Cool Moves: Supporting children through change and transition

This term, we are privileged to be working with some London primary schools, helping to prepare their year 6 pupils for their transition to secondary school. This has been incredibly exciting and inspirational: we are witnessing in children a growing sense of resilience as they discover and develop their capacity to manage the various emotional, psychological and social challenges associated with this change – and, in fact, the numerous and various changes they will continue to encounter in their lives. In this article, we share our reflections on some of the key factors that are helpful to keep in mind when supporting children through change and transition. Perhaps you are a parent/carer of a toddler due to start nursery, or perhaps your child is experiencing a major family change due to the birth of a sibling or the death of a key family member. Whatever the change, we hope that this article offers you a helpful perspective.

boy on bridge

Context: Looking at the wider context of transitions – that is, what else is happening for and around the child – can offer us insight into the complexities involved in certain life changes. For example, the move to secondary school happens alongside children’s thrilling (and at times tumultuous!) journeys into adolescence, in which they come face-to-face with some major physical, cognitive, neurological and social changes. As another example, moving home or even country, may be precipitated by other events in a child’s life, such as divorce, or bereavement. Exploring and being mindful of this wider context enables us to understand a child’s unique responses to the transition they are experiencing.

Hearing and accepting: Unsurprisingly, children express a complex array of emotions about the transitions they are experiencing. Feelings such as anxiety, anger, excitement, relief, sadness, or uncertainty may be fleeting or enduring, and may co-exist as a confusing and overwhelming heavy mass. We know, of course, that children communicate these feelings in various ways: through their behaviour, through play or arts, or through other nonverbal mediums. We may instinctively be drawn to fix – or even eliminate – the difficult feelings that children experience. However, a process of “hearing and accepting” a child’s feelings conveys a message that their feelings are valid, worthy, and bearable by those around them.
 
Mellow moments: The heavy mass of emotions can at times feel really big, getting in the way of children’s enjoyment and interfering with parts of their lives such as friendships or homework. In our sessions, children are introduced to “mellow moments” – that is, moments in time whereby calmness and strength are invited into their lives. We offer children a range of relaxation tools and strategies, but of course, there are numerous, day-to-day “mellow moments” that children engage in – listening to music, reading, meditating, drawing, running and so on.
 
Mighty me: We can all do with a confidence boost at times. A new job, for example, may compel us to question ourselves: “Am I cut out for this?” or “Do I have the skills?” or even “I can’t do this!” Children, too, may question their abilities to cope with change, so we can help children to re-discover and re-connect with their unique personal skills, qualities, and resources. How? Children’s confidence is developed in the context of safe, accepting and caring relationships: relationships in which their skills are noticed, their efforts are appreciated, and their autonomy respected.
 
Gradual change: Although some changes do occur instantaneously and unpredictably, other forms of transition can be experienced more gradually. For children who are starting a new school, for example, settling in days and trial journeys can help to prepare them for the change.
 
Remembering: Transitions inevitably mean both a beginning and an ending. For some children, the process of remembering what they are leaving behind and of saying goodbye can be as important as the preparation for the new beginning. There are many ways of marking an ending: memory books, remembering conversations, letters and so on. These open up a space for children to reflect upon their journey and to say goodbye.
 
Supporting yourselves: As parents/carers, you may have an array of feelings about the transitions that your children are experiencing. Your child’s transition may, for example, remind you (directly or indirectly, consciously or unconsciously) of painful life events you have experienced and may thus evoke some difficult feelings. Or the changes that your children experience may signify bittersweet steps in a journey into independence, eliciting feelings of pride, sadness and fear in you. The concepts detailed above can be as important and useful for you as they are for your children. Whatever feelings you have: hear and accept them, remind yourselves of the skills you have to get through this, and congratulate yourselves for supporting your child through a key development in their lives.
If you would like to know more about our Cool Moves programme, or if you would like to arrange a consultation to explore any transitions that you or your family are experiencing, please contact us.