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How to help your child navigate transitions

Transitions can be hard for anyone let alone a young child. Transitions for a child could involve moving from a baby room at nursery to a pre-school room, having to go to hospital, primary to secondary school and many, many more. In today’s blog, I want to discuss how we can help our child navigate difficult transitions successfully.

A little context behind this post

My son, Charlie was going from the baby room this week to the pre-school room at his nursery. The pre-school room is a lot bigger, with more children and different members of staff. To be perfectly honest, I was a little anxious about it too! The first time I spoke to Charlie about it, he kept saying no, no! However, I used lots of useful strategies to help him and now he went into nursery this morning with a huge smile on his face.

Mummy quote

Another transition he had was going to a hospital to have his cleft lip operated on when he was 10 months old. This was a major transition not just for him but for us as parents and was a very anxious and overwhelming time. Again, though, we navigated this as a family using lots of strategies and the operation day went smoothly.

Charlie after his cleft lip operation

So, today, I thought I’d put a few tips together to help your child navigate difficult transitions in a calm and peaceful way and make it all run smoothly.

1. Talking

This sounds incredibly simple but as much talking as you can do about the event coming up can really help the child. For his nursery transition, we spoke about it as often as we could; talking about his new key worker and the fun things he would get to do in the room. We would weave it into our week like “oh wow, we will have to show your nursery worker this won’t we!” and using positive, encouraging language.

Stronger together

For example, if your child is changing schools talking about the new school and the things they will do at this new school can really help! Also, let the child lead the conversation. What are they looking forward to about the new school? What do they think they will play with? This gives them ownership over the transition and allows for gentle exploration without forcing the issue.

how anxiety can present itself

Also, making sure you don’t diminish how the child is feeling. Saying things like “don’t be silly it will be fine” is not helpful in a situation like this but saying to your child “I understand that this is scary for you. It’s hard doing new things isn’t it” and connecting with your child physically through touch can really help. For more information on how to talk to your child to help their whole brain develop, please do read ‘The Whole-Brain Child’ by Dr Tina P Bryson and Dr Daniel J. Siegel.

2. Books, simple stories and visual aids

For Charlie’s cleft lip operation, I purchased a cleft lip book from Amazon that was explaining to a sister why her brother had a different lip to hers and how he needed an operation. I then edited the book myself using blank stickers to write my own story about Charlie’s lip and what would happen at his operation and how mummy and daddy would be there. Having that visual and talking about the events that were going to happen was a great tool not just for Charlie but for me too. It is a great keepsake we can show him in the future and we still look at it now!

Charlie before his operation

For my fibromyalgia, I wrote a very simple rhyming book for Charlie and other parents with young child to explain why sometimes Mummy needs to rest and stay home. Again, the visual images can really help and this is something I can show him often.

Mummy's book
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I know on a support group I am on for fibromyalgia, that someone asked how they could help their child realise that tapping her hard to get her attention really hurt and I suggested a visual aid to help the child but framing it in a positive way e.g. To talk to mummy, I say Mummy or Mummy likes gentle hugs.

Mummy the fibro warrior quote
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For some children, a now and next board could be really helpful as well. Now we are at home and use a picture of a house, next we will be driving to the hospital to see the doctor. Role playing doctors and nurses could really help as well to show the child that they are there to help us. For more on roleplay, please do read my recent article on the importance of role play here.

3. Visits

This can also be a really helpful tool that can quell anxieties surrounding a transition. For Charlie going to the pre school room, he had a few visits into the room during his normal session in the baby room and I also booked him another session last week so he could get used to it before starting properly this week. I think this can really help a child to see his new environment and to understand that it is not scary.

what's important

We also had numerous visits to his hospital where he was having his cleft lip operation and met the surgeon a few times, too. This was more to help us as parents but actually I do think it helped him to get used to the environment.

Charlie after his op

Children should have visits to secondary schools before leaving primary schools and a lot of places like places to take children such as farms or adventure places do virtual tours on the internet to show them before they get there.

Research to back up my ideas

I did a little research into this very topic whilst writing this blog and came across a few useful articles for you. One was from Save the Children called ‘ How to help Children with Difficult Transitions’ . In this article, they talk about the importance of validating their feelings and trying to find solutions together. They stress the need for patience and kindness during these difficult periods. The Child Mind Institute state the importance of routines and how countdown timers can also be useful and they also agree with my findings on using visual aids. A final article I read was called 10 Calming Techniques suggest timers and calendars and even suggest using a transition object or toy that can come with them during difficult transitions.

Mummy the Fibro Warrior Top Tip:

  1. Use positive language, visual aids and stories or rhymes to help a child navigate a difficult transition.

If there is one takeaway I’d like you all to remember today is that transitions are hard not just for children but for us as parents, too. Using as many different strategies as you can to help your child and yourself feel more at ease can go a long way to helping any transition run smoothly. I need you to know you are doing the best you can, your child/children love you just as you are and you are Mummy the Fibro Warrior!

x

p.s. What strategies do you use to help yourself manage difficult transitions? Please do let me know in the comments below!

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