"Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home." - C. S. Lewis

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

When They Just Don't Mix: Helping Toddlers Welcome New Friends

We were as ready as we could be. At least we thought so.

Our summer session kicked off last Monday with four new friends joining us as well as a semi-new teacher (she is familiar with our class but this was her first day back as "one of us"). We had labels ready. We assured parents as they dropped off their little ones with us for the first time. We showed our new friends the play kitchen, the train table, and the bus in the parking lot outside our window.
All four of our new ones were much calmer than we expected. Our director commented at breakfast that no one was crying. We couldn't believe how easy it was going! It was like we had prepared for a hurricane only to have a gentle rain shower.

And then there was "Aiden" (all names changed). Aiden has been with us every day for several months now. He knows our routine.  He knows us.  He knows where to find his favorite books.  But he didn't know our new teacher, our four new friends, or where to find his other friends who moved up. We had caught him off guard, and he began to do the same to us.

Aiden hit. Aiden bit. Aiden threw a screaming fit. And hit again.

As the day went on I found myself annoyed with Aiden. We had so much going on and these new kids had so much to adjust to, and here Aiden was throwing another wrench into the day.  If only kids could have rough days when it's convenient for us, right?

But as the day went on, through others' input, I realized that Aiden had a lot of changes to navigate, too. We had made preparations for our new kids' adjustments, but not for Aiden's. We often hear about parents helping their young children adapt to life with a new sibling. And here Aiden and our other older toddlers just got several new "siblings" without any real warning or preparation.  No wonder we had a Monday to remember.

For the rest of the week we tried a different approach. We looked for ways to show Aiden attention, reading books with him and taking him with us for special "jobs" outside of the classroom. When he was frustrated we responded quickly, asking him to use his words. Even if we couldn't help him right that minute, we acknowledged his emotions and let know he was heard. When a new child near Aiden started crying (again), we talked with Aiden as we responded to that child. "Why do you think Valerie's crying, Aiden? Is she sad? Does she need a hug?" We respond to the crying child, but we make sure Aiden realizes he is a high priority to us, too.

One morning, without prompting, Aiden picked up a toy train and handed it to one of our new friends. It's a start! He's still adjusting, and we continue to see some signs of aggression - though not as much as we did at first. We'll get there.
So next time, when today's newbies are this fall's veterans, we will have some ideas for how to welcome everyone in a way that is healthy for all of us.  It will still take time to adjust, but now we have some ideas for the process.

Thanks, Aiden.

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