How to Smooth Transitions and Changing Routines

When there are big changes on the horizon, it can be unsettling for your child. Moving nursery rooms or changing schools can make them feel like everything is all turned around. Here’s how you can smooth those transitions and keep a feeling of structure and routine in other aspects of their life.

When helping children with change there are some important factors to consider and practical ways to help:

Factors to Consider

1. Understand that children take things in differently to adults – they have no frame of reference for the future and as a result can often only take things one day at a time.

2. Remember that each child is different. Establish how best to manage your child through changes and try to work out how your children prefer to be supported by you – cuddles, space, reading or playing together, going for a walk.

3. Consider also how they prefer to be presented with and digest the day ahead - do they find security in knowing the plan the evening before (or does this cause anxiety), is it best to lay out the plan each morning for the day ahead or can they only comprehend hour by hour?

4. Understand that tantrums may be small children’s way of expressing frustration and confusion at not understanding the changes they are being presented with – and a cry for help – especially if they are not yet verbal.

5. Children’s lives are constantly changing as they learn and develop and coping with this takes a lot of effort on their part to understand what’s wanted, needed and how to do it. Praise and support are critical in giving them confidence that they are doing well and the courage to keep going.

6. Try to see the situation from your child’s point of view and appreciate their confusion or frustration. Be kind and caring in your response and acknowledge their feelings – especially if it is something you’ve once said that has now changed.

Practical Ways to Help

1. Help them feel secure by being present and reinforcing the fact that you are there to look after them and help them get through the situation together.

2. Ensure your children feel confident to ask for help when they need it and respond supportively when they do.

3. If you’re not in a routine or have fallen out of one during the summer holidays, try reintroducing it slowly. Remember that routines also include items like special toys to sleep with or soothing things like a cup of warm milk at bedtime.

4. Focus on changing one or two small things daily to help them get used to little changes. This will help them to get used to change, realise that they can cope and give them confidence – or if they struggle, knowledge they will be supported in acclimatising to these changes. This will help them face bigger changes when they arise.

5. Give children forewarning of tasks and provide relatable time frames – so not in minutes if they can’t yet tell the time - but ‘after your snack we will..’ so that they have time to process the next activity and don’t feel rushed or harassed.

6. Young children may become anxious about the prospect of self-care when they are away from you (at nursery or elsewhere). Once again, going over the simple steps of how to dress,

undress and go to the toilet, washing hands, pouring water from jugs, taking coats and shoes on and off will help to give them confidence that they can cope with these tasks.

7. Practise swapping roles and not being there. If you have a partner and are able to get out for periods when they can look after your child, or start doing some tasks you wouldn’t normally do – bedtime or feeding for example – this will help your child get used to variety in their carers’ ‘who does what’ expectations