Transitions for young children: how to not loose your cool!

Everyday we all deal with transitions. From the moment we wake up and the night changes into day, we have to 'transition' from being asleep to being awake, and prepare for the day. This small transition that we all take for granted and usually not think about, may be challenging for some kids. As parents, we may all know about the difficult days, when our kids do not want to get out of bed, and are not willing to get dressed, or do not want to have breakfast, while we feel pressured by time and have to leave. Why is it that our kids are just not collaborating? We then feel pressured about handling the difficult moment without enough time to pay attention to what is going on for our kids or for us. 


Every time we have to begin something new, like getting up and facing the day, we necessarily have to give up, let go, leave behind aspects of the previous experiences we were having. For example, your child may have been enjoying her bed and dreams, and she then has to get up and get ready. She may wonder why she needs to get ready. She may just want stay a little longer. You know there is no time, but as a matter of fact, children don't even think in terms of hours, days, weeks, and so forth. This is when you both may get frustrated, and you start dreading the possible melt down that you will have to deal with when you are starting to get late for work.


What we are actually asking from our kids in the beginning of a transition is to let go, to accept that they will not be in bed any longer. They have to move on. There is an immediate experience of loss in order to receive what is new and different. This is the first phase of any transition - dealing with the loss of what we leave behind. 


What follows is then a moment of 'in-between', chaotic moment in which we may not still be ready for the day, but we may not actually be sleeping anymore. These may be difficult moments for some kids. They may then resist, not wanting to get dressed, or to eat their breakfast, while going back to sleep is not an option any longer. When they finally accept that sleeping is over, and realize that there is sun outside and that they may want to play, they may be more willing to put their clothes and get ready. This is third phase of a transition, when the new is finally invited in, and we allow it to stay. At this point we may be more willing to change our old ways.


It may be helpful to try to observe transitions through this framework, unpacking the three phases, and thinking about what you and your child may need in each phase in order to move forward. It may be quite helpful to recognize each phase of the process while it is happening.  You may also want to try to reflect the losses and gains back to your child in order to make space for the full expression of her feelings. Create rituals, both for you and her, may also allow a gradual easying into what is coming next, being a useful tool to maintain predictability while making big feelings more manageable.

As you slow down, allow more space for the full range of feelings erupted during transitions, and take one step at a time, you may gradually be more able to keep your cool while transitioning into your day.