In our first episode, James discusses how you can support your child with the small and big changes (or transitions) that happen to them every day, and describes the importance of preparing for those moments.
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Fay – Welcome to the Bright Horizons Early Years podcast. I'm Fay Banks and today I'm joined by James Butler, our Early Childhood Specialist Trainer. Hi, James, welcome to the podcast.
James – Hello Fay, nice to see everyone.
Fay – Nice to see you too. So can you tell us a bit about what you do at Bright Horizons?
James – Of course. So as you said, I'm the Early Childhood Specialist Trainer, and my role at Bright Horizons is basically to provide Early Childhood training for everyone across our organisation who works with children, from our Early Childhood Director to everyone working within our nurseries. And my job essentially is to give everybody the tools that they need to provide the best possible education and care to every child that we serve with our service.
Fay – So in your role, then, you get to work with people from all across the business?
James – Oh, yes.
Fay – So what's the topic that you're going to tell us a bit about today?
James – Well, I wanted to talk about something that's very important to me, and it's transitions - that's what I'm going to be talking about today.
Fay – So obviously, I've heard the word before, but what do we mean when we talk about transitions in terms of the early years?
James – Well, in sort of the broadest sense of the term, a transition is a change from one state to another. So from liquid water to ice, for example, from going indoors to being outside. And that's what we mean by a transition. But in a very definite sense, for human beings, we go through transitions all the way throughout our life.
So a transition like starting school, starting a new job; all those transitions that happen to us. And we have two different types of transitions - far more, but in the most basic sense - we have micro transitions and we have macro transitions. So our micro transitions are the very small transitions that we have throughout our day. So, eating to drinking. To going from one room to another, from being to our computer to going to the toilet. There's very micro transitions that we're very used to.
But there's also macro transitions - very big transitions that happen in our life. Starting school, starting a new job, going to a new workplace for the first time, for example. Very big transition of returning to work after working from home for a very long period of time.
These very big macro transitions that affect our lives. And all those anxieties that we have for those very big transitions that I've talked about are the same anxieties that children face when they have very big transitions in their life.
Fay – I can well imagine because it's difficult enough for adults going through a macro transition. So for a child, everything is new. Nothing is familiar. Can you tell us a bit about how a child might respond to a macro transition?
James – Yes, and that's quite a surprisingly complex question, really, because obviously children are individuals, so we can't say how every child would respond to different transitions. Some children will take even very small micro transitions in their stride. Some children might take those very small transitions, quite difficult, might find them quite challenging. And that's where we start to see children potentially getting quite upset by these very small transitions. Those macro transitions, these very big transitions, on the other hand, can be quite anxiety-inducing for a lot of children and indeed parents and carers. So we need to be very careful about how we manage those transitions.
And I think one thing I'd like to say here in particular is that if your child has a special educational need or disability, some transitions can be very difficult and need to be managed very carefully.
Fay – Yes, and I suppose it comes down to the parent or carer of a child, or the key worker in fact, knowing that particular child really well, knowing what they might find difficult and where they could do with some extra support.
James – Yeah, essentially, and you know for a lot of our parents and carers who'll be listening today, they might be encountering these transitions for the first time in their child's life. So any support that we can give in terms of helping them prepare for those transitions, that's what we're here for.
Fay – Absolutely. So in our nurseries then, what are some of the things that we do to help children with new challenges or new changes in their lives?
James – Well, there's a lot of things that we do in our nurseries to support with transitions. And I think it's very important that, as I say, every child is an individual and responds to transitions in different ways. So all of this support will be individually tailored by the nursery manager/deputy manager and your child's key person in the setting. But the kind of things that we do for example, for those micro transitions, what we want to do is we want to build children's resilience to that throughout the day.
So we're going to be doing lots of talking about what transitions are coming up - "Oh! It's nearly time for our mealtime, it's nearly time for our lunchtime," so children are prepared that there's a transition coming, they know that those micro transitions are coming up. We'll do lots of reassurance so we have our... routines are quite fixed in place. Children know what's coming from moment to moment and in each of those days.
You've got that constant reassurance from the key person and those adults that they're used to being with every single day, who are going to give them lots of really strong love and care to prepare them for those transitions that are happening throughout their day. And then in terms of those really big macro transitions, we'll do lots of talk around it.
So for our older children who might be transitioning into school, for example, that very big macro transition that's coming up in our preschoolers' as lives, we'll do lots of talk about school, we'll share books about school environments, but it's going to be very individualised and very careful. If the nursery is right next to the school that your child is going to, there's going to be lots of really good familiarity going on, they can see the building for example.
