Making a change - big or small - affects everyone differently. Some children will be excited, curious and adapt to change quickly. Others may need more time to absorb and accept change.
One of the biggest changes in the life of young children is being looked after by someone outside their family and close friends. The next big change for them is starting school or a new setting; these are important milestones for everyone involved.
What's the link between change and communication?
Change can be challenging for us as adults (whether it's something we've chosen or not) but we can make sense of it by thinking things through, planning and talking to other people. These strategies all rely on communication.
Change often involves an emotional component as well; we might be losing as well as gaining something. This can make it complex for young children and children who have communication difficulties when they are trying to make sense of everything.
Children need to have good language skills to understand when something is going to change in the future. This involves understanding time and being able to anticipate this change.
Young children are still developing their sense of time; they are very much in the here and now and use present tense verbs. Children start talking about the past first, saying things like 'me go-ed park' and adding the ‘–ed’ ending to words. This can make it tricky for them to understand what's going to happen in the future.
Children with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) can struggle to understand new situations and what is going to happen next. It can take time to take in change and learn that things are going to be different. Equally, they are getting to know new people.
Additionally, children are no longer relying on their carers and familiar adults to help them to get their needs met. They are becoming increasingly independent and letting new adults know what they like, when they're hungry and how they are feeling.
How can I support children and parents?
There is a huge amount of advice and support on the PACEY website. Here are some top tips for supporting young children and children with speech, language and communication needs in times of change:
- Give parents a picture of you or allow them to take one on their phone. Having this visual reminder will help the child to remember you, so you’ll be a familiar face. If you're happy to do this you can also encourage parents to take pictures of your house or setting, so that children can look at these and get used to their new surroundings and know what to expect when they start. This is particularly important for children who struggle with making transitions and need support in a new environment.
- Talk about your daily routine and what happens every day with parents. Maybe they could try these routines at home. For example, they could have lunch at the same time that you do.
Preparing for change
- Talk about what's going to happen so that children are expecting it (although for some it will still be a challenge!). This way you're letting them know what is going on and involving them.
- Do you have favourite nursery rhymes or books? Do you share these with parents? Do parents share theirs with you? Sing some familiar nursery rhymes so that children are confident with these and can join in when they start. Doing something that children are familiar with is a good way to build confidence.
- Do you have a visual timeline or reminder for when children start in your setting? This can let them know your routine and what happens next. If you have a picture of their parent/carer to signal the end of the day this lets them know when the day is finished and that they are going home. Find out more about visual timelines with I CAN's free factsheet. Also, having photographs of people and pets from home can give children a starting point for conversations.
- Find out from parents how their child communicates e.g.do they use words or gestures? Are they seeing a speech and language therapist? If so, do they have any suggestions for supporting communication?
If you or any families you work with have questions or would like more ideas, I CAN have a free, confidential call-back or email service from a speech and language therapist. Visit www.ican.org.uk/help for more information or call 020 7843 2544.
Change can be challenging for everyone but we can share a wealth of strategies to support children and families.
About the author
Amanda Baxter is a speech and language therapist who specialises in working with early years practitioners and families with young children. As a Communication Advisor for I CAN, she delivers training to early years professionals and supports them to develop their practice. She also works on I CAN’s Enquiry Service providing information, advice and support for practitioners and parents. Amanda has worked in children's centres and as a Local Authority Early Language Consultant.