Check out any parenting book, blog, or brochure, and chances are it will tell you the importance of establishing routines for kids. Routines provide young children with security and comfort in their surroundings, and this positively affects behavior and attitude. Let's be honest, routines and consistency are comforting elements at any age, but sometimes life tosses out a different agenda. A new little league team, a night away from home, the first day of school, holidays, etc. can all bring about anxiousness and uncertainty which can manifest in poor behavior or the dreaded meltdown. Helping our little ones cope with new experiences and changes will help restore their comfort levels and have everyone breathing a little easier.
So where do you start? Slide on the Superman sneakers, and put yourself in their shoes. New experiences are often accompanied by an uncertainty of the unknown. I always feel better about trying something new if I have an idea of what to expect, and as adults, we can typically call upon a cache of other ventures that are relatable. Youngsters haven't yet gathered such a wealth of experiences for reference. Older kids and adults can "phone a friend" or do a little research to get a good idea of what's to come. A preschooler wouldn't even know what questions to ask. We are their window to the world of the great unknown, and we need to make sure our kids get a clear first glimpse. Even though they might not like the view (Hello, flu shot season…), the unknown component won't be so overwhelming.
Talk to your kids about what to expect with something new and help them see how a previous experience is relatable. If they're starting ballet class, remind them of how it was at their first soccer practice; all the nerves and concerns were out the window once they made a friend and hit the field. If you're heading to a holiday party, have them share what they remember from a family gathering or friend's birthday, and talk about what may be the same or different at this event. Keep in mind that our initial thoughts about new situations may not match theirs. While you're wondering if you're overdressed, he's wondering if there will be dessert or loud noises (Okay- I'm wondering about dessert too!). Sometimes there may not be much of a positive spin, like the pain of a flu shot, but you can talk about the importance of being healthy and the other pain-free methods they do on a daily basis (e.g., eating right and exercise). You can also remind them of the sticker they got last time and that the ouchie didn't last long at all. At the very least, we're removing a portion of the unexpected and helping our kids make connections. Psych Central shares some additional strategies to employ as we teach our kids to adapt to routine busters1 Curtailing catastrophic thinking and envisioning positive outcomes can make a big difference in how kids cope with change.
Sometimes we don't have the opportunity to do any frontloading before life changes the agenda though. While our daily routines build a comfort zone where our kids can flourish, we also need to build an adaptability for stepping out of the zone unexpectedly. One great way to ensure more positive reactions to changes in routine is to plan a few practice rounds with new experiences. The 10 Ways to Expand Your Child's Comfort Zone from 52 Brand New are a perfect starting point2 Make an effort to purposely break out of the same-old, same-old by trying a new food or planning a sleepover. As kids come to enjoy new experiences and learn to work through the feelings and emotions which can develop, they will start to build that background knowledge for dealing with the unexpected on their own.
If you're hoping to foster a go-with-the-flow attitude in your preschooler, you've got to help build confidence and comfort within their routine surroundings. Once a comfort zone base is established, we can talk about new experiences and build background knowledge for whatever they may encounter. Knowing there's a predictable environment awaiting them after they try something new can be just the assurance they need to take that first step. With thoughts of their princess pajamas and favorite blankie at home, they may just have a little more confidence to dip their toes in the water or grab a photo with that bearded man in red at the mall!
Backpack Bonus: Ideas to tuck away for another day.
Stuck inside? Try a game of Indoor Counting Croquet or another fun movement activity from Toddler Approved.
Additional Resources & Works Cited
1. PsychCentral, Teaching Children How to Adapt
2. 52BrandNew, 10 Ways to Expand Your Child's Comfort Zone