Continuity is very important for young children, and any changes to their routine can become quite an obstacle that will need to be overcome. I recently "transformed" my image by getting my hair cut and trimming my beard. To some of the children at LifeWays, especially the very young ones, I became a totally different person. Young children are very perceptive about physical appearance and immediately notice these transformations, which can lead some to become upset and wary of this "new" character in their life. In order to make the adjustment to my transformation into a man with short hair and a shorter beard, I maintained my same disposition towards the children and utilized the clothing that they are accustomed to.
I had first transformed my appearance just days before I was set to babysit one of our LifeWays children. The day before while at school I had noticed a difference in the behavior in some of the children when I was not wearing my classic red hat that I wear while I cook. My transformation was quite radical in that my hair was close to shoulder-length and I had gotten it trimmed much shorter than many of the children had ever seen. The specific child that I was to babysit had undergone her own transformation as we had gotten to know each other better. When she first arrived at LifeWays she would not speak to me, rather she would just stare at me, trying to figure me out. As time passed she began to answer the questions I would ask and that built into the relationship we have today which involves many questions and comments from her and no reticence to speak to me. As she became more comfortable with me she realized she could let her guard down and open up to me, leaving her reservations behind.
The day that I was set to babysit I went over to the house for dinner and was not wearing my red hat that all the children know me best for. The child was in a very silly mood and the chatting that we had grown into had given way to short outbursts of sound and a very silly attitude, behaviors children may exhibit in the presence of a new person. As we sat down to dinner, the usual conversations that we had grown into were absent and the table talk was again dominated by silly behavior and sounds instead of words. As mom and dad began to leave for their evening the child became very upset, both screaming and crying as they drove away. This was radically different from the behavior at LifeWays and the phrase "I don't want you to be here" kept being hurled at me. This was all very strange due to the positive relationship we had cultivated at LifeWays. I suddenly had the stunning realization that for almost the entire time that this young girl had known me I had been wearing my red hat, and when that was not on my head I had very long hair that I could put over my face to make the children laugh (I did look quite silly with my hair covering my face). I immediately rushed to my bag and grabbed my hat and went back to find a confused yet some-what subdued child as I asked her, "is there something different about Mr. Jeremy?" She responded with "you have your hat on." With that the fear vanished and the conversation began again almost immediately. She got into her pajamas and we read a story or two (full of questions about why characters behaved in certain ways and why certain situations occurred) and she drifted off to sleep.
Because our young children have been with us on our beautiful planet for such a short time they are not used to the transformations that people go through in their lives. My transformation was a complete change in my appearance leading even some parents to not be able to recognize me at first glance. I have since been trying to wear my hat only when cooking meals at LifeWays and introducing the "new" Mr. Jeremy little by little to ease the change for the children. The red hat is an important marker for the children and helps to remind them that though my appearance has transformed, I am still the same Mr. Jeremy underneath that hat. It is therefore highly important to ease into any transformations in the young child's life slowly and always having "memory markers" (such as the red hat) present to have a base upon which to build any transformation.