Transitions in Children’s Everyday Lives
‘Transitions in Children’s Everyday Lives’ blog article was written by Chris Hutchinson, Senior Consultant in the Parenting and Early Years Program at the Australian Childhood Foundation.
Young children’s days are filled with change. The transitions children are asked to make each day, from one place to another, one person to another, or one activity to another, are so commonplace they are hardly noticed.
For children, however, these transition events can be emotionally charged. They may be exciting and happy events, but sometimes they can be overwhelming and difficult.
How do we understand the emotional ups and downs children may feel as they negotiate the transitions of daily life?
It is the importance of familiar relationships with adults and other children that supports children through these transitions.
Everyday transitions are the transitions that occur as a regular part of a child’s day or week. They include transitions between different settings, the arrivals and departures children experience as they move from one place to another, e.g., from home to day-care or preschool or grandma’s house.
Transitions also occur within settings. They include changes from:
- One person to another, e.g., parent/carer to educator or grandparent or babysitter
- One activity to another, e.g., packing up the toys, going to bed, transitioning to and from mealtimes
Transitions require children to adapt or cope with change. Individual differences in personality, temperament or self-regulation mean each child experiences transition differently. Age also makes a difference, with younger children being particularly vulnerable at times of transition.
How do we ensure that transitions are smooth and positive experiences for everyone? Let’s look at different transitions and how to support the child safely through them.
When children transition from one place to another they need to adjust to different environments, timetables and relationships. Each setting has its own rules and requirements and the transitions children make from one setting to another require them to fit in with the different expectations.
To assist with the transition from one place to another arrival and departure routines or rituals are key. Some points to consider:
- The routine or ritual is the same each time
- Providing a favourite activity on arrival
- Bringing a favourite toy, book or blanket
- Being greeted by the same person each time on arrival
- Providing quiet, semi-secluded spaces to retreat to
- Knowing where everything is, e.g., where their bag is, where to find their favourite activity or toy, etc.
- Who is picking them up and when
Over time, as each place becomes more familiar to the child, the transition is likely to become easier.
Different Timetables or Schedules
Long before children understand the meaning of time, their days are structured by timetables or schedules. They hear terms like playtime, group time, meal/snack time, pack up time, bath time, home time and bedtime.
To support children through these transitions we need to consider some of the following:
- Their age and stage of development (what do they understand, what can they do)
- Transition activities (singing a pack up or hand-washing song, using a familiar game, initiating an action game, reading a bedtime story)
- Supporting the transition (doing it with them, being nearby, helping when necessary)
- Ensuring the transition is child-centred (not adult centred)
- Preparing children for the transition (in 5 minutes you need to pack up your toys so we can go to grandma’s house/day-care/kinder)
When we acknowledge the emotional effort that is required for children ‘to stop what they are doing to do what must be done and fit in with the agenda of someone else’ we support children to regulate their internal emotions and to stay engaged when activities change.
Reminders of what happens across the day also help children learn to manage transition times. Using books and visual tools that describe and illustrate the sequence of the day’s events will assist children to know about and prepare for transition times. Using the phrase ‘what happens next?’ will help children understand and prepare for the next event or activity.
When there is a familiar routine and children know what happens next, they anticipate these times and may even devise their own ‘transition’.
Changes from one person to another and from one relationship to another can be emotionally stressful for children.
When children transition between settings and within settings, they often change from one person to another. Supporting this transition is about providing reassurance. Helping the child to make the transition from one important relationship to another. Helping the child know that both adults are thinking about the child. And helping the child understand they will be looked after and kept safe.
It is important to ensure that children have smooth, manageable transitions from one relationship to another. Also allowing plenty of time for the transition from one relationship to another makes it more manageable for the child and for the adults. It shouldn’t feel like an interruption. When children experience many interruptions in relationships, they may become disorientated, upset or distressed. Minimising these interruptions wherever possible and preparing the child for the change is vital to supporting their emotional wellbeing.
Familiar, predictable environments with predictable timetables, relationships and daily rituals support the familiarity of routines.
Regular reviews of transitions considering the child’s ‘perspective’ invite the adults in the child’s life to reflect on how the child might experience transitions.
Sometimes allowing children to choose when and how they transition can support a calmer more relaxed atmosphere with less stress. Many children are capable of making responsible decisions for themselves when given the opportunity to do so.
Rethinking transitions through observation, reflection and discussion can assist the adults in the child’s life to make the necessary changes to support the child through the many transitions they need to traverse throughout their lives.
Source: Adapted from Early Childhood Australia – A voice for young children. Everyday Learning Series 2016
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Bringing Up Great Kids (BUGK) is a long-running and acclaimed program from Australian Childhood Foundation. The program has more than 4,000 registered facilitators trained nationally and has helped more than 50,000 parents since it started.
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