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What common types of transitions do children experience during their early years?

  • Entering daycare or moving to an older group in the daycare 

  • Entering school is not just a physical change but also getting used to a larger space with more kids, which is crowded and noisy. This transition requires attaching to new adults and peers, a new routine, new expectations from the child, and changing from play-based learning to formal teaching) 

  • Birth of siblings - change in family structure affects family dynamics and the role of the child in the family. 

  • Moving to a new home in the exact city/ neighborhood—a change of familiar surroundings, such as the playground and friends, requires new routines.

  • Other transitions may happen due to divorces, deaths, illnesses, and major accidents.  

How does the parent's perspective differ from the child's during transitions?

Sometimes, a transition that is exciting to the parent may be stressful for the kids—for example, changing to a bigger or nicer room (in a new house). Relocating to a new area brings challenges of a new culture, language, food, habits, time zone, etc.

How do children typically react to transitions?

Children react to transitions in various ways, depending on their age, personality, and the nature of the transition. Some children may be excited about a change, while others may resist the transitions. 

Younger children (ages 3-4) are more likely to have tantrums and regress behavior (e.g., wetting the bed or coming to sleep with parents). They may also have mood changes, become clingy, and need more attention and affection. 

Older children (ages 5-8) are more likely to have coping strategies, such as seeking adult support, engaging in hobbies, or talking to friends and other caregivers. They may also ask more questions about the transition. Some may show other signs of emotional distress, such as appetite, concentration, and sleep changes.

Regardless of the child's age, it's the parent's role to pay attention to any changes the child exhibits and to welcome and support emotions of fear or stress from the unknown.

What strategies can parents and caregivers use to help children navigate transitions smoothly?

1) Clear communication about the upcoming transition.
  • Use simple, age-appropriate language to explain upcoming transitions. Avoid vague terms such as "your new friends will be great" (you can't guarantee that). 

  • Emphasize the things that will remain the same (the child's toys, bed, morning routines, hobbies that will stay the same). 

  • Provide a positive approach to the transition, such as "You will have an opportunity to meet new friends with the same interests as you have (in sports, art, etc.)" and "We can discover new exciting parks and playgrounds."

  • Spread the conversation out over time. You don't need to cover everything in one conversation. Hold the space for your child to process the changes before and after the transition.

2) Offer a goodbye party.

A goodbye party can be a fun and meaningful way to leave on a positive note. It can also indicate that your child has successfully developed a good relationship so that he can look forward to creating new, deep relationships. Allow your child to help plan the party and choose the activities to help them feel more involved and in control.

3) Show your children that you trust the new caregiver.

Many transitions include a change in the educational system. Since children thrive when they feel heard, seen, and cared for, let them know you trust their caregivers. This will help them feel more safe and secure in the new environment. You may say something like, "I talked to your new teacher, Ms. Morgan. She is kind and thoughtful, and I can't wait for you to meet her."

4) Acknowledge your child's emotions and hold space for them during the transition process.

Let your children know their feelings are valid and that you are there to support them. You can do this by offering a hug or suggesting a shared activity, such as baking together, playing cards, or playing sports. This will deepen the child-parent connection, giving your child a sense of normalcy and stability during a change.

In addition, invite them to express their feelings, thoughts, and concerns. When talking to your child, please help them identify and label their feelings using emotional zones. You could also talk about what they are most worried about and brainstorm strategies for dealing with those concerns. For example, if the child fears feeling alone, you could offer to be proactive and set up playdates. Or if your child is concerned that the newborn demands lots of attention, you will acknowledge that newborns do need a lot of treatment and think of ways in which the older kid can be part of the taking care of the baby and when to schedule a quality time with the older child alone (even for 15 minutes). 

5) TRUST your child to handle the transition. 
  • Have faith that your child will cope with the changeover and that you are not projecting your fears on the kids. 

  • Model a positive attitude toward transitions. Instead of saying, "You will be just fine; you will love it," be honest and realistic. Let your child know that it may be scary to meet new friends, but it is also exciting to meet new people and make new friends. Modeling a realistic and optimistic approach will help your kid develop resilience.

Childhood transitions can be difficult for all ages. However, by following these tips, you can help them to cope with transitions in a healthy and empowering way. Remember to be patient and understanding and to let your child know that you are there to support them every step of the way.

Guiding Kids Through Transitions: Tips for Success

Tammy Afriat is a mother of three (ages 5, 9,12) and a certified parent coach.

Tammy's story is inspiring because it shows that one can follow one's passion and transition from an engineering career to becoming a certified professional coach (CPC). She was trained by WCI (World Coach Institute), which has credentials from the ICF (International Coaching Federation). She got her Youth, Parent, and Family Coach certificate (CYPFC). Tammy has shown professionally and personally that it is important to re-educate oneself about parenting and to find a style that works for you and your family.

Through her parenting coaching services and podcast Playground Talks, Tammy helps busy parents overcome daily challenges with knowledge and practical tips. She aims to empower parents to feel confident and joyful in their parenting journey.  

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