There are many kinds of transitions — the daily ones of getting everyone out of the house in the morning (shoes, lunches, diaper bags, briefcases) or getting everyone to bed at night (teeth brushing, story, decisions about tough love or no tough love!); there are the developmental transitions of an infant into a mobile, mouthy toddler or a mobile, mouthy teenager into a young adult; the transition a couple makes from being without children to having children.
Most transitions create mixed feelings. We know that while most developmental change is full of new and exciting growth, it also has some loss embedded in it: the transition from infant to walking toddler (the thrill of watching your toddler learn to walk with the loss of your snuggly infant); loss of preschool environment for big school kindergarten, or excitement of a big boy bed with the loss of the familiar crib; the obvious pros and cons of being a big sister to a new infant sibling. Transitions bring mixed feelings, along with change and possible disruption to rhythms and routines.
If there’s one thing we know about children, it’s that change in routine can be very disruptive to them. Helping kids (and ourselves) manage these transitions, as well as how a transition might impact your family, might be worth taking a couple minutes to think (and feel) about.
Let’s take, for example, the end of the school year. As a parent, you remember being a child and greeting the last day of school with absolute joy, as you prepared to walk into the hot sun of summer vacation. But now, you’re faced with changing schedules, summer camps, added expenses, anxiety about kindergarten readiness, vacations – in short, a disruption to routine. For kids, the end of school year can mean loss of familiar teachers, routines, schedules and best friends. The excitement of moving onto a new grade may be dampened by anxiety about new relationships, classrooms, bus routes, etc.
It’s important to help your child think about these changes. Don’t be too quick to point out all the wonderful positive aspects. Be a good listener to what your child is telling you about his worries. If your child is too young to know what she’s worried about, give her some help. “It might be hard to say goodbye to your teacher; she’s gotten to know you so well.” “I wonder if there’s anything I can do to make you feel better about all the changes coming next year.” Or “change can make us feel very mixed up — let’s think about some of the things that are changing AND the many things that aren’t changing.”
All of us realize that having some control through a transition can make us feel less vulnerable and more in charge of the situation — and therefore ourselves. This is certainly true for adults.
Being aware of our own emotional response to change and transition will better help your children understand their feelings about change and transition. Being aware of your feelings and having a language for talking about them will help you (and your child) be less reactive to new situations and more responsive to what is being required of them. In other words, the difference between having a temper tantrum or acting out (reactive) is being able to negotiate, collaborate and participate (responsive) in the transition.
Diana Schwab, our Kids Plus developmental consultant, works with parents to help them sort out their developmental concerns, manage significant changes in their families, and find and use all the resources they need.