Tips for Promoting Smooth Transitions at Home and School

1. Offer a stable and predictable environment. When children feel like they know what happens in their day and when, transitions may be easier. For example, keeping evening activities consistent and routine (maybe with a bath, teeth brushing, and story) may help with the transition to bedtime.

2. Warning time is essential, and frequent reminders can be helpful. Imagine being incredibly focused on painting and in the middle of a masterpiece when someone comes over and puts all of your paints away! Adults can let children know that a change is coming up and offer suggestions for the transition. For example “In five minutes painting time will be over and it will be time to clean up for snack.”

3. Implement an age-appropriate time management system. Use an egg timer or other gadget to help children know when it will be time to clean-up or move to a new activity.

4. Talk, talk, talk. For children who are having difficulty moving from one activity to another, discussion about what happens next and what your expectations are for their behavior may help to promote a smoother transition. Saying to your child, “We are just about done with breakfast. We’re going to go upstairs and get dressed before school.” Or, “It looks like you are having fun with those blocks. In five minutes, it will be time to clean-up and go upstairs to take a nap.”

Also, separations may become easier for children if parents (or other caregivers) talk about what is happening using simple, matter-of-fact language. Parents can discuss the transition as often as necessary and choose words that help children understand what is happening. For example, “I am going to work now and I’ll pick you up after lunch. Miss Helen will hold you while you say goodbye to me.”

5. Role playing. Pretend play with adults (and between children) can be an effective outlet for difficult or mixed emotions—and a useful tool for encouraging children to talk about transitions such as moving to a new home, starting school, or having a new brother or sister.

6. Books and videotapes that focus on transitions can be beneficial. Many options are available at your local bookstore or public library. Staff can recommend books and tapes that feature your child’s favorite people or characters.

7. Respect comfort items. Be gentle and respectful of your child’s need for a “cuddly” or “blankie” to move more easily throughout the day. Some children rely on transitional objects (a stuffed animal, blanket, or toy) as a source of comfort. According to researcher and author Claire Kopp, approximately 60% of toddlers use a transitional object as a source of comfort.

8. Become aware of your own feelings regarding transitions. It may also be helpful for adults to be particularly sensitive to the important role that they play during times of transition and consider how they feel about both their own transitions and their children’s. For a teacher who has cared for and nurtured an infant, there may be feelings of sadness or loss when the child moves on to the “big” kid classroom. For a parent who has cared for their child at home for three years, the first day of preschool may be a very emotional experience! Or for an adult who has been the parent of only one child, the birth of a new baby may bring up fears of not having enough time, love, or energy to care for two children.

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