Moving toddlers
December 28, 2011 3:59 PM   Subscribe

How can I prepare my toddler for, and ease the transition to, a whole bunch of changes?

Within a week, my two-year-old and I will be returning to our hometown 1000km away from the place we've been the last year. I've been the primary caregiver for the Little Miss since she was born, however she's very attached to her mama (as would be expected). However, mama is not coming with us. She's staying here for a month before joining us back home.

Additional complications:
- the house we're moving back to is a new and strange one
- once we get to hometown the Little Miss will be starting daycare for the first time.
- the cats (to whom she's very attached) are coming with mama

With three major changes in quick succession I'm not sure how best to prepare her, nor how best to ease her transition. We'll be skyping with mama regularly (daily, I expect), and there's the possibility that mama can visit for a couple of days ~10 days after we arrive. I'm torn as to whether this would be a good idea or not, however - is this likely to disturb her more?

I also plan on easing her into daycare, starting with a couple of days where she spends the morning there, with me, and then without, and then full days. Is this a viable plan, or is there a better way to approach this?

Finally, she'll get to reconnect with her grandparents, all of whom are very keen for doting-time, so there'll at least be that distraction.
posted by coriolisdave to Human Relations (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
She will react however the adults in her life expect her to react. If everyone is worried that she will freak out, then she is going to freak out.

Go into this with confidence (even if you have to fake it) that everything will be fun and easy. Talk to her about daycare as if it was the best party she has ever been invited to.

Make sure that she has her safety/transition things with her at all times. Blanket, special toy, I would at this point include a photo album with mommy and the cats in it. She must be allowed to bring the album to daycare.

You should not stay with her at daycare. If the teacher cannot calm her and provide her with a happy, enriching day then you should change teachers or even daycares. You staying with her will send her the message that daycare is scary and you have to protect her. Drop her off, tell her you will be back, walk away, drive around the block and cry. Call the daycare every 10 minutes to check on her if you must but do not stay there.

Children adjust to change quickly (most of the time). She will be clingier then usual for awhile but otherwise, so long as you are positive and cheerful about it all, she will be fine.

One quick note- In my years of teaching daycare I have noticed that certain children do not react well to change and some do not fit in a daycare environment at all. These difficulties generally go away by the time the child is school age. I did notice that the majority of these children had been born pre-mature. Just something you might want to be aware of. Best of luck to you!
posted by myselfasme at 4:13 PM on December 28, 2011 [15 favorites]

We have a little one, too, who has gone through a lot of changes lately, and not all of them have been in our control.

There are two things that you can do for her that will help her feel loved and secure, at least as much as is possible. First, children thrive on consistency and predictability (generally), as this gives them a sense of security. If you can carry over established routines to the new environment, this will be helpful. Also, explicitly give her permission to be a child. It is not overdoing to to have intentional times that you state what the roles are that will allow her to understand that she's safe. For example, you can say, "Hey, just so you know, you are the child, so it's your job to have fun. I'm the adult, so it's my job to take care of you and make sure that you are always safe. You don't have to worry about that at all." Children internalize love primarily by having their needs met within a context of safety and predictability. The extent that you and others close to her can do this will help mitigate the uncertainty brought about by the new circumstances.
posted by SpacemanStix at 4:21 PM on December 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

I would try and keep as many things as familiar as possible, favorite clothes, pajamas, toys, foods. I would keep her busy, lots of walks and exploring the new area (and be on the lookout for cats) but also makes sure she gets plenty of rest and naps (to prevent meltdowns). You might take her to daycare a few times so it's not completely unfamiliar and she can see all the kids having fun.

I'm an Aunt with an adorable nephew who does a thousand times better with me if we keep busy. He can't cry for mamma if he's having fun. So he brings a few of his toys with him when he comes over but we often go buy a new toy that he picks out. (He has a drawer at my house that he knows is where his stuff is.) We watch his favorite tv shows or he brings movies. We read a lot of books. We bake cookies (often ready bake). He has toddler chores.

She'll be fine if you are. Have a regular time for mom-Skype visits so that she knows when she'll get to talk to her mother, i.e. every morning before daycare or when she gets home or just before bed.
posted by shoesietart at 4:24 PM on December 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

myselfasme: "You should not stay with her at daycare. ... You staying with her will send her the message that daycare is scary and you have to protect her. Drop her off, tell her you will be back, walk away, "

Yes, a thousand times yes. Ask if you can visit the day care together for a little while before she officially starts, just so it's a familiar place. But if you assume she will do well, she probably will.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 4:24 PM on December 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

I did that sort of move with a 2 year old last year.

