Transitions happen every day in your child’s world. Waking up in the morning, coming to meals, getting ready for bed, leaving for an activity, saying goodbye to a friend are all examples of transitions that can cause your child angst, or worse!
And of course, there are much bigger transitions, too. Starting a new school or day care, moving to a new house or losing a loved one can really take a toll on a child’s emotions.
Often times children respond to the stress of transitions by whining, getting mad or defying a parent. Parents often respond by whining, cajoling, giving in or getting angry.
Since transitions happen so frequently, it can be helpful to use different strategies. Parents who provide empathy and support, help the child gain a sense of control, create rituals that provide predictability and teach their child ways to cope with change will find far greater success. Listed below are strategies that will help make transitions easier for your child.
Ways to Show Empathy:
A.) Listen - Become an “empathic listener” by listening for feelings.
· Listen for the unspoken feelings that are behind the words that are said.
· Look at your child’s body language and try to gain helpful information.
· Listen with your heart.
· Don’t be critical.
· Give your child your full attention by sitting down, looking him/her in the eye.
· Try to reflect back the feeling that you believe your child is conveying.
B.) Ask open-ended questions. What will you miss about preschool? What do you like about your new teacher? What’s the hardest part of your day?
C.) Share a story from your childhood. Share a struggle that you had and the different feelings that you experienced. If you found a process that helped you overcome the struggle, share that, too.
Another helpful tip is to understand that transitions involve a sense of loss: A loss of fun. A loss of spontaneity. Or a loss of my house.
Generally, when a child feels a sense of loss s/he feels a loss of control. A beneficial strategy is to help the child gain a sense of control. So how do you do that?
Tools for Empowering Your Child:
A.) Involve your child in the decision. Ask your child, “What might help you feel more comfortable?”
B.) Walk your child through the process, explaining how it will go. Knowledge is power.
C.) Show visual aids such as reading books on the subject.
D.) Explain the benefits so the child can learn the positive outcomes, too.
E.) Slow down the pace. Give your child a chance to wind down or to say goodbye.
F.) Learn to read your child’s cues and help him/her learn to identify them, too.
Another helpful strategy for reducing the stress of changes is to create a ritual. Family rituals help your child adjust to change. A ritual can be simple or elaborate, used daily, weekly, or once a year. The reason that rituals are important is that rituals help make the world predictable and the repetition helps kids feel more secure when transitions are occurring.
Rituals that Help with Transitions:
A.) Develop a goodbye ritual. Develop a secret handshake with your child that’s used only when s/he leaves you.
B.) Develop an after-school ritual. Let your child have a snack and play outside for 30 minutes before starting homework.
C.) Develop a “chit-chat” time at bedtime. Ask your child about the happy, sad, scary and frustrating parts to his/her day.
D.) Develop an end-of-the-week ritual. Have a family night every Friday night to reconnect and unwind after a busy week.
Change also increases a child’s anxiety level because there is a loss of the familiar and the uncertainty of the future so finding safe, healthy outlets for a child’s anxiety is important, as well. Teaching your child how to soothe him/herself and providing calming activities will be a great help.
Ways to De-Stress:
A.) Increase Physical Touch. Make a conscious effort to hug and kiss more often, snuggle more, or provide massage to your child.
B.) Teach a Deep Breathing Method. (Pretend that there’s a balloon in his/her tummy that s/he has to blow up. Actually use a balloon to illustrate. Have the child breathe in through the nose and breathe out through the mouth, actually moving the diaphragm while pretending to blow up the balloon with big, deep breaths.)
C.) Consider Dramatics. Ask your child how a fairy godmother would solve a problem s/he faces. Create a movie, play or story about the problem. Play “school” to see what issues your child may be facing.
D.) Spend Time Alone with the Child. Let the child pick what the activity will be and focus on your child’s needs.
E.) Laugh. Find ways to be silly, have a kids’ joke book on hand, do something unexpected, watch your favorite family movie.
F.) Give Your Child a Journal. Writing about a problem can release pent-up feelings in a healthy way.
G.) Create a Scrapbook. Have your child participate in the creation of the book and reminisce at the child’s convenience.
In summary, there are many useful strategies that you can use when your child is faced with a transition, large or small:
· Respond with empathy recognizing that your child may feel a sense of loss.
· Help your child gain a sense of control by involving him/her in decision-making.
· Create a ritual to create predictability.
· Offer soothing and calming activities.
Toni Schutta, Parent Coach, M.A., L.P.
Visit getparentinghelpnow.com to receive the free mini-course “The 7 Worst Mistakes Parents Make (and How to Avoid Them!)
Additional Resources covering Parenting can be found at: