Children need time to transition. It takes them time to settle into a new environment. It takes them time to prepare to leave an activity or environment. It takes them to adjust to a new routine. It takes time to cope with a change in their everyday predictability. Read on to find out how to make children transitions easier.

make children transitions easierAs parents we are so often in a rush. We take time to transition too, the difference is that we often know it is coming. Even if we are bad at time management (hi, that’s me… anyone else?), we still often know that the transition is coming up. But, in those times when we do have to pivot quickly, when we don’t get that transition time, we often feel flustered, anxious, rushed, overwhelmed, grumpy… sound familiar?

So, what do we do about it? How do we help children transitions go more smoothly?

Plan in transition time.

If bedtime is a 7:30pm, and you want lights out by that time, work backwards to figure out how long everything is going to take, and then add 10 minutes to that. Ten minutes sounds like a lot of time but you’d be surprised how quickly that passes, especially when you are trying to convince a kid to do something.

Don’t rush them through activities.

Do you ever get grief from your kids because “we just started playing” and now it is time to pick up? In reality, it’s been 30 minutes and it is now time to clean up. Well, here is how those 30 minutes went. 10 minutes was figuring out what they wanted to do and unpacking things. 5-15 minutes was them “setting up”. So, half of their playtime, or more, has consisted of them figuring it out, taking it out, getting it set up, and getting settled into what they are playing. 30 minutes has flown by, and they are disappointed that it’s time to now pick it all back up.

So, what do we do about that? We help them plan out their activities. Sometimes we simply don’t have time to really enjoy doing an activity that they have in mind. It may be better to save that for later when they have more time to really get invested in that activity.

Remember that kids have a poor sense of time.

Depending on their age, they may not have a sense of time at all. 1 minute and 5 minutes is basically the same to a child under 4. Even once they get older than that, while they grasp the concept of time better, when they are engrossed in doing something, their sense of time really flies out the window. And that’s understandable, it happens to us too.

Give warnings.

Some kids are good to go with just one prompt that things are going to change. Other kids really do best when they have multiple “warnings” so they can get their mind shifted into the idea that things will be changing. A 10-minute warning, 5-minute, 2-minute, 1-minute… and now it’s time to shift. Even with warnings children may still struggle to transition. But often, they struggle less when they have been given a heads up that this shift is about to occur.

Expect challenges.

I don’t mean to say that our kids are trying to give us a hard time. Rather, they are HAVING a hard time. If our children have a change in routine, we should expect that there are going to be some challenges accompanying that shift. Moving from the weekend to school days, or from vacation time to a more regular schedule are good examples of that. But it could even be things like mom usually puts a child to sleep but tonight dad has. We should expect that this may be hard for the child because it is out of the norm for them. Their routine changed and that’s hard to cope with (even if you prepped them for this in advance.) When we expect challenges then we are more emotionally prepared to deal with it. Then, if the child doesn’t have a hard time, it is a pleasant surprise, instead of vice-versa, where we think it’s going to be fine and, in reality, it feels like all Hell is breaking loose.

Talk about what to expect.

Some children do better with transitions when they know in advance what to expect. That may mean you talk about what your day is going to look like tomorrow, or how your day is going to go today. It may mean that you discuss upcoming changes to what their daily routine will look like.

Validate and hold space for their feelings.

It’s important to remember that our children have a lot of big feelings, and they often don’t know what to do with them, how to express them “appropriately”, or how to move on from them. If your child is struggling with a transition, the best thing we can do is validate that emotion: “I see that you feel sad that we have to leave. I know it is hard to stop playing with our friends.”

Hold space for their emotions: “You are allowed to be sad.” This may include giving them some physical reassurance, like a hug, or just sitting in their presence for a few moments.

Provide alternatives or bring attention to something in their future: “I know that you are sad about leaving. I cannot let you hurt me because you are disappointed and don’t want to leave. Would you like to stomp your feet to get those feelings out?” or “I know that you are sad about leaving. When we get home, we can play with your trucks together.”

While these are not an exhaustive list of how to cope with transition troubles, these will help you navigate most transition issues more successfully.