Protips -

* pay someone or do whatever you can to have house setup upon your arrival so you can focus on getting her adjusted. Order all her fave snacks online to be there upon arrival. Make sure cable/ipad/internet is set up for her shows.
* don't assume daycare will be fulldays from the start. Most daycares will ask you to stay the first few days. (And it may not work out at all. Don't bet on it yet.)
* Grandparent distraction may be more of a distraction than a benefit.
* stay on regular timezone and adjust slowly.
posted by k8t at 4:29 PM on December 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yeah, don't stay if you can avoid it - it makes things much harder later. My dad and I, when dropping off my brother, had to sneak out (if he saw us leaving there was chaos and misery) because this wasn't set up right from the start. Better to leave for a little while and come back well before the day is over (and leave together) than to stay the whole time.

Start doing things the way you plan to there, now, as much as possible - if you know things are just going to be radically different for logistical reasons (like she'll have to sleep in a new bed because your current place came furnished or the furniture won't come for a month or whatever,) make something up to ease the transition. Maybe get a new set of plastic dishes for her that are "new house dishes" that get to come with you on the initial trip, or start a new habit of reading together before bed. If you're going to be Skyping with mom right after dinner when you get there, have mom do something like share a funny joke every night after dinner now so the pattern can keep going.

And be cheerful and upbeat. Little kids have relatively short attention spans and can be redirected, but only if you're totally committed to the redirection. Make sure to take care of yourself - have your coffee or chocolate or evening run or iPad or whatever you use to comfort yourself available. Definitely take advantage of the grandparents to get some alone time - taking care of a toddler 24/7 is not like taking care of her 14 waking hours a day.

If you're excited about the move (or can fake it) and she's into stories of this sort, the Berenstain Bears have one. They have one about grandparents, too, if she's never stayed with them by herself.
posted by SMPA at 4:42 PM on December 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

YMMV, but my family made a move when I was 4-5 years old, with one parent moving before the other, and I don't remember being traumatized. I realize 4-5 is older than 2-3, but still - I think young children are more interested in seeing familiar faces (and gauging their reactions to the surroundings) than being so worried about where they are. Something weird and different is happening to them all the time. You could go to a new grocery store for an hour and things would be all weird and different.
posted by randomkeystrike at 4:46 PM on December 28, 2011

Toddler Murrey went through some big changes...started daycare and got a part time live in sitter right after he turned 2. Nothing as big as a move. He seemed fine until Papa Murrey left for business for two business trips over two weeks (with two days home in between).

Our sweet, easy-going cherub turned into a tantrum throwing little dude who could barely be appeased, let alone distracted. Me and the sitter were shocked by his previously unseen outbursts and attitude. For us, Skype with dad didn't help at all, but the visit from dad in between trips did. I hate to admit it, but I let him watch more movies in that 2 weeks than the two years prior to that combined. Doing a lot of fun things during the day also helped.

Toddler Murrey kept it up until about 3 days after Papa Murrey got back from his trips and the new routine settled in. You may have the same thing happen and it is okay. Just give a lot of hugs and love, have your wife visit if she can (if for no other reason than to give you a break if your daughter turns all Mini Mussolini on you too). And know that once things settle down into a routine again, your little girl will go back to her sweet self.
posted by murrey at 4:51 PM on December 28, 2011

I think, based on my daughter, that having Mama (and cats) gone is going to be the hardest part. We moved when my daughter was almost two, had her crib set up in her room when we got there, and she was just fine. (I did read her books about moving before hand and described what we were doing, as we packed up the house.) She was basically just excited and happy about having a new house. No fears or worries.

Dropping her off at childcare, on the other hand, not so easy. Again, the more you can make sure she understands what's happening, whether through talking about it or reading some books, the better she will hopefully do.

We do always have a hard time when Daddy is travelling though -- being a temporarily single parent is difficult. Try to find some things to make it easier on yourself, too.
posted by Margalo Epps at 6:42 PM on December 28, 2011

You'd be surprised at how well a little one will adapt. My daughter is now four and she still surprises me in regards to changing situations.

I had her start preschool at a couple of months after two. We went to the school together and met the assistant principals. Shortly after, I would say two weeks, my sister took her to school with my daughter's father. She went into the school and that all she wrote. She was so excited to go in. She smiled and waved goodbye and never even looked back. When I went to pick her up, I had to go into the classroom to get her! She had so much fun with other little ones that she forgot who mommy was! Try not to stay at the school. It's much easier for them to adjust and the teachers to acclimate them if you drop her off.

My daughter sees her father in spans of a few days a week. He travels and our lives have become more and more separated in the recent months. She seems perfectly adjusted. As myselfasme mentioned, they take their cues from you. If you're panicked, they are panicked. If you're happy, they're happy. Just give her the attention that she would have if the three of you were together. If they get what they need, they're comfortable.

She might like phone calls more than Skype. My daughter didn't get the concept of my mother being in a faraway place when she goes on vacation and we Skype. My daughter would cry that my mother didn't come into the room and hug her when my mother said goodbye. Now she's older, she gets it, but at two, it was a little confusing.

