Stopping play to get ready for bed, weaning a baby from a bottle or breast, or starting a new school or child care program. These are all examples of transitions, when one activity or involvement stops, and typically another begins. Transitions in children’s lives range from small transitions, to large transitions and all types in between.

When a child experiences challenges with transitions, families may see in their child whining, crying, difficulty sleeping or eating, or tantrums.

Child’s age: If your child has a tantrum during transitions, you may attribute it as the “terrible twos.” However, a child’s age (and development) may limit the ways a child can communicate they are having challenges with a transition. Your child’s feelings of being overwhelmed, scared, or frustrated are very real feelings, but they may not have learned productive ways to express those feelings.

Child’s temperament: Children feel and experience things differently due to their temperaments. A child whose temperament is easy-going may react very differently to a transition than a child whose temperament is more resistant to change. Watch the video below to see how your child’s temperament may impact their behavior and what you can do to support your child.

Child’s development: A child’s development can play a large role in how they react to transitions. This can include:

  • Social-emotional development: The relationships they’ve built with adults and other children.
  • Expressing and managing emotions: How they react to situations and express their feelings.
  • Self-regulation skills: How they cope or manage changes or challenges
  • Language and communication skills: The words needed to identify and describe feelings.

How a parent or caregiver reacts to stress and transitions

Babies as young as three months old can sense and react to their parent’s stress, so it’s no surprise that if mom, dad or another caregiver is feeling stressed about moving to a new home, changing child care providers or classrooms, or other situations, the child may react. Consider how you react to transitions.

Depending on your child’s age, temperament, development and how you react, you can help your child prepare for and experience successful transitions.

Be aware of your child, the situation and what they are (or could be) experiencing and feeling.

If you know your preschooler is struggling with moving to a new classroom, talk with their teacher to find ways to make the transition easier. Also talk with your preschooler to explore how they’re feeling and why. They may be afraid a teacher or other children won’t like them, they may miss their other teacher or friends, or there may be other reasons. Talk about those feelings with your child.

Prepare your child.

Tell your child what to expect and remember, they will take their cues from you! Are you excited or happy about the transition? Even if your baby can’t understand your words, they will gain understanding from your tone and expressions.

Create routines.

As much as possible, try to remain consistent with routines. It helps your child know what to expect and can provide a sense of security.

Allow time to adapt to the transition.

Sometimes it takes awhile to adjust to changes. Allow your child, and yourself, some time to get used to the differences.

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