Whereas if you're travelling quite far away for that school, there's going to be more work that goes on in terms of potential visits that the parent might take their child on, in unpacking that and talking about it. The nursery might set up some kind of role play environment for children to play schools and play the kind of things that they think they're going to be encountering. So lots of things that really sort of support children through those micro and those macro transitions.
Fay – It sounds brilliant, all the things that we can do. And it seems to me that one of the biggest things really is helping a child gain that familiarity with something, even if they've not yet truly experienced it.
James – Yes and I think one of the things to do is to think about if you are starting a new job and your first day at that workplace; what are the kind of things that you would want to know to help reduce your anxiety and your stress around that? You're going to want to know where you're working, where your desk is, where your workplace is - these kinds of really basic things that can give human beings quite a lot of anxiety.
We reduce that through familiarity and making sure people have that information before they go into it and children are no different. They want to know everything, of course they want to know everything, that's the way we are.
Fay – So it sounds like we're doing a lot of things in the nursery to help children with these transitions. What are the kind of things that parents can do at home to help their child if they're feeling a bit nervous or a bit apprehensive about an upcoming transition?
James – I think one of the main things to do is to really sort of build on that key relationship between the home and the setting. So if your child is transitioning into one of our Bright Horizons nurseries, for example, you're going to want to really build that home/nursery relationship. And that's something that we're very passionate about here at Bright Horizons, that we have that very strong relationship between the home and the setting, between the parent/carer and the key person who works with your child at the nursery.
So again, the kinds of transitions that we're talking about - coming to the nursery for the first time, for example - can be quite anxiety inducing for you as a parent or carer, and children pick up on those kinds of emotions. So by building that relationship, by you knowing that you're handing your child over to a caring and loving adult who's going to give them the same level of attention, love and care that you give them home, is going to help you reduce your anxiety and make that transition calmer.
And if you can make that transition as calm as possible for the child, the quicker that they can get into the lovely activities, the fantastic environments that are provided in each one of our nurseries.
The younger children, again, they're going to pick up on your emotions. So lots of care and lots of attention, lots of visits to get them familiar with the setting. They know the route there, for example, they go through those motions.
But then for our older children, we're going to be doing lots of talk around what's in the nursery. There’s other children, there’s toys, there's this, there's that, etc., etc., and building that kind of familiarity before they come and they know what's going to happen when they get there, they know who their Key Person is, they've done those visits.
Fay – So it's that building up the familiarity with it. But it also sounds like a key thing is making sure that you as a parent or carer also find out the information. You feel as ready and reassured as you can so that you can pass those feelings of calm down to your child.
James – And I think you made a really good point there about feeling 'ready'. That's what we're trying to get to is make sure that everyone feels ready for those transitions and ready when they come.
Fay – Or as ready as possible, I suppose! So how does preparing a child as much as possible benefit them in the long run?
James – Yep. So obviously if a child or an adult or any human being finds a transition is causing them distress or anxiety or stress, it makes them less engaged, less productive, for example. So if you started a new job at a workplace and you weren't told what your job was, you weren't given the tools you needed to do your job, for example, that would make you less effective and less productive in your work.
So it's the same for children. If they aren't prepared for the transition, if all that attention and care isn't given, they're going to find that transition less calming, they're going to struggle to engage when they come into that new environment. And that means that, you know, they can't engage with the activities and the environment that we have at Bright Horizons or whatever they're transitioning into.
So that preparation that goes into it and that that stuff that happens beforehand is so important in making sure that children are ready and able to go into something new, happy and engaged. And the truth is, you know, transitions can be very difficult. Some children find that quite stressful, we do have upset, etc., etc., but it's all about making sure that we build that resilience over time.
And every child is an individual, every parent and carer is an individual, and every situation is a one-off, is unique. So it's important that every transition for every child is considered on an individual basis. And that's one of the great things that our Key Person will do with you at the nursery is work on the transition, to make sure it works for you and your child.
Fay – Yeah. So it's about making sure a child is prepared and feels comfortable about a transition so that they can enjoy what comes with the change. The new experiences, making new friends, learning and generally just having fun.
James – Yeah, exactly.
Fay – Brilliant. Well, thank you so much, James, for coming along on the podcast today. It's been brilliant having you here.
James – Thank you very much for having me and I'm sure we'll get to do another one of these again soon.
Fay – Yep, I'm sure we will. And thank you so much to those of you listening at home, we look forward to seeing you on the next one.