Sign up

Transitions: a love/hate relationship?

Big or small, planned or unplanned – transitions at any age, for anyone, can either be a welcome surprise or full of anxiety and distress. Transitions can be imposed on us, or proposed by us. Whatever the reason, they are an integral part of life and must be managed appropriately.

Many children, no matter what age, struggle with transitions. Often, they are common triggers for a range of emotions that coincide with change. They can be difficult at the best of times, and what might seem like a trivial ask for you may be a monumental request for your child. Have you ever had to ask your children to wrap it up at the park, or to turn off their screens? What about the transition between the end of the school year and summer vacation – or, worse yet, the end of summer and back to the routine of school? If so, you know how hard transitions can be for both you and your child.

For parents, it is important to help offset these behaviors by using tools that will promote and encourage success. Not only can mindful transitions help the day run smoothly, but they also can assist in creating order and less ambiguity for your child. Children thrive on predictability and routine. As such when a transition is necessary, wanted or not, it’s best to prepare to help your child move from one phase to the next seamlessly.     

Before I had my own kids, I used transition strategies primarily with my students. As time went on and I became a mom of three, I quickly realized that the tricks I had been using in the classroom also worked in the home as well. Purposeful and intentional work around transitions creates calm. So, how can parents help their kids with transitions? 

Here are a few tips to help you and yours at any age:

Prepare 

Everyone I know likes advance warning for how long something is going to last. We also like to have an awareness of when a particular activity will come to an end. Children are no different. Give your children as much notice as possible; use timed reminders to tell them when an activity will start and end. Knowledge is powerful. It helps to relieve the ambiguity around the circumstances, while also ensuring that everyone has the same understanding of expectations. This creates more predictability and calm before, during, and after a transition. 

Schedules and visuals 

Both are important tools when there is an upcoming transition. For children of all ages, it’s helpful to make clear what’s coming up and what needs to be done to prepare. Is your child starting school for the first time? Try putting the start date on a calendar so the child can count down the days and so you can ensure you have prepared everything necessary to make a successful transition. Does your child struggle with the freedom of summer and settling into the new school year? Create a schedule the week before school with more structured activities and a set bedtime to help alleviate the shock of getting back into a routine; or, better yet, try maintaining a little bit of a schedule or predictability with school tasks throughout the summer.

Sensory breaks 

Many of us need a bridge between transitions, something that creates calm and allows us to settle into the next task. For some, that might mean painting a picture or doing some quiet play in their room; for others, it might be necessary to do something physical, like getting outside for a walk, or skipping to the car to head to an appointment to expend their energy. 

Maintain consistency and follow through 

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, is the need to maintain consistency and follow through with what you have told your child. Too often, parents will ask their child to complete a task (turn off the iPad, empty the dishwasher, read for 30 minutes) and then have difficulty with the follow through. Try not to veer too far off the path you have laid out for your child, and be sure to practice what you preach. Sure, things will come up that are beyond our control. It happens to the best of us. As long as you are consistent with your expectations (the routines you have laid out, the follow through, and the tools you use to support your child), everyone in your household will be better off for it.

Whatever the transition, if you stick to these four fundamentals, children from two years of age through to their teen years will thrive both in and out of school, during breaks, and most importantly, when you least expect it!

Nicole brings both passion and compassion to her role in helping children, families, and individuals flourish in her current role at Sheldon Psychology. After 20 years of experience in the field of education, Nicole is a recent graduate of Yorkville University with an M.A. in Counselling Psychology and focuses her work on the importance of tailoring treatment and interventions to the needs of the individual to promote growth and change from within. Believing that every individual is unique, Nicole knows that building strong relationships is critical for success and that celebrating every step, big or small, is a priority. She welcomes the opportunity to work with all ages.

Calgary’s Child Magazine © 2022 Calgary’s Child