Guiding Your Child Through Change: Strategies for Smooth Transitions

Guiding Your Child Through Change: Strategies for Smooth Transitions

March 1, 2024

The post is developed in partnership with BetterHelp

Life is a series of changes and transitions. Part of our role as parents is helping our children navigate changing life events. When we guide them through transitions and teach healthy coping skills, we give them tools for healthy emotional well-being and growth.

From starting school to moving homes or welcoming a new sibling, transitions can be challenging for children. In this article, we’ll explore common transitions children face and discuss effective strategies to support them through these changes. Additionally, we’ll touch upon the role of occupational therapy in providing coping strategies and transition support for children.

Understanding Transitions

Transitions refer to the process of change. The term includes events and experiences where children move from one setting or situation to another. Transitions can disrupt familiar routines and environments, triggering emotional responses in children.

Guiding Your Child Through Change: Strategies for Smooth Transitions

Common Types of Transitions

While we cannot predict what changes life may bring, there are some common transitions most children experience. Examining and understanding these common transitions may help perspective when any type of change arises.

Welcoming a New Sibling:

The arrival of a new sibling can be both exciting and daunting for children, requiring adjustments in roles and attention. According to a 2013 study published in Psychological Bulletin, almost 80% of children have siblings.

The study continues that this transition is considered by some professionals to be traumatic. The birth of a sibling can foster healthy detachment in older children. However, parents can approach this normal transition in a way that addresses the stress that can simultaneously arise.

Starting School:

Transitioning to school involves adapting to new routines, peers, and academic expectations. A Stanford University study based on Danish research suggests starting school can even cause regression in some children.

Moving Homes:

Relocating to a new home involves leaving behind familiar surroundings and establishing oneself in a different environment. A 2012 study published in BMC Public Health found that early childhood moves can have effects on childhood development.

For children under 2 years old, moving more than twice was associated with ”an increased internalizing behaviour score.’’

Guiding Your Child Through Change: Strategies for Smooth Transitions

Children May Benefit From Support Even During Common Transitions

These studies suggest that even when a transition is common in society, children may benefit from extra support. How can we help our children thrive through changes and cultivate resilience?

Signs Your Child May Be Having Trouble Coping With Change

The following behaviors may indicate that your child is struggling with change.

  • Increased clinging
  • Irritability or moodiness
  • Displays of anger
  • Periods of sadness
  • Anxiety
  • Fear
  • A decrease in their desire to socialize.

Watching for these signs may help parents step in with helpful strategies.

Supporting Children Through Transitions

If you believe your child may be struggling with transition, the following strategies can help. It may also be helpful to introduce some of these strategies at the start of common life transitions within your family.

According to the NYS Council on Children and Families, we can support our children in the following ways.

Guiding Your Child Through Change: Strategies for Smooth Transitions

Encourage Social and Emotional Development

Building strong relationships with adults and peers is crucial for children’s healthy adjustment during transitions. Parents can encourage emotional expression and provide reassurance and guidance.

Do you believe your child feels comfortable expressing their feelings and speaking openly to you? Parents can encourage this sharing by modeling behavior and talking about their feelings

Families can set aside a few minutes a day to talk about life events and process emotions that arise.

Foster Self Regulation

Parents can foster self-regulation by teaching children about expectations and how to manage them. Open conversations about expectations, regulation, and stress management can reduce a child’s chronic stress.

Providing structure at home may also be beneficial. Create daily routines for activities like school, homework, and bedtime to provide structure and stability. Parents can discuss, model, and discuss coping strategies within comforting, predictable routines. Discussions should be age-appropriate.

Utilize Previews and Countdowns:

Give children advance notice of transitions and provide countdowns to prepare them for upcoming changes.

Use Soundtracks and Visual Cues:

Incorporate songs or visual charts to signal transitions and reinforce expectations. This helps children understand when things are happening and can also instill a sense of fun into the anticipation.

Gain Attention:

Ensure children are focused by making eye contact, using physical proximity, or asking them to repeat instructions.

Positive Reinforcement:

Praise children for successful transitions and offer rewards like stickers or snacks to reinforce desired behaviors.

Introduce Occupational Therapy:

Occupational therapy may also help children through transitions by providing coping strategies and transition support. 

Occupational therapists help children develop self-regulation skills, improve sensory processing, and enhance motor skills to navigate transitions successfully.

Learn more about the role of occupational therapy in your child’s development here: 

Guiding Your Child Through Change: Strategies for Smooth Transitions

Creating More Resilient Children

Transitions are a natural part of life, and helping children navigate these changes can be important for their growth and well-being.

By understanding the challenges children face during transitions and implementing effective strategies, parents can provide valuable support to help their children thrive.

Additionally, seeking assistance from professionals and therapists can offer specialized guidance. Proper interventions can address children’s unique needs during transitional periods.

With patience, understanding, and support, children can adapt to change and emerge stronger from the experience.

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