Question: "How can we help our children, and ourselves, move through life's transitions more peacefully?"
Transitions can be hard for all people and particularly so for young children who lack the broader frame of reference that adults often have. Transitions can include life-altering experiences—such as the birth of a baby or moving to a new city—but also the mundane—such as leaving the park or getting ready for bed.
It is important to remember that the strategies and tools we use to manage our own transitions are the same ones that—when properly translated—can be used to help young children.
Avoid unnecessary change
It is never satisfactory when the answer to a question about how to do something is to not do it. But it bears emphasizing at the outset that part of the difficulty is that adults often expect children to adjust to an excessive number of daily transitions. Thus, while change is a necessary part of life, children will often benefit from limiting or controlling those transitions that are not. Take time to consider the transitions each day that are not required, remembering that consistency and routine help structure the world of the child, to whom the very fact of existence is itself brand new. If this seems constricting, remember that it is temporary, and as the child grows his or her resiliency for change will as well.
Calibrate your own expectations. Many transitions are just plainly difficult, and it is important to manage your own expectations about how your child will be able to handle a situation. Just like you wouldn’t learn the skills of your new job in an hour, or relocate your home in an afternoon, it’s unrealistic to expect that children will instantly adapt to a new situation. Children, like adults, experience myriad feelings around transitions—and their developmental stage means they do not have the same tools and experiences as adults to navigate these changes. Therefore, the behaviors children exhibit are often commensurate to their relationship with the experience. Have realistic expectations based on their developmental stage.
Focus on the moment
Respect the present—pay attention to what are you doing now—not what will be next. Often, we get so busy anticipating getting to the other side of a transition that it is easy to overlook moments that can ease the process of the transition. Indeed, it is often the case that rushing through a transition increases the likelihood that a child will experience it adversely. Whereas if you slow down, observe what your child is experiencing, and react according to those immediate and observable indicia from your child, you may be able to ease the transition much more peacefully.
Be sensitive to what your child is experiencing and remember that children often relate to the world through our own reactions. Sometimes what is most helpful is not for someone to solve a problem for you, but to show you empathy when something is difficult. The same is true for children. Sometimes life is just hard. If your child is having trouble with a transition, practicing compassion (for both yourself and your child) during a difficult and temporarily intractable situation can do a world of good.
RIE® Associate Bio: Anna Ruth Myers (New York, New York) is an infant development specialist with over 15 years of experience supporting families and children. A RIE® Associate and Pikler® Pedagogue candidate, her work is guided by the profound insights of Magda Gerber and Emmi Pikler, and their approaches to infant care. As a certified doula, childbirth and lactation educator, she has worked with hospitals and birth centers in the US and abroad to advocate for respectful infant care from birth. Anna Ruth also holds diplomas in both Montessori and Waldorf education and has completed 2 study groups to Reggio Emilia. She facilitates RIE® Certified Classes in New York City.