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Healthy and Secure Transitions: A First Look

To start, let’s look at a transition through the lens of Circle of Security (COS). A child will “come” and “go” from their parent hundreds of times a day. COS shows parents how to look for the cues the child is giving about if they need the parent to support exploration or if the child needs connection. As often as possible, parents will follow the child’s need for independence or closeness. 

A transition, however, is when a parent must stop following the child’s need and take charge in a Bigger, Stronger, Wiser and Kind way. So, of course, this could become problematic!

Whether it’s time to go to school, to grandmas, to the babysitters, to childcare, to the store or to bed at night, a transition could cause a rupture in the relationship. The parent is saying, “It’s time to stop doing what you’ve been enjoying and move to something that needs to be done.” Why wouldn’t a child rebel against that?? Even as adults, transitions from a fun activity to work can be hard!

Understanding and acknowledging how your child views transition is beneficial. If the parent can see it through the eyes of their child, it will be easier to meet your child’s needs through the transition and navigate it together more effectively. 

Here are some things to consider when looking at the transition from your child’s point of view:

Does my child know the transition is coming? 

Parents are responsible for keeping to the schedule. Parents also have a developed sense of time. Children are oblivious to both time and schedules and rely completely on us for most of their childhood years (and quite a few of the teenage years too!). Many children benefit from a general sense of what will happen each day. Spend a few minutes over breakfast or in the car talking about the day. Being connected to you while discussing the schedule will help a child’s emotions stay organized. As the transition approaches, get more specific. You could say, for example, “bedtime is in 30 minutes, which means we will need to put on pajamas and brush teeth soon. Please choose the last thing you’d like to do tonight and then we’ll start getting ready for bed.”

Is my child’s emotional cup filled?

Transitions require some independence from a child. The most effective way for a child to execute independence is when their emotional cup is full. If a child is struggling emotionally because they are having a big feeling or because they don’t know what to expect or because they are worried about you, they will not give you direct information about what they need. A child who is struggling is a child who will often miscue. A child may be anxious but show it through clinginess. A child may be lonely but show it through aloofness. A child may be scared but show it through a meltdown. Find moments before the transition to fill their emotional cups. 

Am I committed to leading this moment with firmness and kindness?

When navigating transitions, it is vital to have an awareness of your own state of mind. If you are preoccupied with the work on your desk or the dishes in the sink, you will not be present to the needs of your child during the transition. If you are feeling guilty or conflicted about the transition, you are more likely to fall to mean, weak or gone. If you think they need you too much or don’t think they need you at all, the transition may go sideways. Children need leadership that is both certain and gentle. Create a loose structure for the transition and stick closely to it. Make it a tradition that is consistent and predictable, to be done each time this type of transition occurs. Knowing what to expect will allow your child to move through the transition with as much ease as possible. 

Stay Tuned: The next blog on this topic will address how transitions can go sideways. Sometimes it is with the parent, sometimes it is with the child or sometimes it could be the environment.