Toddlers Parting Ways with Their Very First Friends
By Jay Greenfeld
As we start to round the corner on the final lap of the school year, the weather gets warmer, colour comes back to the playgrounds, and we start planning for next year. All of the open houses across the province have finished and decisions about what to do for your children's schooling next year are decisions that need to be made which can lead to a very devastating time, especially for young toddlers. I say devastating because in their short lives they know very few things remain a constant; their bedrooms, most of their family members, and the people they see in their daycares and/or nursery schools. Bigger changes start to happen as they approach Kindergarten or early grade school, changes they did not have to confront in the years prior. Although these children are just three and four years old, they are confronted with the idea of loss as they often need to say goodbye to their very first friends. Their very first friends do not just include the educational staff members from the daycares, but more so their friends they play with day in and day out. These are the friends that helped introduce your children to early language, interests, hobbies, and the ability to shift from parallel play to interactive play. There are many things, you as a parent can do to help prepare them as well as yourselves for this pending departure.
Begin the conversation in the Spring so they know that change is coming. Engage in conversations routinely with your toddlers about who their friends are and who they like to play with most. Then as it gets closer to May, start to explain to them that change is part of life and that soon we will not be seeing the same people every day, but that does not mean we will never see them again. Suggesting to your toddlers that changing schools, daycares, or cities does not mean an abrupt and final ending, it just means the friendships is going to look different. We live in a technologically advanced world with toddlers that are often more skilled with apps than their parents. Help your children see that routine Facetime or various video apps can be used as a way of still staying in contact with select friends. They will learn quickly that the friendships may not be the exact same as they are used to be, but they can still exist.
Any time a change is happening in any child's life, especially toddlers, helping them be part of the change is a crucial step in the process. As the school year finishes, it may be helpful to create an art project with your toddler and for their closest friends that they may be parting from. Helping them see the act of giving, creating art for someone else, and showing different ways they care about that person can be helpful in establishing caring values for your toddler. Although with a lot of toddlers, they can be sad in the moment and before you even say their full name, they are already thinking about the next thought. However, capturing that moment when they are thinking about that friend or friends will be helpful for them to understand some degree of meaningfulness to their first friends. Doing some form of small artwork with your toddler can help them understand that change is coming and so is growth along the way.
It is often quite comical when my toddler comes home and while sitting at the dinner table he openly discusses what he and his friends did throughout the day. He informs us of whose hand he was holding, what activities they did, the type of treasure hunts they went on, who was fighting with who, and if someone had a birthday in his room. He has no hesitation to share very specific details about his day which reminds me these are the people he is closest with, these are the people he sees every day, these are the people he has been creating memories with at major stages of his life, since his first birthday. These are the people he knows well. Hearing this information daily from him helps our whole family know his friends whether we see them or not. Therefore, it is easy for us to feel closer to the names he mentions because he is close with them. Thus, as a parent, it is easy for you to be emotional about the transition for your toddlers because as a parent you see these peers as the ones that were there when walking began, sitting and eating at a table started, and recognizing that there are other people outside of the home that they may talk about all the time that are not called mommy or daddy. If there are emotions that you are feeling and you are the parent creating photobooks for your children and their first friends, it can normalize the process for your children if they see your reactions. Explaining your feelings to them why you may be feeling certain feelings will likely help normalize the emotional processing of this pending change in their lives.
Any link you can help your children (especially toddlers) make between thoughts, feelings, and circumstances, the more likely they are to connect with their experiences more readily. Some helpful reads and activities that can also aid in transition include: Goodbye, Friend! Hello, Friend! by Cori Doerrfeld; Student Moving Goodbye Book by teacherspayteachers.com; and The Goodbye Book by Todd Parr. As I have often shared with my family, I tend to reframe goodbye with "see you soon" even though it may look very different next time, effort will be made to see you soon. Finally, it is important for your toddler to learn from an early stage that with every ending comes a new beginning.
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