The transition of a child from home care to early childhood education requires attention not only from the child's perspective but also from the parent's perspective, as indicated by two separate studies conducted at the University of Turku. The FinnBrain study revealed that the social skills of young children were on par regardless of whether they were in home care or early childhood education.
A study conducted at the Sote Academy indicated that this transition phase prompts parents to reflect, experience emotions, and empathize with their child's future experiences.
The FinnBrain research group at the University of Turku examined the social skills, emotional expression, and behavior of over a thousand 2-year-old toddlers. Half of the children participated in early childhood education in various daycares, while the other half stayed at home with their parents. The study aimed to determine if parents observed any differences in behavior, emotional life, or social skills in their young children based on the different care environments.
"The results showed that there were no differences in social skills between the two groups of children. Neither group displayed more disruptive, impulsive, or aggressive behavior," explained specialized psychologist Katja Tervahartiala.
However, parents of children in early childhood education reported slightly more withdrawn and inwardly directed negative emotional expressions in their children compared to parents of children in home care.
"The differences were generally small and are likely due to the fact that two-year-old children have not been in early childhood education for a very long time. Most were likely still adjusting to the new care environment," the researchers elaborated.
The researchers also highlighted that small changes in emotional expression could be temporary, reflecting a reaction to the transition phase or being linked to a specific developmental stage.
Transition phase triggers parents' own experiences of separation
As part of her ongoing doctoral research, researcher Nina Mellenius explored how parents prepared themselves and their young children for the impending transition and experiences of separation. Previously, the transition phase from home care to early childhood education had been primarily studied from the child's adaptation perspective. Internationally, there has been limited research on the parent's experience and the parent-child interaction during this initial transition phase.
"Parents exhibited a range of attitudes towards the upcoming transition and separation experiences involving their child—hopeful, fearful, exploratory, and practical. Parents reflected on their own experiences of separation from their parents during childhood. They contemplated how both they and their child could form positive relationships with early childhood education professionals. Parents also tried to anticipate their child's behavior and emotional reactions in future separation situations," Mellenius explained.
The study involved 21 parents with children aged 10 to 24 months, who were soon to transition from home care to early childhood education.
Mellenius also investigated the parents' mentalizing ability during this potentially stressful life phase. Parental mentalizing refers to the ability to observe, link, and examine the underlying mental states behind behavior—both their own and their child's.
"Characterized by the ability to experience uncertain feelings as sufficiently secure, parental mentalizing allowed them to approach the impending transition exploratively and construct alternative scenarios. For young children, a flexible attitude from their parent in the initial transition phase, along with a willingness to share the experience—potentially stressful—as a team, while considering the child's age, is helpful," Mellenius emphasized.
Transition phase necessitates attention
Both studies converged on the conclusion that the start of early childhood education is a critical period that requires considerable attention, particularly for the youngest children.
"Children are diverse, and some may need more time to acclimate with their parent. Others adapt to new situations more easily and do not perceive new environments as burdensome. Biological temperament differences and the child's previous experiences may influence these tendencies," Tervahartiala pointed out.
According to the researchers, it is vital to be attuned to a child's reactions and allocate sufficient time for familiarization. Collaborative efforts between parents and early childhood education professionals have been found to be particularly beneficial during transition periods. Effective communication between parents and professionals is pivotal to understanding the child's unique characteristics in daycare settings.