How foreshadowing can help prepare your young child for what's coming

Ever handle a situation badly because it didn’t go as you’d expected?  This happens to your toddler all the time!  While we can’t prepare them for every aspect of a situation, we can tell them a little bit about what to expect. 

This is a technique called foreshadowing. 

Here are some guidelines that will help you use foreshadowing with your child.

Learn to think ahead, and to note situations you’d like to be better prepared for next time.  Some of these times may be going to the grocery store, going to a restaurant, visiting a friend, dinner guests coming over, a birthday party, or even something as simple as going to the park.

Now think about that situation with toddler eyes.  Consider what limits will be set, what events may happen, what he will enjoy, what may frustrate him, and how you will support him.  Choose just a few important points and then use simple, concrete language to let him know what will happen. 

“We’ll go up the escalator and I will hold your hand.  Then we’ll wait for our turn, and a grownup will measure your foot.  They’ll touch your toes, and I’ll hold your hand if you like.  We’ll try some new shoes on your feet, and we might buy some today, or we might wait for another day.  When we're finished, they’ll give you a balloon.”bgf

Even if your toddler doesn’t fully understand anything but “Escalator” and “Balloon”, he’ll have a little warning about the rest, so that as things come up, you can refer back to your discussion.  “This is the measuring part I told you about.  Remember, I’ll hold your hand if you like.” 

Just remember to gauge how much to say, and how far in advance, according to your child’s age and language ability.  A 15 month-old needs to be told in the shoe department, “You’ll step on this, then we’ll put on your shoe”, while a 2 year-old is ready for more.

For difficult situations, you may want to actually practice. 

For example, before Christmas you can wrap 'gifts' together and practice unwrapping only the ones with your name on them.  Before going to Aunt Emily’s house, practice following instructions about “Touch” and “No touch” objects.

Obviously, your toddler is a toddler, and preparation won’t insure smooth sailing, but it may amaze you how much it does help.  Children understand more language than they can produce and yet so often we pack them off to a new situation with no information and then get annoyed they don’t adapt immediately. 

Just a few well-chosen words are not only respectful, but can make all the difference in how your child responds to a situation.

by Justine Saffir

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