Transitions: Helping Children Cope with Change

December 25, 2016

7 min

Positive Parenting

This topic for December focuses on the importance of transitions (that is change) in children’s lives.  In every transition, a child has to adapt to the changes and parents need to be aware and help their children deal with the changes in a positive way.

This topic discusses possible challenges children may face during transitions (especially when entering Primary school), and presents suggestions and strategies for supporting and preparing children to cope with the changes.

What are transitions?

Transition begins from the onset of a child’s life.  Beyond the birth process, the first transition is from the hospital, where birth takes place, to the home.  For some children, the next transition may be into some form of care beyond the home – infant/child care or to a relative’s home.  By age three or four, children then experience the transition to early education, followed by transition to Primary school at age seven, and the list continues to Secondary school and so on to ensuing life transitions.

Transitions are essential to children’s life experiences and ongoing development.  How children cope with early transitions can affect

  • their social/emotional health,
  • their ability to learn successfully, and
  • their ability to adapt to the demands of changing contexts.


Therefore, preparing the children for such an integral part of their lives is indeed necessary and important. The support of parents during any major change will also help to ensure their well-being.

A time of change: Children’s well-being is affected by change

Starting child care or school can be an exciting time of change for children and families. However, for some children and families, it can be a time of some anxiety.  There are many things that a parent can do to prepare children in a positive way for any major change ahead. It is after all every parent’s hope that by starting well in any change context, their children can achieve good outcomes later on.

When children go into any formal care setting, be it child care, preschool or Primary school, they have to learn to be part of a group of children. This is very different from being at home with a small number of children and it can be overwhelming, with many new people, new children to get to know.

In the context of My First Skool (MFS), infants with their families are encouraged to make many visits before the infant is left without the parent. It is most important that families take advantage of this and help the infant to become familiar with the context before leaving the infant there without the parent.

The primary caregiving system for infants in MFS helps the infant to become attached to main person who looks after them.  However, other teachers care for the infant too. Over time, the infant becomes secure and develops trust, this is a lifelong trait that helps children become resilient and cope with life’s challenges.

Due to funding policies, children in infant care move to another group when they reach 18 months. They make the transition to Playgroup, another group of children cared by different teachers. This is done gradually so that new relationships can be formed.

From the year when a child in child care turns three or when a child starts preschool, such transitions will occur annually, progressing through the various levels of early education (Nursery 1, Nursery 2, Kindergarten 1 and Kindergarten 2).

Find out more about our childcare and kindergarten programmes.

Starting Primary school: Another transition for children

When children start primary school, they have a lot to get used to a different setting. In comparison to a child care centre or preschool, the primary school may seem big and formal to children. They will have to cope with new rules and routines. Some children will manage this easily while others may need more help from parents and teachers.

Helping children to feel confident about school will give them a positive start.

If children have friends or neighbours who are starting school together then this can help.  The social aspect of starting school is very important and if the child experiences happy times when beginning school, then this will help.

The following extracts from parents give some insights:

She is very happy and excited about starting school. We had many discussions to identify and minimise any fears she had.

Yes, she loves to play with her new friends in school, only has boys to play with at home.  I talked to her informally about starting school as it’s an important stage in her life.

He was anxious but made a friend at school so that helped.

How to prepare children for transition to primary school?

Building confidence, well-being and resilience

There are important things parents can do to help children feel confident and optimistic about starting school. Talk with them about what school will be like. Borrow books from the library with positive stories about starting school.

Parents can also help children to build confidence and optimism by encouraging a habit of positive thinking. Asking children to tell you about the good things that happen each day helps develop this.

The well-being of the child is of prime importance.

Orientation to the school

Knowing where the school is situated is important.

  • Visits to the school over several weeks if possible.
  • Walks around the school to see where things are, e.g. playgrounds, toilets.
  • There may be time for parents to meet staff members and ask questions too.

There is a lot for children to get used to when they start school. Some children will adapt more easily than others.

Getting ready

To prepare children for school, parents can consider the following:

  • Involve your child in preparing for school, e.g. shopping for their uniform.
  • Help your child learn to be independent, dress themselves, and to use the toilet on their own.
  • Be able to identify their own clothes.
  • Establish the bedtime and morning routine that they will have when they start school. It is very important that they get enough sleep.
  • Practice the route or bus to take your child to school.
  • Plan to take your child to school on the first day. Show them where you will pick them up at the end of the day. Make sure you are always on time. A few minutes can seem like a long time to a young child.
  • Talk to your child about the lunch time, buying lunch at the tuck shop will be a new experience.
  • Some schools have a ‘buddy system’ (a friend to help you to get to know what happens at school) to help with the transition.

Always reassure the child that you will come back to collect them, you will be there and waiting, hoping they have had a happy time.

How to support children during the first few week

As your child settles in to school:

  • They may be tired at the end of the day. It may be a long day for some children.
  • Do not plan too many after-school activities; make sure they have time to rest and for relaxation.
  • They may be hungry after school. Take a healthy snack when you collect them up. Try giving them an early dinner as they may be too tired to eat later.
  • They may want to tell you all about their day as soon as they see you. Be available to listen. Some children may want to relax first.
  • Some children may not want to talk about it – do not press for comments if this happens, wait for the child to contribute.
  • Make reading with them part of your daily routine. Bedtime stories are a great way to end the day.
Dealing with stress

Children can show stress by:

  • Being tearful
  • Not wanting to go to school
  • Feeling insecure

You could help by:

  • Encouraging them to talk about what is worrying them.
  • Letting them know that you are confident they can manage.
  • Asking what they think would help them (e.g. who should take them to school, where they want to say goodbye, what they want to do after school).

Having some control can help children manage their fears.

If the worries continue, talk to the teacher about the best way to help them. Make an appointment to see the teacher if you are concerned about your child.

Many parents also feel a sense of loss when their child starts school. They feel that their child’s world will change and they will no longer have their ‘baby’.

Try to relax! If you are stressed, your child may sense this and worry too.

Closing comments

Children do best at school when their parents and teachers work together to support them.

There is a proverb that states, “The beginning decides the end.” Although transitions occur many times throughout a child’s life, positive guidance by parents can help to make the child’s future a happy and worthwhile one!

Other information is an online publication by the Ministry of Education, Singapore (MOE) which features a number of articles about supporting children during transitions.  In addition, there are also workshops and seminars on related topics organised by MOE and the Early Childhood Development Agency for parents.

Copyright © Marjory Ebbeck  &  Wendy Toh 2016

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