Parenting a toddler doesn’t stop when packing up for a Permanent Change of Station (the dreaded PCS), especially when a move takes weeks or months to complete. From potty training to bad behavior, here’s our field-tested guide on what to do when facing a new milestone or a change in routine in the middle of a move.
No time for Naptime
Moving may mean your toddler’s usual naptime changes while you transition homes. Some children may even seem to “give up” nap altogether (even if they still need one). “I firmly believe there is nothing harder than a child that is sleep-deprived,” says Tovah P. Klein, director of the Barnard Center for Toddler Development, who recommends that parents try to get their child back to what worked before the move when they are reestablished.
Nicole Johnson, president and founder of The Baby Sleep Site, suggests trying to reintroduce a nap for a minimum of one to two weeks. Even if child doesn’t go back to napping, have them sit down to do quiet play or some other type of downtime. Rest will help your toddler (and you) face all of the new change that will come with the move.
Potty Training on the Go
If your child is ready to potty train but a move is coming soon, you may want to wait on pulling out the “big kid” underwear until you’re settled at your new home. Toddlers get thrown off by moves, says Klein, and toilet training and sleep are big areas of regression when they get uprooted.
If you’re facing months on the go or your child is insisting on starting, go ahead and begin potty training. But keep in mind that your child can have setbacks as your move comes and even once you get settled. Be patient and don’t blame them for any regression due to the move.
“Losing” the Pacifier or Other Undesirables En Route
In the chaos of a move, it’s tempting to tell your toddler that the dreaded pacifier must stay behind. Or their tattered blanket was lost by the movers. While you may be feeling very ready to get rid of some of your child’s less desirable objects, a move is the worst time to make these changes for younger children.
These beloved items may be what they rely on for the transition, says Klein. Don’t ask them to give it up right now. Instead, make a backpack up with a few of their favorite items, so they know those special things will come with them. Save the detachment process for a later date (it will come-we promise!).
Moving up to a “Big Kid” Bed
Sometimes you have to leave a crib or toddler bed behind when you PCS. Ideally, you’d want to wait until you are settled into your new home before making any big changes like a real bed, says Johnson. Otherwise, you can have a “Jack in the Box” on your hands when it comes to sleep.
But you’ll hear differing views on this: Many military parents swear by the “new room, new bed” approach. They make the change and then just give their child a little leeway as they adjust. Some children will take the situation in stride, while others may find all of the differences overwhelming.
So this decision needs to be made to accommodate your toddler’s temperament. Keep in mind: Parents should anticipate that their child will get out of bed more often because of the unfamiliar surroundings.
Battling Bad Behavior
Even the sweetest child can turn into a handful when you’re on the road. Toddlers thrive on routine, says Klein. In the middle of a move, parents can face tantrums and other negative behaviors that are brought on by the stress your child is feeling-even if the child isn’t normally one to act out.
Prepare your toddler for the move by giving them information about what is going to happen and talking about which parent or caregiver will be with them during each stage of the transition. Slow down the pace as much as possible.
Make sure they are in bed at a reasonable hour, they get three meals a day, and they go outside to play as much as your move allows. With tension running high, it’s difficult to manage a 3-year-old who is falling apart. The more kisses, hugs and attention you can give them along the way, the more you may delay (or even prevent!) the tantrums that can disrupt your completing the move.
Crossing the Finish Line
Your child’s security comes from knowing where they are going to sleep tonight, who is going to wake up with them in the morning, and what is going to happen during their day. Parents should recognize that a move can be very destabilizing to a toddler’s regular routines. Anticipating regression, along with giving added attention to your toddler prior to a meltdown, can help families make a smoother transition to a new home. Once you’re settled, you and your toddler can restart the process of giving up the pacifier, learning how to master the potty and reestablishing good schedules.
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