Moving house, starting a new school, the birth of a sibling or any other changes and transitions can be very challenging for some children. Change can bring on tears, fears, anxiety, worry and even “misbehaviors” or “acting out.”
While parents often see the importance of helping their children through big transitions, such as the birth of a sibling or the parents’ divorce, many overlook the “little” transitions. Things like starting a new day care, meeting a new teacher, or trying a new sport.
Even these “little” transitions can be difficult for some children. If we are aware that our child is struggling, we have the opportunity to support and encourage them through this challenging time. Providing them with skills and strategies will help them get through transitions they may face in the future.
Here are some tips to help your child through difficult transitions:
- Prepare: Give your child ample opportunity to process the transition by providing them with age-appropriate information. Some children may want to see pictures, learn people’s names, or spend time in the environment ahead of time.
- Talk about it: Create normalcy around the topic by making it part of your everyday conversation. Encourage your child to ask questions or express their thoughts about the transition. Ask open-ended questions: “I wonder if you’ll have a class pet? What pet would you choose?”
- Make a list: You may not know all of the facts, and that’s OK. Focus on what you know, and be honest about what you don’t know. “That’s a great question. I’ll write it down and we’ll try to find the answer when we visit your new school on Tuesday.”
- Give them an outlet: Some children struggle to put their thoughts and feelings into words. Offer a variety of resources to process their feelings: drawing, journaling, writing a story, modeling with clay, or find a book at the library about a child dealing with a similar transition.
- Practice coping skills: Create a long list of calming and coping strategies and practice them often. In some situations, role playing together helps the child feel more confident and gives them options for handling the event in real life.
- Watch for changes: It’s not always easy to know when a child is struggling. They may show their discomfort by being more aggressive, regressing to old behavior (thumb sucking, bed wetting), or complaining of physical symptoms (stomach aches, headaches).
- Seek help: If you are concerned about any of the changes listed in #6, if your child continues to struggle with the transition after it occurs or if you are worried about how they are adjusting to the transition, seek help from a mental health professional.
Some children seem to be unphased by changes in their routine, they go with the flow, adapting quickly to changes. Other children have difficulty with new situations, people or places. Regardless if the transition is “big” or “little,” these children will need more help from their caregivers to manage their uncomfortable feelings about the changes ahead.