Transitions are tricky for any child. Simply going from a sleeping state to a wakeful state can take a long 20 minutes, sometimes more. During the school and work week, which is fraught with transition after transition, it may seem at times as if your child feels put upon more often than not. It may appear that he or she is sad more often, even depressed.
For many children, things just move too quickly. They have a different sense of time than we do, or they have the real sense of timelessness that we have spent our lifetimes desensitizing ourselves to, and for them, it often feels that just as they’ve gotten involved in one thing, they’re being asked to drop it and get involved in something completely different.
In school settings, teachers work on transitions all throughout the day with kindergarteners and first and second graders. “Get ready to stop working” and “Get ready to line up” are common phrases. We want to give young children a few minutes’ warning about what may be coming next.
Some children experience even more dramatic transitions, like going from one parent’s home to another, even across the country. My sons see their father in Los Angeles for two weeks during the summer and often have difficulty with transitioning back into our routine at home. They’d just begun to get accustomed to his routine and then all of sudden, their time with him is done and they feel like they're left without anything solid to hold onto.
One thing that helps with transitions is talking about them. Even though, of course, you don’t want to create unnecessary anxiety or tension with your children, just knowing they are struggling with a transition can help you determine what to talk about. Depending on the age and developmental level of your child, you can tailor your conversational style to best meet their needs. Discussing some of their fears if they are able to, talking about their feelings and letting them know what to expect are all helpful.
For bigger transitions, like switching parental homes, just letting your child know how much you love them, how much you understand that it can be confusing to go back and forth, and how completely you are there for them will, believe it or not, really help them feel less afraid and alone.
For simpler transitions like waking up, getting ready for school or cleaning up after playing, warnings are the way to go. Abrupt changes always backfire and leave everyone tense and aggravated. Give your child advance notice of changes; for example, you can say "you have 15 minutes to start really getting up and getting out of bed," or "you have five minutes and then you need to put everything away." Talk about their perspective and always, no matter what, let them know that in this chaotic, changeable world, your love for them is one thing they can consistently and constantly count on.
Aimee Boyle is a regular contributor to EmpowHER. She lives on the shoreline of CT
Edited by Alison Stanton