Transition is another way to think about changes that occur in a child’s life. To make transitions successful, families and care givers/educators need to share information, focus on supportive relationships, and align programming to ensure consistency and stability. Children, families, and caregivers/educators have increased understanding of new expectations when they can practice adjusting to new environments. Helping children manage their emotional and behavioral reactions to transitions early in life can establish positive coping skills that will have far-reaching impacts beyond the early years. At any age, consider the following strategies to help children feel safe and supported during all transitions.
- Maintain Routines. From birth, children’s days are filled with routines such as bedtime, mealtime, and diapering. You can help children manage transitions by establishing predictable and familiar routines.
- Be Responsive. When babies and children make attempts to communicate that they need help, respond as quickly as possible in a predictable and consistent manner. Responding to children’s needs in a timely and consistent way helps to develop secure relationships, which are critical during transitions. Secure relationships with a familiar adult will make it easier for children to explore more comfortably and build attachments in new environments with new caregivers and friends. Additionally, secure relationships help build children’s self-efficacy to communicate their needs to adults and peers and believe that others will respond to their needs.
- Use Visuals. Children’s ability to both understand and use language can impact how they transition. Knowing children’s receptive and expressive language skill level and the language(s) they speak is helpful to understand how to support them. Using visual aids and prompts can help all children, not just those with limited language skills. Visuals will help children better prepare for the changes that are coming next. Change can be easier to accept when we know what is coming. For example, show children a picture of their new classroom or school or use visual schedules with older children to illustrate what’s happening during the day.
- Be a Role Model. You can help children develop their own coping skills by modeling your own positive social behavior during times of stress. Label when you feel stressed, overwhelmed, and scared for children. Model the use of words to describe feelings. Share a time you were scared of something new and what you did to feel more comfortable. Model strategies to handle stress and manage your own emotions and behavior that children can use such as taking a walk, talking to a friend, or listening to calming music.
It is equally important to acknowledge that families have their own varying reactions to transitions. Parents may feel excitement or fear about a change, or worry about the uncertainty of what that change will mean for their family. It is important for early care and education professionals to maintain close communication and relationships with families to help ease transition fears. Just as with children’s reactions, families’ reactions to transition may differ by their culture, language, and past experiences. Early childhood professionals can:
- Connect personally with families.
- Ask families what they look forward to and worry about with upcoming changes.
- Begin talking about and preparing for upcoming changes far enough in advance for children and families to process the change.
- Organize time for families and children to meet new teachers and visit classrooms.
- Maintain common expectations and consistent experiences across settings and caregivers to support continuity of care.
- Include families in transition plans to individualize support for each child’s needs.