AMES, Iowa – Big changes in a child’s life, such as getting a sibling or moving to a new home, bring big transitions, as the child learns to adapt to the new situation. Although learning to manage big transitions is important for children’s development, learning to manage the small transitions of daily life is equally important, according to Cindy Thompson, a human sciences specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.
“Daily transitions are those short periods when a child needs to switch gears to a new activity; for example, getting dressed in the morning, leaving for child care or school, returning home and bath time,” said Thompson, who specializes in family life issues.
These transitions can be especially challenging for children and parents, because children naturally process change, even a small change, more slowly than adults. Parents often report that transitions are the most stressful parts of their parenting routines. However, transitions can provide some of the most engaging interactions between a parent and child and strengthen their relationship, Thompson noted.
Prepare for small transitions
Parents can plan ahead to help their children prepare for small daily transitions.
“Help your child lay out clothes for the next day, and find shoes and school supplies. Talk about what will happen the next day,” Thompson said. “We forget that children do not have the years of experience that we, as parents, have. We are used to getting out the door each day. What might feel like over preparing to us is actually exactly what young children need to successfully navigate transitions.”
Parents also can plan ahead for evening meals using a variety of resources, including “Spend Smart. Eat Smart.” from ISU Extension and Outreach. Helping children make the transition back home can go much smoother when evening meals aren’t an added source of stress.
Maintaining as much of a routine as possible for daily transitions is important, too, Thompson said. “Both parents and children benefit from knowing what to expect. A routine as simple as bath time, a story and time to snuggle together can help your child ease through the bedtime transition.”
Another important detail for parents to consider is building the skills children need for transitions, Thompson said. “For example, it takes time for children to learn to dress themselves, brush their teeth and comb their hair. The time to develop these skills is when parents are calm and children aren’t rushed.”
Transitions bring benefits
Transitions are times when parents can have meaningful interactions with their children. “Research shows that adding conversation to daily transitions – describing the detail on a jacket that is being buttoned up or counting cups as the table is set, for example, develops critical language skills, which build the foundation for later learning in school,” said Thompson.
Planning ahead, developing skills and using transitions as conversation times reduce the overall stress often associated with daily transitions.
“And less stress for both parents and children is good for everyone,” Thompson said.
For more information on how to support children’s development, download the ISU Extension and Outreach free publication series Ages and Stages. For all things parenting, visit Science of Parenting (scienceofparenting.org).
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