Image Map

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Helping Kids (and grownups too) In Transition

Transitions are hard for everyone. Whether it's a move across the country, a new job, or even just a move to the next grade level each school year, transitions always bring some level of excitement, stress, fear, sadness, and anticipation. For children transitions can be even more challenging because they can't look far enough ahead to prepare themselves for the change, and are left confused and upset in the aftermath. Today I want to share some helpful strategies for helping kids (and us adults too) make it through transitions more smoothly, whether it's a cross-country move or just a transition from one class activity to the next.

This post contains affiliate links.

I'm a veteran when it comes to transitions. With 6 years under my belt, I have officially been in my current town longer than any other city I have ever been in my life. But that doesn't mean I'm good at transitions! I started doing a lot of reading and research on transitions, especially cross-cultural moves, as a teenager, mostly because I was not handling the transitions I was experiencing very well! As a teacher I have been very focused on helping students who move in and out of my school, and helping the school community and families to support them in those transitions.

But the more I study and think about this topic, the more I realize that the strategies I have learned to handle moving houses also apply to many other types of transitions as well. Some transitions are more life-altering than others, but the principles still apply. Whether you're a parent getting ready to move your family around the world, a new teacher starting your first job, or a teacher looking for ways to help students with transitions within the school day, these strategies can help you support your students through all different kinds of transitions.

1. Keep them in the loop

I see so many children get ripped away from their friends, their school, and their home with very little advance warning. Sometimes this is unavoidable, but often the parents choose not to tell their children because they don't want to unnecessarily upset them (because the move may or may not happen) or because they think it will be easier if they don't have too much time to get worked up about it. This just isn't reality. One of the most important things you can do as an adult is to help children anticipate transitions as far in advance as possible.

For big life events like moving to a new house, tell kids as soon as it seems like a real possibility that a move might be coming. It's OK to be honest with them- if plans change, you can address that change of plan with them as well. With the rest of the strategies on my list, you will give them the time they need to properly process the transition.

For smaller, everyday transitions, preparation is still key. As teachers there are a lot of things we can do to help students transition more smoothly: establishing a class routine so students know what to expect next, creating a visual calendar/ schedule somewhere in the room for students to see, or even just verbally telling students when the last turn is coming in a game, or when class is almost over and they need to prepare to leave the class.

Being mindful of transitions and helping students anticipate them can make a huge difference in how well children handle transitions big and small.

2. Build a RAFT

A big part of my research on transitions has been dealing with cross-cultural moves, and one of the best reads on this topic is the book Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds by David C Pollock and Ruth E Van Reken. If you have moved across countries yourself or deal regularly with others who do, I highly recommend getting your hands on this book! One of the ideas I took from that book that can apply to any transition is the acronym Pollock and Van Reken present for preparing for transitions: RAFT.

Reconciliation is the first component- making amends and repairing any broken relationships before you leave. If you're anticipating the end of the school year and moving to a new grade level or moving houses, it's important to make sure children are thinking through any people they need to seek forgiveness from or offer forgiveness to. In the classroom, this means doing our best not to leave arguments unresolved- even if it means you're a couple of minutes late to your next class or activity, taking the time to talk to students about anything that is upsetting them will help them transition more smoothly.

Affirmation is the second component of the RAFT, and this step involves affirming people who have played positive roles in our lives by thanking them and telling them what they have meant to us. It may seem like a lot of extra work in an already busy time, but if children are preparing to move, having them write thank you cards, or at least taking the time to go around to all of their teachers and friends and tell them thank you in person, is a very important step in the transition process! The same can be done on a smaller scale with everyday transitions within the classroom. Often as teachers we are thinking ahead to the next thing and forget to stop and acknowledge the activity that is ending! Taking a minute to stop and recognize the beautiful singing they just did, or recognize the hard work students put into an assignment before moving onto the next activity can help give students closure and be more mentally prepared for the next task.

Farewells are the third part of a smooth transition. When you're moving on to a new grade or moving houses, saying goodbye is obviously important! But don't forget to think through not just the people we need to say goodbye to, but also places, things, and activities. Whether it's a favorite restaurant, toys you're leaving behind, or a child's last piano lesson, it's important to consciously say goodbye to things you won't be seeing or doing again. This component is less important in small everyday transitions, but this goes back to the first point: make sure students have enough time to anticipate transitions! They need time to process, even if it's just the end of their time playing the hand drum :)

Thinking destination is the final component of the RAFT, and it's the part that helps us move forward! Along with thinking about and addressing the people, places, and things that you're leaving, it's important to think ahead and anticipate what is coming next. Finding things to look forward to can definitely make the transition easier and a whole lot more exciting!

No matter what the transition is, all of us can benefit from being more mindful of how we approach and process them. For children, this is even more important! I hope these ideas will spark further thought for parents and teachers on how we can better support children in learning how to handle transitions with more confidence.

Want more timely ideas sent straight to your inbox? Click here to sign up for the Organized Chaos Newsletter!


  1. Upon initially clicking and reading this post, I thought it was about transitioning students from one class or center to another. But as I kept reading, I found this to be an excellent help for my students that have transitioned to our school this year! Thus current year we had an influx if new students from ashl grade levels that must learn our school culture quickly, rather than starting in kinder and it being ingrained from the start. Thank you!

    1. Yes! I keep these ideas in mind no matter what the transition is, but I think it is particularly important for those major transitions like moving to a new school. I'm so glad you're conscious of helping these students transition into your school, and I'm happy to hear these ideas were helpful for you :)