Why does a child react negatively to change?

When I am talking to adults about children and their experiences, I typically try to think of ideas on how to connect the “adult life” to the child. I want adults to think of their own experiences and feelings and realize that children go through the same process.

Sometimes children react negatively to the slightest change in the classroom. What's a teacher to do?

For example, I recently finished 6 weeks of radiation therapy. Every Monday I would have to see the doctor after my treatment. There is a group of nurses that work in the department, so I could have 1 of 3 people take care of me. The first time I went Amy, the nurse, took my vitals, walked me to the exam room, and prepped me for the doctor. After that visit, I was always a little aggravated if Amy wasn’t the one going to take care of me. Even though we had only met once, she was “my person”. She was the one who started off my relationship with the doctor. She set the tone for the whole appointment. If I didn’t get to see her, the visit wasn’t as comfortable. Don’t get me wrong, the other nurses were completely competent. They were nice and friendly. They just weren’t Amy.

As I thought about that it really hit me that as an adult, I had a choice. I could choose my attitude during my visits. I could choose to be happy about the care I was receiving. I always received quality care, regardless of the nurse. Or, I could choose to be mad that Amy wasn’t available for me.

Compare this to a young child. Can a young child choose to make the best out of any situation? My belief is no, they can’t. Young children are still learning how to self-regulate. Think about the young child who has a primary caregiver. Every day this caregiver is with the child–feeding, diapering/toileting, talking. Then one day the caregiver isn’t there. What is done to help this child adjust? Is the absence of the caregiver explained to the child? Is the child prepped for the caregiver’s absence? What do the adults do to respect the relationship between the child and the caregiver?

Can some young children self-regulate? Of course, some children have a temperament that is easy going and they just go with the flow. Other children, however, have a harder time regulating their emotions, regardless of their age. I believe as adults, we should prepare children for changes and transitions regardless of temperament and age. When the school-age teacher is leaving for the day and another teacher is coming in, the children should be informed of that change. When the toddler teacher is going on lunch break, the children should be told the teacher is leaving and if the teacher will be back. This is just respectful. The children rely on the adult for security. That security means that the children can interact and learn throughout the day. Without security, learning won’t happen.