The month will go by quick and you'll all be together before you know it!
posted by Yellow at 6:45 PM on December 28, 2011

Keep the daily routine as much the same as possible as far as bedtimes, mealtimes, outdoor exercise, etc. If she can rely on those events being predictable, the rest of it should be manageable. Most kids love new adventures, so presenting things as new and fun can help. If she gets emotional, acknowledge feelings - you don't have to offer a fix, but I've actually pulled my kids out of tantrums by saying "you're really angry/sad about [situation], aren't you?" Knowing someone understands their emotions can make them feel better without anything in the scenario actually changing.

And YES - have mom visit. It might be hard when she leaves, but those few days when you're together will be more than worth it.

When my husband travels I usually take the opportunity to do extra things with the kids. Even a weeknight trip to the library, or an outing to the food coop, can be enough to cheer everyone up. When my son was about 2.5/3 yrs old my husband did a LOT of work travel. I took the monthly calendar off the wall and drew little pictures on it -- an airplane on the day dad was leaving, smiley face for the day he was due home, etc. We checked the calendar every morning to see if it was "daddy home day" yet and talked about the day's schedule if it wasn't. Lots of reassurance that I would pick him up from day care, we'd have dinner, call and talk to Daddy, bedtime, etc. If we were planning to do something in the evening, I'd put it on the calendar. Gave us both something to look forward to.

Focus on the fun stuff, reassure her, stick to the schedule so she can rely on food/naptimes/play time, and she'll handle everything with flying colors. A month isn't all that long (though it'll feel like FOREVER while you're in the middle of it). :)
posted by hms71 at 6:46 PM on December 28, 2011

We moved overseas with our eldest when he was about 2. The first couple of days in our new home with new people, he was very clingy. And then he adjusted.

More recently, my wife went to Japan for a couple of weeks, leaving me with the kids (by this time we had a second child who was also about 2 at the time). The first day was a little sad, but he got over it quickly. He was also clingy.

The funny thing was, he didn't recognize my wife/his mother when she returned, and turned to me for reassurance. Suddenly at bedtime (we co-sleep) he remembered.

My only advice is to wait a few days before starting daycare.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:14 PM on December 28, 2011

We just bought this cool and inexpensive kiddie photo album for our little one. I think it would be perfect for pics of mama and kitties.
posted by jbenben at 8:25 PM on December 28, 2011

Kids that age are so resilient. We've put our now 3 yr old through some turmoil and we've learned to expect him to handle it okay but are always quick to offer grace, too. Dealing with toddlers is tough because they are so limited in their self-expression and their feelings often come out LOUDLY or through their bodily functions, primarily the potty ones and sleep. So we take much of what our son does when we're on the road with a grain of salt. Yeah, he's going to be a grump sometimes when he might not otherwise and that's okay. He may need to co-sleep for a bit. He may become attached to a particular toy or book and we may have to overnight ourselves a new copy because he threw up all over it.

Then again, they desperately need structure. It's reassuring when their world is topsy turvy. Do your best to fall into daily routines quickly. It's tempting to want to just do fun stuff to fill the time but since this is the place you'll be living, you want her to feel at home as soon as possible.

Shoot, there was more but my still-adjusting-from-the-last-turmoil child is pulling on my shirt...
posted by wallaby at 5:32 AM on December 29, 2011

Something that has always helped with my son is taking the time in the morning to let him know sort of a general schedule for the day, what to expect. Just a basic rundown of the schedule for the day; if things changed, I would tell him as soon as I could, so he could know what was happening. And I'd *tell* him stuff like, "and you're going to have so much fun!" - not in a YOU MUST HAVE FUN way, but in an enthusiastic, Oh man, this is going to be /great/ way-- to build up positive expectations.
posted by lemniskate at 5:50 AM on December 29, 2011

Response by poster: Okay, so we've moved. And mama is due to rejoin us in a week, so I can give a summary now - it's gone pretty well. She took to daycare like a duck to water - confused carers were sure, despite my protestations, that she must have been in care previously. Day one I dropped her off and stayed for an hour or so to observe - she abandoned me immediately, as she has every day since, and had to be bribed to come home.

Mama visited for a couple of days a week or so after we arrived, and that was a nice surprise for kiddo. Unfortunately, she didn't really like mama leaving - nothing overwrought at the time, but she slept badly the next few days and acted-out a fair bit. Including violent screaming hitting tantrums (in the shower!). Hooray for violent soap-covered children :/

The cats still aren't here and she's missing them a fair bit as expected. However, we managed to visit friends with a usefully-friendly cat to scratch that itch (for both her AND me) so I think we'll survive.

Thanks for the tips, folks.
posted by coriolisdave at 10:55 PM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

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