childhood transitions: not worth the agony

I agonize over every aspect of my kids’ lives. I think expending so much energy makes me feel like a better parent somehow, as if my agonizing makes a difference.

One of the elements over which I agonize is transition. After all, transitions are times of upheaval in my kids’ lives, so surely they will go more smoothly if carefully orchestrated—right?

When my oldest was just over two, I had my first clue that my planning amounted to diddly-squat. I had been intending to take away his pacifier for quite some time, but he loved it so, and I hadn’t had the heart to take it away yet. On top of that, he was getting awfully big for the crib, and I figured potty training was also on the horizon. With three major changes upcoming in his little life, I spent hours plotting the timing and execution of each.

Pipie was the first to go. I had been preparing for this time by telling my son that Pipie was pretty old, and things that were old tended to break. One night, he discovered that Pipie was “broken,” having acquired a small hole in the tip. After pondering this with some vexation, he popped the pacifier in his mouth, decided he didn’t notice much difference, and snuggled up for sleep. Each night thereafter, Pipie was just a little more “broken,” until there was not enough of Pipie to fit in Peatie’s mouth anymore. On that final night, he simply held the pacifier in his hand and dropped off to sleep a bit more slowly. That was it.

However, midway through the pipie-breaking process, Peatie randomly asked to sleep in his big-boy bed. Somewhat nonplussed by this unexpected request, I agreed. For the next week, he would switch back and forth between bed and crib; after he selected the bed for nap and night for three whole days, we disassembled the crib. Thus ended transition two, occurring nothing like I expected.

But that’s not all! At the tail end of his bed transition, I noticed that his diaper was dry for long stretches during the day. I started taking him to the potty, and lo and behold he was able to pee on command. After several days of completely dry diapers, he and Teddy were graduated to undies. He had something like three accidents in the first week, and that was all. A few weeks later, he was staying dry at night, as well.

You would think that after a pretty epic experience like that one, I would have learned that kids are sometimes perfectly ready for the transitions that are coming their way. That would be far too simple and logical, though. It would call into question the merit of my agonizing. And so I continued.

Now on my third child, I’ve had this point hit home once again. This spring I agreed that Pookie’s Pipie really DID have to go (we let him keep it extra long both because he was such a poor sleeper and because we suspected we’d be moving cross-country—which we did). In addition, Pookster needed to learn to be more independent—most importantly in dressing himself and taking ownership of the pottying process. Finally, Peatie had been hopefully hinting that the spare bedroom wasn’t getting much use now that Grandma moved near us, and he’d really love to have a bedroom of his own. Can I tell you how much I agonized over all of this?

Within six weeks, all of these transitions—as well as a couple bonus ones—occurred pretty much naturally. Looking back, I’m amazed at how much change happened so smoothly in such a short time.

Are life changes like potty training and ditching the paci really more-or-less maturity- and developmentally-based, much like learning to ride a bike or read?

Are life changes like potty training and ditching the paci really more-or-less maturity- and developmentally-based, much like learning to ride a bike or read?

And yet, I’m not sure why I’m so surprised. I’ve read that children’s development happens in waves—sharp growth followed by a plateau. I’ve observed that all of my children will make great strides in an area (vocabulary development, fine-motor skills, imaginative play, reading, number sense) within a short amount of time and then seem to plateau—or even lose a bit of ground, moving on to work on a different area of development. I suppose these life changes coincide with some area of development, perhaps in the area of maturity, and we as parents know when these transitions typically occur and think we need to plan for and direct them more than we perhaps truly need to.

What do you think? Do you feel like your child was ready for transitions like potty training or other markers of independence, or did it take a lot of effort on your behalf to initiate them? Do children have a certain periods during which they are ready to learn certain things or cope with changes—something like Montessori’s “sensitive periods”?

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