions as well as normal during periods of transition. They may be more tearful or angry than normal and will require extra support from an understanding adult. Some children may withdraw, becoming quieter and they may become upset more easily than normal. Children may regress as they work out changes in their life. Some may start having toileting accidents or show undesirable behaviour such as hitting other children. Their speech may seem to regress as they may talk in a more babyish style, or they may become more clingy and want to spend more time with the parent or the practitioner.
Long-term effects of not supporting children with transitions
It is important to support children as much as possible through transition points in their life as there can be long term effects if not getting it right. A child’s self-confidence and trust in adults can be badly knocked, meaning that they are less well able to cope with future challenges, underachieve in school, struggle making friends or form relationships later in life, develop anger, leading to unwanted behaviour, or, later in life depression, anxiety and self-harm.
How to support children starting in your setting
Starting at their new childminders is a major event in a child’s life. It will often be the first time they have been away from home for any considerable period of time and may be the first time they have had to properly interact with other children and adults other than their parents. This is especially true for children who have been isolating due to Covid related issues.
Starting at a new childminder’s should, wherever possible, not be a sudden event. This gives the childminder time to prepare both the child and the parents for this change. A child may have mixed emotions about starting at a childminders, excitement and anticipation combined with anxiety about the change. Younger children and babies may not understand what is going on but will react to the separation of their primary attachment figure. The child may be very quiet and withdrawn at first and may not eat well for the first few days. The transition to staring in a new setting is a long one and the process does not begin and end on the child’s first day at the setting.
Ways to help children and parents with the process of starting with a new childminder
Meet the parents to gather information on the child, their likes, dislikes, routines at home, medical requirements (if any) religion, food likes, allergies, their stage of development at home, etc. Parents can be given ‘all about me’ forms to complete but do this together if possible as I find that at least initially parents feel more confident and supported if you go through this information in person.
- Acknowledge that both the child and the parents need to settle into this new routine and that it takes different amounts of time depending on each child/family. Some children may settle in very quickly, others may take more time. The younger the child the longer it may take them to settle.
- Give the parents pictures and basic information about the childminder and her family so the child is already familiar with some of the faces they may encounter.
- Ask for the parents to supply photos of the child’s family for the childminder to make a ‘family book’ with so they child always has pictures of their family that they can look at and talk to the childminder about. For younger children the childminder can make these into lift the flap ‘peekabo’ books to encourage an understanding of object permanence.
- Encourage parents to provide a comfort object if the child needs it for example a soft toy or a scarf belonging to Mummy which has a scent familiar to the child that the childminder can wear when holding the child.
- Encourage the parents to use settling in sessions, the first of which where the parent can stay and then in subsequent sessions gradually spends less time staying with the child.
- Where practical and safe to do so arrange a visit to the child’s home before they start. This way the child can first meet the new practitioner in an environment that is safe and familiar to them.
- Be available for the parent(s), especially in the first few days (as the parent may be feeling more anxious than the child which the child will then pick up on, resulting in the child feeling anxious too and less likely to settle.) The parent may be put at ease with lots of texts to let them know how the child is doing, or photos of what the child is up to.
- Make time to talk to the parent at drop off and pick up to facilitate the development of good and trusting relationships as well as to exchange any useful day to day information.
- Be mindful and respectful of the child’s feelings. At first they may want to just cuddle you rather than joining in with any activities. Take time with older, verbal children for them to be able to talk about their feelings.
How childminders can help with ALL transitions:
- Have a good understanding of child development and the importance and role of attachment.
- Give older child time to talk about the transition and their feelings around it. However let the children take the lead in this and do not force them to talk if they do not want to. Support children by helping them understand and label their emotions. Children will often want to spend more time with you at times of transition.
- Share information! Work with parents to agreed ways of supporting both the child and the parent. For children starting in your setting ‘All about me’ forms can be really useful and for children leaving to join a bigger setting or to start school sharing ‘transition forms’ is a helpful way of making the transition as smooth as possible.
- Use resources such as books, dolls, social stories and role play toys to help the child explore the situation and their feelings towards it. This can prompt children to ask questions and talk about the events they are experiencing/will experience.
- Children with additional needs may need more support with transitions. For example non-verbal children may benefit from visual prompt cards to facilitate communication or a child with a hearing impairment may need any new vocabulary they are introduced to supported with the correct Makaton or BSL signs, especially those concerning feelings. Children with SEND may take longer to adapt to periods of change but as each child is different it is important to know your child and their needs so that you can best support them.
What about you?
Finally I want to mention possibly the most important person in the process – you! Transitions do not just affect the child and their parents; they will have an effect on you too.
It can be nerve wracking getting to know a new child and family and heart-breaking to say goodbye to a child leaving to start school. Be kind to yourself. Do not plan any big events or complicated activities when a new child is starting. Make sure you get plenty of sleep and make sure you have a healthy sandwich prepared the night before so that you have something to eat at lunch if things get hectic. Acknowledging the fact that this is a time of change for you too will hopefully make for a happier and smoother transition time for everyone.
You may find the following products helpful:
Share information to help support smooth transitions
Super Summative Assessment and Gap Tracker Kit £15
This kit contains all the tools you need to sum up a child’s development and achievements, right from when a child starts with you, all the way until they leave to go to nursery or school. From ‘All about Me’ forms, starting points, transition and report templates as well as sample reports, tips and of course a gap tracker for when you need it.
Build professional relationships with parents
Partnership with Partnership with Parents Pack
An essential tool to help you build and develop your partnership with parents. From help advertising and attracting new families, through to daily communication and letter templates to send to help deal with tricky situations in a professional manner, this pack has everything you need.