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Helping your child make smooth transitions

Chick Moorman is the author of Parent Talk: How to Talk to Your Child in Language That Builds Self-Esteem and Encourages Responsibility.

Latrell was moving from Head Start to kindergarten. Ho Lynn was moving from one day care center to another. Kevin was moving across town. Although their situations were different, each youngster was in need of a parent who could respond effectively to Transition Time.

Time is the key word in the Transition Time phrase. It takes time for a parent to structure and create conditions conducive to producing readiness for a smooth transition. It takes time for a child to get used to and embrace a new situation. It takes time for a parent to tune into and respond effectively to a child's positive and negative reactions to the change. To smooth the Transition Time for your child, take the time to read and consider the Five Steps To Effective Transitions that follow.

Transition Step No. 1: Be honest and open with your child, keeping them informed of your plans as they develop. Give children real reasons why the transitions are necessary. A minor transition for you can be a big deal for your child. Remember, to a four-year old, the last two years represent half of her life.

Transition Step No. 2: Arrange for a visitation. Tell your child, "We're going to see how the new school works". Set it up as if you are checking it out, looking it over. Treat this as an exploration, an adventure into discovery. Give your child and yourself some things to look for. (How is it the same/different than the last school? Let's find out what you like and don't like about it. )

Transition Step No 3: Debrief the visitation. After the visitation, ask your child what he saw that looked fun and what he heard that sounded interesting. "What surprised you?" is a question that often produces helpful dialogue. "Did you see anything exciting or scary?" is another. Your goal here is to get the child talking. Your job during the debriefing is to give your child an opportunity to describe what he heard, saw and felt. Concentrate on giving information, not on getting information. As your child talks about her experience she will move through it and free herself from places where she could get stuck.

Transition Step No. 4: Demonstrate understanding by granting in fantasy what you can not in reality. Children faced with a big transition will often remark, "I like my old school better" or "I don't want a new teacher". Here, it is not helpful to attempt reassurance with comments such as, "You'll get used to it in time" or "Just give it a chance. You'll probably end up liking it better." Better to use parent talk that demonstrates your understanding of your child's experience by recognizing and honoring their wish. "You wish you could stay with Miss Sally forever," shows empathy and understanding while helping your child feel heard. "You'd like it best if you could pick your own teacher," tunes into the child's fantasy without communicating that the wish will be granted.

Transition Step No. 5: Send your child a capability message. "I know you can handle it," or "I know you are up to it," are examples of parent talk that send the silent message, "I see you as capable". "I know you can handle it," does not communicate that everything will be wonderful. It just lets your child know you believe they can handle whatever occurs.

Implement the five steps to effective transitions to help your child deal with change. I know you can handle it.

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